All About Water Resistant Fabrics

We’ve all been in this situation: It’s a sunny day, we go out in our favorite outfit, and then the rain starts without warning and we are now drenched. Nobody enjoys a sudden downpour, but it does bring some interesting questions. Why do some materials get wetter than others? What clothes are better suited to resist water? And just what is responsible for these differences.

Today we’ll go over all you need to know about water resistant fabrics. We’ll explain why is it that some materials just handle water better, and which ones are they. So keep reading and discover what are the right fabrics to use when you can’t afford to get wet.

What are Water Resistant Fabrics?

Water resistance is defined as the ability a material has to stop water or reduce the amount of it that seeps on it. If that sounds confusing let’s bring up a comparison. If a drop of water hits a piece of paper it will immediately seep through it and moisten as much of the paper as it can. On the other hand, if a drop of water hits a ceramic tile it will just stay there, the water can’t seep through it at all. This ability to prevent the passing of water is what we call water resistance.

It’s important to note that water resistance has its set of limits, and a water resistant fabric doesn’t necessarily have to be completely impervious. While some materials are non-porous to prevent water from seeping, others rely on their natural absorption. Wool for example can absorb a lot of water on its outer layers, making it water resistant to a degree. But after a certain amount of water, it won’t be able to absorb any more and it’ll go through.

How is Water Resistance Rated?

Water resistant fabrics usually state their resistance rating upfront, but you might be wondering what these numbers mean and how are they measured. To rate water resistant fabrics scientists use a standard test which is what the numbers represent.

The test simply consists of finding out how much water can a fabric hold before the water starts to seep. To be deemed water resistant a fabric must be able to at least resist 1,000 millimeters of water before starting to seep. However that’s just the minimum amount, and you’ll be able to find fabrics with a rating of up to 20,000.

What’s the Difference Between Being Waterproof and Water Resistant?

One of the main questions that come up with this topic is what does it mean to be waterproof and how is it different from being water resistant? Ultimately certain brands might use the term interchangeably, but this is a serious mistake. If you see a fabric that is listed as waterproof but has a rating in millimeters, then that’s not waterproof at all.

A waterproof material will never be penetrated by water. Water resistant fabrics have a fixed rating of how much water they can withstand before some of it finally passes it, that’s exactly what their rating indicated. A truly waterproof material will never allow any water to pass through it, and any drops of water will just slide on its surface or stay on it until they evaporate.

The most common example of a waterproof material is plastic, Polyurethane more often than not. This is the material we see on classic raincoats, and there’s no chance of any water drops going through it.

Why are Water Resistant Fabrics Preferred to Waterproof Ones?

Even though waterproof materials do exist water resistant ones are generally preferred when it comes to clothing or the elaboration of fabrics. While some of you might be confused by the idea of using a less efficient material, it all comes down to a simple fact: breathability.

To be fully waterproof a material functionally needs to have no pores. If there are no “gaps” in a piece of fabric, there won’t be any route for water to seep through it. However while this simple principle keeps water outside of the fabric, it also keeps everything else outside. The breathability of waterproof fabrics is incredibly low, and oftentimes almost non-existing. So when it comes to clothing waterproof materials usually become unwieldy and downright uncomfortable. No air goes in and your sweat can’t go out either. So depending on the temperature and how long you wear them you might end up drenched from your sweat.

All in all waterproof materials are better suited for protecting equipment or apparel that doesn’t need a steady flow of air. Alternatively, they should be used like raincoats are, only for small windows of time as never as a fixed part of your look. For general use on clothing water resistant fabrics are the better of the two options.

How are Water Resistant Fabrics Made?

By now we saw that being truly waterproof is a complex task that comes with its own set of drawbacks so, how do water resistant fabrics manage to offer a comfortable middle point? Just what is the process behind the elaboration of these unique fabrics?

To understand how a fabric can become water resistant we need to understand the main methods fabrics use to prevent water seeping. As the process to prepare a fabric will considerably vary based on the method used.

  • Natural Absorption: Certain materials are naturally absorbent, and this makes them water resistant to a degree. When treated properly water absorbent materials like wool can contain moisture on its outer layers. Ultimately this means that while it might soak water, it doesn’t pass through the fabric itself. This isn’t the most common method due to its reliance on the natural absorption of the fabric, but it’s seen often with wool.
  • Layered Build: other fabrics instead opt for a unique layered build to keep water outside. The external face usually has a water-resistant material with lower breathability as a strong barrier between water and the rest of the fabric. The second layer is usually still water resistant but to a lower degree, which allows the vapor of our sweat to leave the fabric. Last but not least, if there is one more inner fabric this one is usually picked solely for its comfort properties.
  • Water Repellent: Water Repellents are chemical compounds that apply a hydrophobic layer to a surface. In short, the chemicals ensure that water beads simply roll away from the fabric. Water Repellents are commonly used together with the above methods, but their efficacy drops with time. So you might need to reapply the coat on your own for the best results.

What are Some of the Main Water Resistant Fabrics in the Market?

  • Vinyl: This PVC-based fabric is incredibly water resistant, but on its own, it can become too hot for everyday use.
  • Wool: Thanks to its naturally absorbent nature this fabric can be easily treated with chemicals or used together with other fabrics to make resistant yet breathable fabrics.
  • ELS Cotton: This denser variant of cotton can resist water to a greater degree than its traditional counterpart, and it’s particularly popular in harsh weathers
  • Gore-Tex: This stretched Teflon fabric combines increased durability with surprising breathability. The size of its pores is just perfect to keep water away while making sure vapor can leave your body; a combination that has made it very successful in the clothing industry.

What Water Resistant Fabrics do we Recommend?

Now that we have covered all the relevant information when it comes to water resistant fabrics let’s go over some of our recommended picks. That way you’ll be able to make your projects from the comfort of your home.

Emma Kites Nylon Fabric

Nylon is a material that offers incredible water resistance but, is generally a bad pick for clothing. However, that isn’t a drawback in this case. If you need a water resistant fabric to make bags, flags, coverings, or just about anything that you don’t plan to wear… Then this is a great pick.

Emma Kites offers this fabric in 20 different colors so you’ll have no shortage of options. Nylon is a very resistant material on its own and the fabric even has an additional coating of water repellant just in case.

Willikiva Printed Fabric

Willikiva’s Polyester fabric is also geared for projects beyond clothing, but the unique patterns make it perfect for kid projects or anything that just needs more visual impact. The Polyester fabric is soft and comfortable enough for cushions and chairs, so it’s a great pick for external furniture. Unlike the above option, this one doesn’t have a repellent coating, but it’s still almost completely waterproof. And the lack of a repellent coating can be a plus if you are concerned about any potential allergies.

James Thompson Cotton Canvas

Cotton Canvas is one of the few clothing-apt water resistant fabrics in the market, and James Thompson’s catalog offers a great deal. With over 10 unique solid colors you will have a lot of freedom of choice, and the fabric itself is thick and resistant but, comfortable to the touch. You can also use this fabric for beddings or furniture since it’ll feel right on your skin. And the best part is that it is the most affordable option on this list.

Time to Weather on

Now that we learned more about the difference between water resistant and waterproof it’s time to start your first project. I’d recommend starting with a beginner pattern for your first water resistant project to get a feel for it. You may also want to check out our guide on terylene fabric next. It’s not a water resistant fabric but, it’s a quick drying material that is durable and crease-resistant. Which, may work for some projects that won’t encounter as much water.