Waterproofing for Tents, Clothing and Shoes, Making Your Own


For many years, oilcloth was used for waterproofing clothes, tents and even for covering pioneers wagons.  You can still buy oilcloth clothing and some members of my family wear it and love it for rainy weather.  Oilcloth, also known as enameled cloth or (in England) American cloth, was close-woven cotton duck or linen cloth (canvas) with a coating of boiled linseed oil.  It was one of very few flexible, waterproof materials that were widely available.  Oilcloth was used as an outer waterproof layer for clothing, luggage and many other uses.

Now recently I have been looking into how to make your own waterproofing materials.  I have found a formula that is easy to make from readily available ingredients.  This is a mixture that has multiple uses.  It can be used to waterproof clothing, boots, canvas or wood.  It works great on gunstocks.  Even things like cloth baseball caps can be waterproofed.

The other day I made a batch of waterproofing at my house.

The mixture prior to setting up

I melted a ½ pound of beeswax in a double boiler.  Beeswax has a low melting temperature of around 150 F.  A double boiler works well and is safer.  But watch the wax well and make sure it doesn’t overheat.

When the wax is melted, remove it from the stove and add 4 oz of mineral spirits or turpentine and 4 oz of boiled linseed oil.  This should be done outside and because the wax cools slowly, it should not be on the stove or fire when you add the liquids.  Mix well and go back and stir occasionally while it is cooling so that it does not separate.

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When the waterproof is set it will still be soft.  I then place it in cans or jars with tight fitting lids to keep it from drying out.

The mixture after setting up

To use it on cloth or leather, warm the material first if possible.  This helps the waterproofing to penetrate.  You can warm the material by setting it out in the sun or placing it in front of a fire.  If the electricity is on you can tumble the material in a dryer or use a hair dryer to warm it.

Now take a cloth and rub the waterproofing in the material being careful to coat the seams well.  You can use it on most cloth and other materials.  After you put it on, give it some time to dry and penetrate.  A little heat after it is rubbed in will help it penetrate.  You may want to run a test on a small patch, since it can affect colors.  Materials often get darker.

Try rubbing it on your gunstocks and it will give them a nice finish.  It gives a nice hand rubbed finish to wood.


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11 thoughts on “Waterproofing for Tents, Clothing and Shoes, Making Your Own”

    1. The MotherEarth article is not the source of my information. They do not use mineral spirits which are more flammable than linseed oil. But I suspect that a test would give the same results and show that the material is not highly flammable when dry. But if I had doubts, i would test it myself.

  1. A way to do this cheaper is use parrafin wax, like the kind you use to seal over jelly in jars, melt the wax and then add turpentine… works very well…

  2. When I worked construction we waterproofed our boots and gloves with Thompson’s Water seal. It is used for waterproofing brick but does seal leather and cloth. I would be out in freezing sleet and my gloves on the outside would be dripping wet but on the inside my hands were dry.
    It will darken most materials that you put it on. I still use it on my boots to this day.

  3. Thanks Bori for the reminder on Thompson’s Water Seal.

    I’ve used it on wood for many years, but never thought of using it on leather or cloth. Shows that it pays to read the label!

    I’m going to give it a try on my Carhart barn coat and coveralls!

  4. a good source of beeswax is the beekeeping supply company – Dadant and Sons Hamilton Ill. the price is $7.90 lb. in 1oz. plugs 1 lb. minimum. dadant has 10+ regional shipping/walk in warehouses. phone number 888-922-1293 I have done business with 20 years with no problems. while at dadant, consider the price of wax for hand made beeswax candles.

  5. a good source of candle molds and everything necessary to poor candles is the beekeeping supply company – mann lake 800-880-7694. this is where I bought all of my candle molds. the catalog/site shows wick size and weight for each mold. on the site MANNLAKE, in the summer2015 catalog, over 100 molds were shown on pages 151-164. remember always use mold release spray to make it easier to remove the candle. once you have the equipment, it is very easy to make candles. you tube – beeswax candles for info.

  6. A source of cheap beeswax are toilet sealing rings.

    My father used it for a lubricant for wood screws. Went in a lot easier.

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