Waterproof Fabrics

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Waterproof Fabrics

Written By John Linden

For centuries various forms of water-resistant and waterproof fabrics have been utilized by humanity to protect ourselves from the elements. Our technology, and knowledge of fabrics, has come a long way over the millennia -and especially in the last few decades. Today, there are a myriad of different fabrics in production that fall under the category of waterproof. Some of these fabrics are practical and affordable, while others are not going to be very useful for most projects.

To help you understand the options available in waterproof fabrics, and which ones are best suited to your needs, we have compiled this list of the top waterproof fabrics you are bound to run into and/or utilize.

Contents:

What are Waterproof Fabrics?

Water Resistant Versus Waterproof

Ten Top Waterproof and Water Resistant Fabrics

Wool

Vinyl

Woven Fabric from ELS cotton

Gore-tex®

Oilcloth

Natural Rubber and Latex

Other Membraned or Coated Fabrics

Other Membraned or Coated Fabrics

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What are Waterproof Fabrics?

Whether you are looking to make a small phone clutch or large custom shower curtains, there is no shortage of usage for the right waterproof or water-resistant fabric. Many fabrics can take the title of water-resistant, giving your project a lot of versatility. From natural wool to synthetic wonder materials, it can be hard to keep track of all your options.

Simply put, waterproof or water resistant fabric is any fabric that can stop water or reduce the amount of water passing through the material. To evaluate the many fabric options and how capable they are of preventing this passage of water, a rating system was developed.

To rate water resistance, scientists measure, in millimeters (mm), how much water can be held with and above the fabric before seepage occurs. To be deemed waterproof, a standard threshold is being able to resist a pressure of over 1,000 millimeters of water without leaking. High-end fabrics are often much higher than this.

Another rating you may see is the breathability of the fabric. This is how much air and moisture can EXIT the clothing. While creating a material that was both breathable and resistant was incredibly tricky (hence the popularity of wool), modern technology has begun to produce some very advanced fabrics. Now fabrics that are both water-resistant and breathable work together to keep moisture out and to wick away any moisture that gets inside (or you produce)-keeping you very dry.

Water Resistant Versus Waterproof

While these terms are used interchangeably, they are not the same thing. Waterproof means that no water can penetrate it. Think of a solid piece of metal -that is waterproof. Water-resistant is a term more often used with porous fabrics that still need to remain wearable and comfortable. These fabrics need to be nimble -so they can never be impervious to water, but they can be highly resistant to the point of being near waterproof. GoreTex, for example, is nearly waterproof.

Ten Waterproof and Water Resistant Fabrics

The following are water-resistant or waterproof materials that you are likely to run into and may consider utilizing.

1. Wool

Perhaps one of the oldest fabrics utilized by humans, wool is still widely used for several reasons. Undergarments to napkins, wool is an excellent material for a near-limitless number of applications.

When prepared correctly, wool is also highly water-resistant. The fabric is a product of eons of evolution and can be as useful as many advanced synthetic materials. The fibers of wool are great at absorbing water and can soak up roughly 20% of their original weight before sleeping. The natural resistance of wool is why fishermen and sailors have it in their clothing for as long as we can remember.

2. Vinyl

Made from a chemical known as Polyvinyl chloride or “PVC”, the same used to create music records, vinyl fabrics have been used in many iconic clothing items ranging from catsuits to punk-rock jackets. In some cases, vinyl clothing can also be referred to as pleather.

A vast assortment of accessories from rain jackets to handbags are made from PVC.

Vinyl clothing is very resistant to water but doesn’t hold up well at all to heat.

Some other cultural references include the outfits that Michael Jackson and his sister Janet were wearing in the music video for the song Scream (1995). Characters in the Matrix also used this material for their dark and shiny suits.

3. Woven Fabric from ELS cotton

Extra-long-staple (ELS) cotton is a specially grown crop that has extra-long fibers that are woven to create a very dense cotton textile. The result is an exceptionally waterproof fabric that expands to form tighter protection when presented with harsh weather.

This fabric is often referred to by the founding brand name “Ventile.”

Historically, the plant was referred to as Sea Island cotton, and there was a great deal of difficulty getting it to grow in the United States. Crops of the plant are now located primarily in California.

4. Gore-tex®

Invented in 1969, Gore-tex® is a fabric created from stretched Teflon (also known as polytetrafluoroethylene, but Teflon is easier to say). This fabric can be made incredibly durable and is used in a wide range of camping equipment, as well as in parts of the space program and medical replacements. Gore-tex® is so waterproof that the U.S. Marine Corps used it for their field rain jackets.

Many appreciate Gore-tex® not just for the toughness and water resistance, but the fact that it also allows for quite a bit of breathability. This helps items and people both dry off easier underneath and stay cooler while moving.

5. Oilcloth

Sometimes called enameled cloth, oilcloth is traditionally made by taking cloth and coating it in boiled linseed oil. This coating makes the fabric stiffer, but much more resilient to the elements. For this reason, waxed cotton eventually replaced most oilcloth in clothing.

In today’s world, this fabric is most commonly associated with those plastic-like printed kitchen tablecloths.

6. Natural Rubber and Latex

Latex is used very often in our day to day lives. Latex refers to both synthetic rubber products as well as the natural sap of the rubber tree. Both variations provide near-perfect water protection but require a skilled hand to make comfortable clothing. Clothing is only a small sample of what latex is used for -from gloves to seat covers; there is no shortage of latex products.

Contrary to popular belief, natural rubber latex is biodegradable.

7. Other Membraned or Coated Fabrics

Coated Fabrics

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

In many cases, a typically non-waterproof fabric will be coated in a polymer like PTFE or PU. The result will be a hybrid-material that retains some of the characteristics of the original fabric but with a thin element-proof surface.

There are a considerable amount of these creations out there, and many companies have proprietary versions. For example, Dermizax™ and Rainskin™. These fabrics are used in many things ranging from clothing and bags to semi-permanent tents and construction sites.

Almost every fabric in existence has a variation where a company has tried coating it in some form of water-resistant material. Some with more success than others. Take the time to see what is being offered -as who knows what products they will be coming out within the near future.