All You need to Know about Waxed Canvas

Table of Contents

    What is Waxed Canvas Fabric?

    Canvas is made from either cotton, linen, which in turn is made from flax, or traditionally, hemp, which is once again becoming a popular choice. Unlike other heavy-duty fabrics, such as denim, which uses a twill weave, canvas is made using a plain weave. Canvas comes in two forms, plain and duck, with duck canvas the threads are more tightly woven and consequently it is stronger. Waxed canvas was evolved by British sailors who, after observing that wet canvas sails caught the wind more effectively, soaked their canvas in linseed oil. Off cuts from the oiled canvas were then used as waterproof clothing. Today, waxed canvas is produced by impregnating the canvas fibres with wax. The quality and strength of canvas is determined by the thickness of the yarn and the density of the weave. Most waxed canvas is created using a paraffin-based wax but there are also hybrid waxes which use paraffin and fluorocarbon to improve water proofing. It is also possible to create waxed canvas using natural waxes, such as beeswax, but this is a more expensive option.

    What does Waxed Canvas Feel Like?

    Waxed canvas has a much drier feel than waxed cotton and has a pleasantly textured, supple surface. It is not sticky or damp to the touch.

    Where to Buy Waxed Canvas

    Waxed canvas is an increasingly popular material because it is eco-friendly and has a vintage charm and there are now a number of suppliers to be found on Etsy and Amazon. The original producer, British Millerain, is still in business, though they tend to specialise in waxed cotton products. The best range of wholesale waxed canvas producers are now to be found in America, among them: Big Duck Canvas, Canvas ETC, and Carr Textiles.

    Is Waxed Canvas Flammable?

    Popular perception of waxed canvas is sometimes haunted by dramatic images of circus tent fires, such as the Hartford Circus fire of 1944, which was caused by petrol added to the waxing mixture. Modern waxed canvas is difficult to ignite and is far less flammable than most synthetic materials. It will burn if sufficient heat is applied but it is not a dangerously combustible material.

    Is Waxed Canvas Vegan?

    Waxed canvas is vegan and is much more environmentally friendly than most other vegan leather substitutes which use products derived from the petro-chemical industry. The production of paraffin wax generates very low level chemical toxins.

    Is Waxed Canvas Durable?

    Waxed canvas is a strong, hard-wearing material which is resistant to tearing. Properly maintained it will give a lifetime of use.

    Is Waxed Canvas Waterproof?

    Waxed canvas is a waterproof material which will repel driving rain, however, it is not impermeable and if immersed in water for long periods it will become saturated.

    Does Waxed Canvas Rub Off?

    Waxed canvas will not rub off on clothes, though waxed cotton products may do. Over time the wax impregnated canvas will dry out and will need re-waxing.

    Does Waxed Canvas Stain?

    Waxed canvas, because it is water resistant will not stain easily and marks and scuffs incurred by everyday use add to its character. To remove a serious oil stain, apply corn starch to the area and leave for forty-eight hours before removing with a stiff brush. Repeat if necessary. Cold water and a gentle soap may also be used. The canvas should be re-waxed after treatment.

    Does Waxed Canvas Stretch?

    Waxed canvas is a natural, organic material, it will, over time, mould to usage but it will not stretch out of shape.

    Can You Wash Waxed Canvas?

    A waxed canvas item should never be washed in its entirety and it should never need to be washed. If re-waxed appropriately and the frequency of the this depends on usage, it should not become dirty and marks and scuffs are part of its visual appeal. If, in extreme cases, it is necessary to wash a waxed canvas item it should be done using cold water and soft soap and the item should be completely re-waxed afterwards.

    Can You iron Waxed Canvas?

    Waxed canvas should never be ironed, to do so would burn off the wax from the fibres and necessitate a complete re-waxing.

    Can You Dye Waxed Canvas?

    Canvas is dyed prior to waxing, once waxed it cannot be dyed.


    Why is Waxed Canvas So Expensive?

    Waxed canvas is three to four times more expensive than canvas, this reflects the cost of the paraffin-based wax (alternative waxes, such as beeswax are even more expensive) and the time-consuming process of saturating the canvas with wax.

    How Does Wax Canvas Age?

    One of the features of waxed canvas which has resulted in its increasing use in fashion accessories is the attractive way in which it ages. Like full grain leather its appearance improves with age, making it a unique personal accessory. Scuffs, marks and creases create a rich patina which continues to develop with age.

    How to Clean Waxed Canvas

    As a result of its water repellent qualities waxed canvas also repels dirt. Dust or mud will not penetrate waxed canvas and can be removed with a damp cloth. An oil stain which has soaked into the material needs to be treated with corn starch or a similarly absorbent substance. Apply the absorbent substance generously to the affected area and leave for forty-eight hours, after which time it can removed with a stiff brush. If necessary, repeat the process. A stained area of waxed canvas can be washed using cold water and a gentle soap, but it will need to be re-waxed afterwards. Do not put waxed canvas articles in the washing machine and always allow them to dry naturally.

    How to Soften Waxed Canvas

    You really should not need to soften a waxed canvas article; it will rapidly become flexible through use. Barbour jackets, which are waxed cotton rather than waxed canvas, become stiff when they need re-waxing. 

    How to Break in Waxed Canvas

    The answer is simple: use it. Disregard internet advice which suggests putting the article in a washing machine.

    Waxed Canvas with Leather

    Waxed canvas makes an excellent pairing with leather: both materials have similar longevity and both materials develop a rich patina with age, as a result they are increasingly being paired in fashion accessories. For example, the Mahi Classic Canvas Washbag features a waxed canvas upper for added protection against splashes and spills and a sturdy full grain brown leather base.

    Waxed Canvas vs Canvas

    The thick weave of canvas makes it durable and hard to tear; it’s breathable yet windproof. Canvas can be put in a washing machine or washed by hand. Waxed canvas has the strength and durability of canvas, but it is also waterproof. It is less breathable than canvas but still much more comfortable when worn than most synthetic materials. Waxed canvas repels dirt more than canvas and should not be washed in a washing machine.

    Waxed Canvas vs Leather

    Not all waxed canvas is of equal quality and not all leather is of equal quality. The quality of waxed canvas is determined by the fibres used, the thickness of the weave and the quality of the waxing process. Grades of leather range from full grain leather, which is the highest quality grade, down to bonded leather, which is reconstituted leather shavings glued together. Let’s assume then we are comparing high quality waxed canvas with full grain leather. A full grain leather article, such as a bag, is likely to cost between 20% to 50% more than its waxed canvas counterpart. The leather bag will be stronger and a small hole in a leather bag won’t unravel as it might with canvas. The waxed canvas bag will be much more waterproof. Both bags will last a lifetime but both bags will require maintenance, albeit minimal. Both full grain leather and waxed canvas improve with age, developing a rich patina. Waxed canvas has a vintage charm, it’s a performance fabric but it doesn’t have the sporty image of synthetic materials. Full grain leather has a more sophisticated appearance better suited to a formal or business context. 

    Waxed Canvas vs Oilskin

    Oilskin was originally cotton impregnated with linseed oil. It was an early form of waterproof used by fishermen and sailors. It is now a generic term, aka ‘oilies’ for any waterproof clothing worn at sea and is now made from plastic coated cloth, nylon or Gortex. This is specialist clothing designed to resist drenching and although, historically, waxed canvas was used in this way it is now valued for its durability and its aesthetic qualities and consequently it is used for land based outdoor activities and for fashion accessories.

    Waxed Canvas vs Ballistic Nylon

    Ballistic nylon was a material developed by DuPont for the construction of shrapnel proof flak jackets during the Second World War. It is woven from nylon yarn, is very tough, water resistant and has a shiny appearance. Hard to dye, it is usually black and is used for motorcycle jackets, expedition backpacks and heavy-duty luggage. It is a synthetic utility material used for specialist equipment. Waxed canvas is also hard wearing and waterproof, but it is also an aesthetically pleasing material, which is increasingly used in the production of fashion accessories. It is pleasant to handle and develops a rich patina as it ages.

    Waxed Canvas vs Oilcloth

    Oilcloth is another early form of waterproofing, usually used in a nautical context. Linen or cotton was coated with boiled linseed oil to create a material which was greasy and damp to the touch. Today, the term is used to describe printed vinyl with a synthetic backing such as waterproof outdoor tablecloths. Waxed canvas is a heavier material, stronger and more durable, one in which the fibres of the linen have been impregnated with wax. It is used for outdoor pursuits and because of its robust flexibility and aesthetic qualities it is increasingly used for fashion accessories.

    Waxed Canvas vs Cordura

    Cordura is a brand name for a synthetic fabric originally created by DuPont but which is now a term used to describe a range of products with similar attributes. Cordura is extremely strong and because of the nature of the textured fibres it is very abrasion resistant and waterproof. It is used for expedition backpacks and military equipment. By contrast, waxed canvas is a natural and organic material, it is strong, durable and waterproof though it cannot match Cordura in these qualities. Waxed canvas, however, is a much more pleasant fabric to handle and ages attractively, like full grain leather, consequently it is an increasingly popular choice in the production of fashion accessories.

    Canvas for nautical and military uses

    The Main Uses for Waxed Canvas

    Originally developed as a waterproof utility fabric, used in a nautical and military context, waxed canvas has now been superseded by a range of synthetic products with greater strength and greater water resistance. Post Second War World, waxed canvas found its way into the public sphere via army surplus stores and began to be used for recreational purposes. In recent decades this environmentally friendly fabric has seen a resurgence in popularity, partly because its durability and waterproof qualities make it a popular vegan alternative to leather and partly because of its appealing retro aesthetic. It has the performance qualities of a synthetic utility fabric, with none of the sporty or military connotations. Waxed canvas is now used in a range of outdoor clothing, which combines style with rugged practicality. Its durability, strength and waterproof qualities also make it a popular choice for a wide range of bags such as messenger bags, totes, duffle bags and even briefcases. Increasingly fashion designers are using waxed canvas where previously one would have expected leather, in the design of purses for example. It is breathable and waterproof and therefore a comfortable choice of fabric to be worn next to the skin, such as in the form of a hat. Although stronger materials exist it also remains a popular choice for the construction of utility items, like tool rolls. If the product needs to be strong, durable, waterproof and yet also have an aesthetic quality, then waxed canvas is a worthy and cheaper alternative to full grain leather.

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