There are many wonderful hemp fabrics available these days. Here at the hemp shop we’re proud to have the UK’s largest range of sustainable hemp fabrics, and since we’ve been selling them for 25+ years, we’ve learned a thing or two along the way.
Is Hemp Fabric Waterproof?
If you’re asking the question “are hemp fabrics waterproof?” then the answer is no. At least, not to the modern standard of waterproofing. If you get the angle right, due to the tight weave in a Hemp Canvas fabric and that the fibre itself swells and thereby creates a block to the rain coming in, you can keep dry underneath. Just like the hemp fabrics that covered the wagons that went west across the USA, or the tents that kept the troops dry in any engagement over the last 1000 years or indeed the very best examples are where hemp was used as the sealant of choice for plumbing the world over until PTFE tape was created and that all hoses used for fire-engines and in offices/hotels were made from hemp. So, there is a way of keeping dry with just natural hemp fabric.
Hemp is a highly absorbent fibre, and to bring it up to modern waterproofing standards it needs to be treated with a waterproofing agent to become water resistant. A tightly woven hemp canvas may keep out the water for a brief period, but will become saturated fairly quickly. If you’re thinking of using hemp fabrics to create a waterproof jacket, or perhaps you’re making a waterproof hemp shower curtain, then you will want something that is reliable and 100% effective.
How do I Waterproof Hemp Fabric?
There are a few different ways to achieve waterproofing for organic fabrics such as hemp. They range from natural options, through to more synthetic techniques. Let’s start by taking a look at the natural option; beeswax.
Beeswax has been used for a variety of uses for thousands of years. Created by honey bees, the wax When melted on to fabrics, it creates a barrier that makes the fabric waterproof. You can quite easily waterproof your fabrics using beeswax at home with just an iron and some greaseproof/parchment paper. If you’ve bought a block of beeswax, then grate it into small chunks. You can also buy pre-grated beeswax, which cuts out this first step. Then get your iron really hot, stick it on the highest setting and let it heat up to full temperature. Put down one sheet of greaseproof paper to protect your ironing board, and then lay out your fabric on top of the paper. Sprinkle some of the grated beeswax on to the fabric and then place a second piece of greaseproof paper over the top. Next, take your iron and run it across the top of the paper until the beeswax melts and absorbs into the fabric. You may need to add more gratings on top of the fabric to cover any missed spots.
Another way to apply beeswax is to melt the entire block in a container within a pot of hot water on the hob/stove, and then simply apply the melted wax with a brush using small firm circular motions.
- Environmentally Friendly
- Easy to apply yourself
- The wax may re-melt in extreme heat (>65°c)
- Not vegan friendly
So there’s one natural option for waterproofing your hemp fabric, now let’s take a look at a man-made solution; Nikwax
Nikwax is a synthetic waterproofing spray that is based on the polymer 10x.10i. It is highly effective at waterproofing fabrics, and comes in an easy-to-apply spray form.
This elastomer based waterproofing agent is non-toxic and does not harm the environment. Furthermore, the company takes their responsibility for protecting the environment seriously. In 2017 they were able to announce that they were the first outdoor company in the world to balance their carbon emissions from their entire operation dating back to the very start of the company, 40 years prior. They’ve also worked with the World Land Trust to offset their carbon emissions by planting trees and preserving natural environments for wildlife to flourish.
Non-harmful to the environment
- Made from synthetic polymers (plastic), so not the best if you’re looking for that all-natural waterproofing solution.
There are lots of other options to waterproof hemp fabric, but these two are our favourites. The one that you choose will ultimately depend on your values, needs and end-use. You may want to try out a few different options on some sample swatches before you commit to one waterproofing solution over another. We suggest picking up A5 swatches of any of our hemp fabrics, and do your own waterproofing tests.