Is Cotton Canvas Waterproof? [Explained & Discussed]

When you buy a cotton canvas workwear, you want it to protect you not only against brush and debris, but also against the elements. But what about precipitation? Is cotton canvas waterproof, or can you expect water to leak through?

Although cotton canvas will naturally hold out water, do not expect untreated cotton canvas workwear to be completely waterproof. Most forms of cotton canvas workwear will be treated with an additional water-resistant finish to strengthen it even further against water.

Many workwear companies will finish their cotton canvas products with a DWR coating to help prevent moisture from soaking into the cotton. Typically, canvas that has been treated with a DWR finish will cause moisture to bead on the exterior of the canvas.

For example, here is precipitation beaded up on the exterior of my treated canvas jacket:


In this article let’s discuss in further detail what you can expect with cotton canvas and water. Is cotton canvas waterproof and able to withstand water exposure, and if so, how much it can withstand? And how can you treat your cotton canvas workwear to be even more water-resistant?

Is Cotton Canvas Waterproof?

As we discussed above, although cotton canvas will naturally hold out water, do not expect untreated cotton canvas workwear to be completely waterproof.

A canvas weave is a very tight, durable weave. When this tight, cotton weave gets wet, the cotton swells and seals the weave, which helps prevent moisture from leaking through to your skin.

So yes, a canvas weave naturally prevents moisture from leaking through to your skin. Here’s the problem: who wants to wear a soaking wet work jacket even if it’s holding moisture out?

Yes, the weave may help prevent moisture from leaking through to your skin, but the cotton will still absorb moisture, causing the garment itself to become wet and heavy.

There are two main solutions that are common used to help remedy this issue, and keep canvas from absorbing water.

  1. The garment is treated with a DWR or wax water-resistant finish.
  2. A fabric blend is used to help repel moisture.

How to Make Cotton Canvas Waterproof

Cotton canvas is a tight weave that, when it absorbs water and swells, naturally helps prevent moisture from leaking through to your skin. But a wet work jacket doesn’t help anybody. How can this be fixed?

  1. The garment is treated with a DWR or wax water-resistant finish.
  2. A fabric blend is used to help repel moisture.

Durable Water-Repellent Coatings

DWR (durable water-repellent) coatings are used to create a hydrophobic layer on the outside of cotton fabrics. This DWR finish causes water to bead up on the outside of the garment.

This prevents the cotton canvas from absorbing the moisture, and keeps you and your work clothing dry. Again, here is a picture of moisture beading up on the outside of my treated workwear jacket:


Most workwear companies will treat their cotton canvas products with a DWR coating, and should say as much in the product description. If your canvas work clothing is not treated, you can buy coating to apply on your own.

Some companies may also use an oil-finish to help protect the canvas and make it water-resistant. To read more, visit our article about lightweight waxed jackets.

Why Are Synthetic and Cotton Blends Waterproof?

Synthetic and cotton blends are used to make cotton canvas fabrics waterproof because the synthetic material is hygroscopic, which, when interwoven with cotton, allows the cotton to absorb less water. A few synthetic fabrics often used in cotton blends are:

  • Polyester
  • Rayon

For a fabric to be hygroscopic means that it only absorbs water molecules under very humid conditions. However, these conditions are not the normal standard, so the synthetic fiber is allowed to do its job and restrict the cotton from absorbing water.

Can Pure Cotton Resist Water?

In short, the answer is no. Pure cotton products cannot resist water for two reasons, which are:

  • The fibers of cotton fill with water when pure cotton products are submerged, meaning that the product will quickly become wet and will stay wet until all the water leaves the fabric.
  • It is so difficult for pure cotton products to repel water because the fibers in cotton are also very flexible. When wet, rather than forming a barrier against the water, the fibers flex under the weight of the water.

Cotton’s inability to resist water is the reason there are so many blends and products out there to coat it.

Cotton Canvas Alternatives that are Water-Resistant

If you were looking to use a cotton canvas material but just found out that it is not water-resistant, you may be looking for a solution. Here is a list of high-performing waterproof fabrics that may suit your needs.


One of the earliest fabrics to be utilized by humans is wool and for a good reason. Wool is known for being very resistant to both water and staining. While it may seem archaic to be using wool in your projects, if prepared correctly, wool can be just as advanced as modern synthetics.

At first glance, using wool may seem counterintuitive because wool is known for being highly absorbent. However, this is not the case because wool fibers are incredibly strong and can hold nearly 20% of their weight before soaking all the way through. Moreover, there are wool and cotton blend products that might meet your needs.

ELS Cotton Fabric

Extra-long staple cotton is entirely different (in fabric form) than your run-of-the-mill cotton. Since it was originally tough to grow on the mainland United States, you may have heard this referred to as sea island cotton. It is also known as Ventile.

It is a specialty crop that is known for various properties:

  • Being woven into very dense cotton fabric, making it less susceptible to soaking through with water
  • Its dense weave allowing it to stretch in extremely harsh weather
  • Expanding when wet, like regular cotton

The various properties make it a great choice as an alternative for cotton canvas.


Gore-Tex is created from stretched Teflon, and as a result, is incredibly durable. It is so durable and liquid-resistant that it is used in medical replacements. It is also used in camping gear because it can resist water and for its breathability.

A product being made of Gore-Tex allows it to dry efficiently and to be breathable. It is very common to see Gore-Tex used in workwear, including both jackets and boots.


If you are interested in water-resistant or waterproof work pants, visit our article about the best waterproof work pants. For cargo pants, visit our article about the best water resistant cargo pants.

Canvas Workwear

To read more about canvas workwear, and explore your options, visit our articles linked below:

Paul Johnson

Paul is a lead content creator for Workwear Command. He has had several blue-collar jobs which have provided him a wide range of experience with tools and gear. He also has a business degree and has spent time in business casual office settings.

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