How To Waterproof Your Winter Wear

Key Points

  • Waterproofing and water resistance are two different terms that often get intermixed.

  • Waterproof your winter wear to keep warm and dry during the winter months.

  • There are many ways to waterproof your winter wear as those coatings eventually wear off.

Finally that winter skiing trip you've been looking forward to all winter has arrived. The kids, the car, the gear, a bazillion blankets, and the food are all packed. All that's left to do is put hand warmers in everyone's gloves and hit the slopes. As you crest the top of the mountain you see it — a dark, looming rain cloud. You can't believe this once-in-a-lifetime trip is going to be rained out. You find yourself wishing you had waterproofed your winter wear.

Winter wear is essential if you're outside for long periods during the colder months. Insulated clothing is critical to stay warm, but you need to stay dry, too. While some winter garb has some built-in defense against water, it's actually quite simple to waterproof your winter wear at home.

Even if you get a perfectly waterproofed winter item, that waterproofing protection doesn't last forever. It's an excellent idea to waterproof your outdoor clothes to enhance your rainy-day experiences and improve their longevity.

Waterproof or Water-Resistant?

These two terms are similar, causing debate — and often confusion — around products. Both terms relate to products such as clothes, building materials, or even electronics and discuss their level of moisture protection. Water resistance means the material handles a little water but will likely fail when submerged. 

Water-resistant clothes are often repellant, sending beads of water quickly sliding from the fabric.

Snow resistant jacket

On the other hand, waterproof means that the material is impervious to water, and the water around it doesn't affect the product because of the sealed protection. When you initially buy winter wear, it's best to avoid water-resistant products because waterproof fabrics offer more protection.

Since waterproofing isn't a permanent fixture on any item, learning how to maintain and reinforce the waterproof elements in each winter item you buy is critical for enhanced protection.

Waterproof Ratings

As you look for the right winter gear to suit your needs, the various ratings on the tag may confuse you. For example, insulated products have a rating scale where higher numbers indicate higher insulation.

Similarly, fabrics have waterproofing elements. The waterproof ratings have a measurement in millimeters, and again, aim for higher numbers for better waterproofing. When you see a jacket with a rating between 0-1,500mm, the fabric has minimal protection against water. The jacket might do well in light rain or dry snow, but that is all to count on.

Waterproof fabrics rate between 1,500-5,000mm, while those between 5,000-10,000mm are ideal for moderate rains. Fabrics between 10,000-20,000mm are completely waterproof, even when exposed to heavy rains.

The clothing's producer determines the waterproof ratings and usually tests the items in an independent lab. Brands have protocols in place, and one common test involves putting a square tube over the fabric and checking how long water leaks onto the material without going through it.

There are also added pressures to simulate wind and other natural effects. Not every garment has a rating, but waterproofing is becoming a standard in winter gear. Since every manufacturer can test differently, the numbers aren't always reliable, but they're an excellent place to start when shopping for clothing to keep you dry.

Breathability Ratings

You want water to stay out of your winter clothing, but you also need any moisture — like sweat — on the inside to get out. That is why breathability is also crucial in your winter items, even if you're wearing layers.

Suppose you participate in a strenuous winter activity such as skiing or snowshoeing. These laborious tasks heat up your body, which produces sweat to regulate the temperature. The breathability of your coat, boots, and other items can help you avoid wetness on the interior.

Breathability ratings have a scale in grams, and a rating between 5,000-8,000g works well for casual use. If you partake in high-energy activities during the winter, you need something rated at 20,000g or higher to ensure moisture escapes and you stay comfortable.

Trapping the moisture inside your winter items cools you down too quickly and with harsh ramifications. It's crucial to have proper insulation, waterproof elements, and breathability in winter items like coats, boots, gloves, and hats.

Winter clothes closet

How Are Winter Items Made Waterproof?

Waterproof and breathable materials often have an outer layer — a face fabric — often made of polyester or nylon because they're lightweight and durable. Waterproof clothing also includes a laminated coating or membrane with water-repellant solutions.

The membrane doesn't soak up the water, but it still looks sleek and adds warmth. The outer layers have small holes, which are too small to let water inside but large enough to allow water vapor out. The material isn't absorbent, forcing beads of water to run smoothly off and keeping you warm and dry.

How Long Does Waterproofing Stay in Place?

Once you buy a waterproof winter item, you'll stay safe and dry forever! Wrong. All items deteriorate over time, including waterproof membranes. Winter gear is frequently exposed to severe weather conditions, which damage the initial waterproof coating.

If you're wearing your favorite jacket and start to feel damp from cold rain or heavy snow, you could try waterproofing the item at home in lieu of buying a replacement. For example, most waterproof boots last hundreds of miles or more before the soles wear out, but the waterproof membrane may deteriorate much sooner.

The eventual problem with the waterproofing layer is that it rubs against other objects and gets worn down. Maintain the waterproofing membrane as well as possible, and consider using waterproof sprays to protect the initial waterproofing on your winter clothing.

The longevity of the waterproofing depends on the object, how you use it, how frequently you expose it to water, and the quality of the material. Information about the longevity of waterproof materials is sometimes available from the producer.

How To Waterproof a Winter Jacket

Staying outside for extended periods of time during cold weather requires keeping your core body warm. Even if you have a durable, waterproof coat, it may need occasional treatment.

Some lightweight jackets only last for a season before losing their waterproof protection. For heavier coats, reproofing every few years is ideal. Here are a few things to do to stay warm and dry throughout every year.

Waterproof fabric

Use a Wash Treatment

Every winter coat gets dirty, and routine trips through the washing machine break down the waterproofing elements. When your coat is dirty, pre-wash it with a gentle detergent before you give it a waterproof treatment.

Revivex Wash-In Water Repellent is ideal for items that have minimal insulation. Place the jacket on a delicate cycle and add Revivex Pro Cleaner and Revivex Wash-In Water Repellent. Tumble dry the jacket or hang it in the open air to protect its longevity.

Spray On Waterproofing

Another way to treat your jacket is to use a simple spray to enliven the waterproofing on the materials. Clean your jacket like usual and hang it in the open air to dry. Then, liberally spray a treatment all over the exterior.

Place the jacket into the dryer on medium heat to seal things up. The best sprays repel water, dirt, and oil for over a year.

How To Waterproof Winter Boots

Boots take a beating over the winter months; keeping them in good working order is essential if you want warm, dry feet. Senior merchant for seasonal hard goods at MEC Steven Paul says, "Put it under the tap or get it wet. If it starts absorbing the water, that's a sign that it needs to be cleaned and reproofed."

Even boots with high waterproofing elements can benefit from extra protective treatments. The factory waterproofing works well but simply can't last forever.

Waterproofing helps leather boots stay soft and avoid cracks. If you wear your winter boots daily, treating them before and after the season is a good idea. For those who work outside, a mid-season waterproofing session ensures warm, dry feet for the whole winter.

A waterproofing spray is an excellent option for boots made from materials like suede or leather. Waterproof sprays maintain the integrity of the colors while leaving zero residue. There are also colored waterproofing sprays available for suede materials.

Woman bundled up in the snow

Leather boots take a wax that won't clog the pores in the leather. Try a test spot to know the appearance before moving forward with the entire boot.

As with all apparel, it's best to start with a thorough cleaning. Run a damp paper towel over the boots to remove the dust and dirt. Any waterproofing product applies easier and looks sharper on a clean boot.

Always read the instructions when applying waterproofing products, especially if you have boots made from unique materials. Pay attention to the suggested spray distance. When held too close to the boot, spray-on products may leave a white film behind.

You also want to do this job in an open, well-ventilated space before spraying slowly and evenly. If you think you've overapplied the product, use a hair dryer to heat the boots; this will soften the spray. Once the heat softens the product, wipe some away with a cloth.

How To Waterproof Winter Clothing

Whether you ski in a lightweight shirt to avoid getting hot or want your favorite pants to keep the water out when you're sledding with your kids, it's a good idea to waterproof your regular clothes you plan to wear outside. Don't skip out on your children's clothes either!

Remember, you don't have to buy waterproof items to own waterproof winter wear; waterproof products work on all types of clothing.

Spray a Coating

There are a variety of versatile waterproofing sprays that work on multiple types of fabrics. Use a liquid polymer to coat the fabric and help it to resist water. It works well on cotton, leather, canvas, and other materials.

Use the spray to reproof waterproof items or turn something new into a water-resistant product.

Before you spray your clothing, wash anything you want with a technical fabric wash; dry the clothes according to the label. Standard detergent typically leaves residue behind, attracting water or repelling the spray, but specialized washes are gentle and allow the mist to settle into the material.

Once the clothes are clean and dry, lay the items flat on the ground — try placing cardboard underneath to prevent spraying other items in the room. Flatten the clothing so the spray will apply evenly. Hold the spray bottle six inches above the fabric and move slowly as you use the product.

Flip the clothing to the other side, aiming for a thin layer. Wipe away any liquid left behind on the clothing and let it air dry.

Rain jacket in the cold

Wax Products

Waxes work well when waterproofing clothing if you have materials with natural fibers like canvas. Use wax on bags, hats, jackets, or other clothes. Synthetic fibers don't absorb the wax as well and won't get the same benefits.

Boil water in a saucepan and put a metal bowl over the top to create a double boiler. The bowl shouldn't touch the water but will melt the wax underneath; use beeswax pellets and paraffin wax.

These waxes, when combined, are insoluble and waterproof. Once the wax melts, mix together and carefully brush a thick layer onto the fabric with a paintbrush. Take special care to avoid leaving spaces or exposed areas.

Once the wax is evenly spread, use a hair dryer and melt the wax into the fabric. Move the hair dryer constantly — but slowly — so it doesn't liquify any of the wax and cause it to run off. After the wax cools, apply more and hit uneven areas.

It's essential to allow the clothing to sit for 24 hours in a well-ventilated space to allow the treatment to finish. It may need to dry for up to six hours longer if the wax still feels damp or sticky.

Water-Soluble Soap

Another option is to soak clothing items in water-soluble soap. Use a regular unscented powdered laundry detergent. Aluminum potassium sulfate or another salt option is an acceptable substitute. This strategy takes more time than spray or wax but is very effective.

Wash and dry the clothing before the treatment to absorb the waterproofing solution. Combine two gallons of hot water with two cups of detergent, boil it on the stove, and submerge the fabric until saturated.

Push the clothes down into the bucket and hold them under the water with a pair of tongs. After soaking the clothing, wring it out and hang dry. Try using a clothesline in direct sunlight for the best results.

If you opt for aluminum potassium sulfate, mix two gallons of fresh hot water and one cup of aluminum potassium sulfate. You need to soak your clothing for two and a half hours so the soap and aluminum can fully react. Note that your clothes need to be fully submerged the entire time.

Seam Sealant

Whether you're looking to waterproof your boots, coats, or hats, the seams are often where water leaks through to the inside. To avoid this common pitfall, consider using a seam sealant to further the waterproof protection on your winter garb.

Use a urethane-based seam sealant and apply it on and around every seam to prevent moisture from seeping inside. If you skip this step, moisture tears the material apart each time it gets wet, and this is a major reason soles peel away from boot uppers.

Making snow angels

Kiwi has a high-quality product that works on various materials, including tents! If you want to reinforce the seams of your boots or clothing, spray liberally and allow the material to dry at room temperature.  Ensure the room you treat your clothing is well-ventilated with minimal humidity.

For boots, place some old newspaper and place it inside to absorb moisture and dry out the insoles.

Stay Warm All Winter Long

Insulated winter wear helps keep you warm, but you'll still get wet and chilled without waterproofing. Waterproofing, not water resistance, keeps moisture at bay but doesn't last forever. The more you wear your gear in tough conditions, the quicker you'll need to reproof.

With multiple ways to waterproof your winter wear, choosing the best method sometimes comes down to the materials. The type of clothing also plays a role in deciding how to treat your gear. For a jacket, a waterproof spray might be easiest. For boots, consider using wax if it's appropriate for the materials.

With proper waterproofing tools and techniques, nothing will rain on your parade.

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