Waterproof fabric: a complete guide to water resistant fabric
Before you buy fabrics to create products that can withstand the elements, read the comprehensive fabric guide we’ve put together, which includes all the information you need about waterproof fabric, as well as those for outdoor use.
What is waterproof material?
Twenty-first-century technology gives you plenty of options when it comes to waterproof fabric and material that protects you from rain and snow.
Waterproof fabric is fabric that is resistant to water, or fabric that reduces the amount of water that it absorbs. Wool is an extremely effective and breathable material. This fabric is also resistant to water.
These days, technology has stepped up to the plate and is producing various other types of fabric that also do the job. Like wool fabrics, these other fabrics can breathe and resist moisture. To make a modern synthetic fabric waterproof, we either laminate the fabric or coat it with a special fabric such as wax, silicone, rubber and polyurethane (PU), to name a few.
The rating system for waterproof outdoor fabric
There are various rating systems for waterproof outdoor fabric, to check the degree to which these outdoor fabrics are waterproof. The outdoor fabric goes through various tests to find out how much water is needed to penetrate the fabric and make it wet.
To call an outdoor fabric ‘waterproof fabric’, the outdoor fabric needs to resist more than 1,000mm of water pressure before it starts to leak. Believe it or not, there are certain outdoor fabrics that fare much better than that!
Another test we regularly do to test whether an outdoor fabric is waterproof or not, is a breathability test, which works out how much air and moisture penetrate the outdoor fabric and seep out of it.
One can do various tests to check the breathability of an outdoor fabric and the degree to which the outdoor fabric is waterproof. Often a seller will come up with their own tests for outdoor waterproof fabric and advertise this to their customers in a blog or through an ad.
The result of these outdoor fabrics tests is 2 numbers. The first number indicates how waterproof the outdoor fabric is and the second one deals with the breathability of the outdoor fabric. The higher the result, the more waterproof and breathable the outdoor fabric is.
The difference between waterproof and water resistant fabrics
What’s the difference between a waterproof and a water resistant fabric? Let’s take a look at what sets these fabrics apart:
· These 2 terms are NOT the same thing. Waterproof fabric implies that no water can penetrate the fabric, while water-resistant describes fabrics that are relatively resistant to water.
· A waterproof fabric is the most resistant to water, while a water-resistant fabric is less so.
· Manufacturers often weave waterproof fabric far more tightly than water-resistant material so the water struggles to penetrate. That’s what makes the fabric the most resistant to water.
Examples of waterproof fabric for outdoor furniture include nylon and polyester.
· Water-resistant fabrics resist less water but are not completely resistant. Examples of this type of fabric include cotton, which is not as tightly woven as synthetic fabrics like nylon and polyester.
· We treat fabrics that are both waterproof and breathable with an outer layer called ‘face fabric’. We make this fabric layer using polyester or nylon fabric. There's also a laminated coating we create from either polyurethane (PU) or PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene, also known as Teflon® and often used to make non-stick cookware) that we use on the fabrics.
Let's talk about water-repellant material
There is actually a third type of fabric that repels water. We call it water-repellent fabric. We treat this type of fabric with a special coating that repels water.
Examples of water-repellent outdoors fabrics include PUL (polyurethane laminated) fabric and TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane) fabric. We choose PUL fabric for pads that we use for quilting and to handle waterproof mattresses, while TPU fabric is lighter and softer, so we use it to make fabric bed sheets and babies’ nappies.
Examples of a waterproof textile
These are the most popular fabrics we use per metre wide for various home furnishings and clothing:
ELS (Extra-Long-Staple) Cotton
This type of cotton fabric comes mainly from California in the US. We make this very dense fabric from specially cultivated extra-long fibres that we weave together. This is an excellent waterproof fabric and people use this cotton fabric to make outerwear during extreme weather conditions. They also use these cotton fabrics for quilting waterproof bed protectors and for sheets. People often use these cotton fabrics as part of a fabric blend to create other list waterproof items of clothing, such as pants and shirts.
Nylon and polyester
As we already mentioned, one creates these 2 fabrics with a tight weave so that they are water-resistant fabrics. If treated as well, polyester fabric is the ideal waterproof fabric for all sorts of outdoor products, including outdoor umbrellas, outdoor patio furniture and raincoats. Before one treats polyester fabrics, they are not completely waterproof: but when one weaves the polymer fibres into the fabric, water can soak through the gaps in the fabric’s weave. So manufacturers treat these outdoor fabrics to make them waterproof and more hard wearing.
We often use this soft fabric as a cloth for cleaning mobile phones, computer screens and glasses. We make the fabric out of polyester. It's water-resistant, but then we coat the fabric to make it 100% waterproof. We also use this fabric for jackets and bed sheets.
We initially made this type of fabric from tightly woven linen or duck cloth. We also call this fabric ‘enamelled cloth’. People used to treat them by coating the fabric in boiled linseed oil.
This stiffened the fabric and made it waterproof and more durable. We rarely use this fabric for clothing, although in the past people used these fabrics for sailor’s coats as well as boat sails.
These days, we coat oilcloth with clear vinyl. This fabric, which comes in both matte and shiny textures, is very hard wearing and easy to clean. We mainly use the fabrics for luggage and as a waterproof mattress cover in hospitals, etc.
Wool is a most interesting natural fibre. Not only is it naturally water-resistant, but the fabric also absorbs water: in fact, it can soak up to 30% of its natural weight in water!
To make the fabric more water-resistant, we coat wool fabric with a thin layer of lanolin oil. However, you need to regularly re-apply this coating, or the fabric won’t remain as water-resistant. Before we make wool fabric garments, we usually boil the fabric in hot water to make it even more water-resistant.
Latex and natural rubber
We make latex fabric products re made from either synthetic rubber or natural rubber (the natural sap from the rubber tree). The natural version is hardwearing and biodegradable, too, so it’s an extremely eco friendly fabric. Both these fabrics are extremely water resistant; we use the water resistant fabric to make a variety of products, from rubber gloves to clothing and seat covers.
Manufacturers created this very hard-wearing, waterproof synthetic fabric from stretched Teflon threads (polytetrafluoroethylene). We often use the fabric for camping equipment, luggage, fabric army uniforms as well as in various countries' space programmes. What sets Gore-tex® fabrics apart from other waterproof fabric is that it's also breathable.
Made from PVC, or polyvinyl chloride, this fabric is extremely hard wearing, long lasting and waterproof. We used to produce music records from vinyl. We've also used the fabric to make some iconic garments of clothing, especially in the punk rock era (1970s). We call it 'pleather' or 'faux leather'. We use vinyl fabric to make rain jackets, handbags and other water-resistant clothing and accessories.
maake’s waterproof fabric choices
· Aqua Plain Tex: This smooth lightweight 100% polyester water repellent fabric with a PU back is extremely popular for baby changing mats and light water repellent clothing, including waders and accessories. The fabric’s smooth surface is extremely comfortable to wear and solid colours print vibrantly on its optic white base.
· Lotus Twill: Extremely lightweight 100% polyester water repellent fabric, ideal for clothing, outdoor upholstery fabric and accessories and wash bags. We use it either as a fabric or as fabric lining. The fabric is smooth to the touch with an elegant drape and colours print vibrantly. These waterproof fabrics have a waterproof coating and also lightly repel water for showers etc
· Neraki Waterproof Canvas: A medium-weight, 240 gsm (grams per square metre wide), 100% polyester PU Backed fabric that is water repellent. The fabric boasts a soft canvas texture. It is used for handbags, beanbags, outdoor cushions, pet accessories and kids’ play mats. The fabric is easy to wipe clean and very durable. Its optic white base achieves vibrant colour prints.
· Tentex Water Repellent: |A medium weight, 280 gsm (grams per square metre wide) 100% polyester PU backed water repellent fabric with a crisp texture and smooth face. This fabric is ideal for bags, aprons, outdoor cushions, pet accessories and kids’ play mats. The fabric is easy to wipe clean , doesn’t fray when cut and is tear-resistant. Also, you can print vibrant colours on the fabrics optic white base.
Note: maake uses no water in our polyester fabric printing process. Also, we currently only use polyester, not cotton, water repellent fabrics. All inks used to print on the fabrics meet Oeko-tex requirements and pass EN71-3 certification. We use a different print process when we print designs on cotton.
Ready to start printing?
The world of waterproof and water-resistant textiles offers a myriad of options tailored for a range of applications—from outdoor furniture to high-performance clothing. With advances in technology, we now have waterproof fabrics that not only handle water effectively but also breathe, adding an extra layer of comfort. As we've discussed, the rating systems are crucial to understanding just how waterproof a fabric really is, so make sure to consult these before making your choice.
If you're ready to dive into your next project, why not make it quick and efficient? Our quick shop feature allows you to easily add your favourites to your cart. Whether you're interested in traditional waterproof textiles like wool and oilcloth or you're leaning towards modern synthetic fabrics, there's something to suit every need and preference.
When it comes to water-resistant options, these fabrics offer a moderate level of protection and are often ideal for less demanding environments. It's essential to recognise that while all waterproof fabrics are water-resistant, not all water-resistant fabrics are waterproof.
As you explore your options, remember that the key to a successful project lies in choosing the right material. Whether you're shopping for waterproof or water-resistant fabrics, always consider your specific needs—be it breathability, durability, or the ability to handle water in extreme conditions. We hope this comprehensive guide helps you add the perfect waterproof fabric to your list of favourites. Happy crafting!
Note: maake uses no water in our polyester fabric printing process. Also, we currently only use polyester, not cotton water repellent fabrics. All inks used to print on the fabrics meet Oeko-tex requirements and pass EN71-3 certification. We use a different print process when we print designs on cotton.
Let's start printing
Choose from our stunning selection of base fabrics per metre wide. These include cotton, linen and other natural fabrics as well as synthetic fabrics and fabric blends. View the selection, then make your list add to your cart.
Browse our extensive Design Library for designs to print on fabrics before you decide on your sewing patterns.
Delivery add note
maake uses the most cost-effective delivery services possible. Although we do not provide free UK delivery, we do offer the option to collect your fabrics order in person if you live within the vicinity of our North London factory (NW10).