Monday, August 23, 2010

Archival DIY: Reproofing Waxed Cotton

Martexin reproofing wax. Operating instructions on the can.

Archival Clothing endorses waxed cotton because it's a rugged, natural, water resistant fabric that requires only wax reproofing to maintain its finish. Waxed cotton users should know how to reprooof their jackets, hats, and bags. Both Filson and Barbour offer factory reproofing services but we recommend performing the work yourself (at least once). Reproofing waxed cotton is relatively easy and personalizes the care and maintenance of your garment. Even if you live in the desert, you should establish a reproofing schedule for your waxed cotton. Reproofing extends the life of waxed cotton and prevents it from developing the folds and wear lines that often lead to holes.

I do my reproofing in August so I can move the work outdoors.

Basic tools: wax (warmed), water, sponge, blow dryer (or heat gun). If you're using our 1.5 ounce tin, spoon some wax into a bowl and heat briefly in microwave. Some people recommend using Filson wax, say, with a Filson product, but I've switched between several brands of wax treatment (Filson, Barbour and Martinex) with the same results. I will concede that for a full reproofing job on a jacket, the larger tins of Barbour reproofing wax are easier to heat in a double boiler.

Dab off dirt with a moistened sponge. Do not use soaps or detergents.

Use clean sponge to spread warmed reproofing wax thinly on fabric. Short strokes work best.

Reheat surface of item with blow dryer to melt the wax into the fabric.

Reapply wax until it evenly coats the bag.

Restored to original factory finish

I still have wax left so I'm reproofing a couple of my Filson duckbill caps

You'll be moving back and forth between wax applications and the blow dryer

Don't expect the wax to glaze evenly over fabric. You'll need to work it into the surface.

There! You've shopped from yourself. These rewaxed hats are better than new. Let the sun help w/the final reproofing. Use a blow dryer again if you find any remaining, unmelted spots of wax. If you've overdone it, fear not, daily use and rain will wear down the excess wax.


d3n1m said...

Cool guide. Can I also use this on not previously waxed products? I would like to put wax on my natural canvas scout pack from Duluth Pack.


Lesli Larson said...

Yes, this treatment method should work on untreated natural canvas though absorption of wax into fabric might vary. I'd experiment with a small patch of fabric (preferably a test scrap from the manufacturer) before undertaking a full reproofing effort. I know that in the instance of dry finish tin cloth, filson recommends that you opt for scotchguard over waxed treatments.

I'd also like to emphasize that you do not have to rewax waxed items. Some folks prefer to let the wax treatment on their products wear away naturally. That's OK too.

Fern said...

Thanks for the instructional guide! I will be sure to refer back to this when my AC musette looks a bit dry.

Anonymous said...

Can one use such a wax to wax a previously un-waxed cotton canvas item, say a small tote bag or a hat?

Lesli Larson said...

I'm not an expert in waxing unwaxed garments. I think it would really depend on the fabric--the tightness of the weave and how well it absorbs wax. I'd experiment (per my first comment) and stick to waxing fabrics that were woven for that use.

Here's an interesting thread on the subject by way of the Fedora Lounge:

Dave said...

I've done a little playing around with trying to come up with my own waxing formula but haven't really worked it out. I've tried mixing linseed oil and beeswax and then waxed previously un-waxed cotton. Its come out much more rigid and crackly then the professional stuff, but fun to experiment with regardless.

Thanks for the how-to. I have a Barbour Bedale is looking a little dry, so maybe I should think about a little re-proofing.


Lesli Larson said...

Another resource in case you don't want to take on the reproofing work yourself:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post. There are things that I am going to try this on, but I do have a jacket - Helmut Lang - that I am a bit nervous about doing myself. Do you have any suggestions for where to have rewaxing done in NYC. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Is it possible to wax say, a backpack? I have a simple Jansport bag, nothing fancy, and I want to know if it's possible to wax it?

Lesli Larson said...

Rather than look for a NYC source, I'd send your waxed items out to a commercial reproofer like New England Reproofers (I believe they handle the Filson contract).

Alas, for synthetic pack fabrics like a Jansport pack, I'd recommend a nikwax or scotchguard type spray.

Hans said...

Take DIY one step further: I got just a bit of sticker shock when I saw a bar of Greenland Wax from Fjällräven in a shop for 80 kronor $10+). A bar-of-soap looking thing, the package tells you what it is: 90% paraffin and 10% beeswax. So hit up your reliable beeswax dealer and melt-your-own for 1/10th the price. You rub it into the fabric, gravestone-rubbing style, before heating. I carry a small bit in the breast pocket of my jacket, for out-there repair or treatment.

Anonymous said...


Conrad Buck said...

I had a Barbour Backhouse jacket in London may years ago and tried to reproof myself after the general dry city air parched any moisture of it. Absolute disaster. I smeared the wax on from the can and worked it in with fingers (hand warmth is better than cloth) however the wax made the jacket so wet, no amount of hairdrying fixed the mess. I couldn't go anywhere without shiny wax and leaving grease marks all over the place.

I now have a cotton field jacket that is a prized possession but would like to to wax proof it. Not sure if I want to take the risk.

One word of warning. Wax clothing doesn't fare well in sub-zero climates due to the wax freezing and then cracking.

Lesli Larson said...


It's super important to use a heat source like the blow dryer, or better yet, heat gun, to melt and distribute the wax--especially if you're working on a large surface like a big jacket. I had a similar disaster with a Filson tin cloth that I over-proofed. Now the jacket is relegated to dog-park only use until the proofing finish wears off. For big jobs, I'm ok sending my jackets off for professional reproofing. I've put in my own home reproofing time.

Conrad Buck said...

Thanks Lesli,

I am very tempted to send the jacket off for proofing however it's that catch 22 situation. A beloved cotton field jacket that has so much personal attachment, and that longing for it to be a waxed jacket to make it just that more perfect. The strains of a complicated life!

Anonymous said...

Is there any difference in the performance of the barbour nikwax and the barbour thornproof wax?

Anonymous said...


i was just wondering if it is possible to wax proof a canvas tent. i am a medieval re-enacter and our tents arnt excatly waterproof its a very large surface area
any help would be appreciated

Tom Bonamici said...

Hi Anon,

Yes, it's possible - please hold. You could do it with dozens of cans of wax, but it would hardly be cost-effective! I know of an old text that has instructions, let me find it and I'll get back to you.


Tom Bonamici said...

Hi Anon - please email us at and I'll send you the info on proofing tents (c. 1954).

Xiao said...

I am gonna use otter wax to reproof my tote bag bought from you guys. For a bag that size, how much of the bar should I use? Thanks!

Tom Bonamici said...

Hi Xiao,

It depends on how thickly you apply the Otter wax, but I think about a half stick should be plenty.



Anonymous said...

Can you apply this method to t shirts?

Tom Bonamici said...

@Anonymous 4:03 - You could certainly wax a T-shirt, although I can't imagine that resulting in a very comfortable garment!

Anonymous said...

I see this is an old thread, but I'll give it a try.

I just purchased a nice Filson waxed hat, it was discounted because the body of the hat has lots of creases.

Will the blow drying remove the creases? If not, is there a good way to get rid of creases. I tried (and then quickly stopped) ironing. I guess that's a big no-non.

Tom Bonamici said...

@Anon 4:52,
Creases can sometimes last for a long time if the garment has been stored crushed. Try a light blow-dry. If that doesn't work, the creases will eventually fade as you wear the hat, and re-proofing will help.