Waxed cotton is known for its wax-tight shiny surface, waterproof but breathable nature, and being slightly daunting to clean and restore. Originally used as sailcloth, waxed can either be milled into the cotton or applied to the finished cotton cloth. You find it on rugged outdoor garments and accessories that can do with an extra layer of armor from the elements – be that thorns or water.
In this article, we’re talking about hand-waxed goods, because while that waxed cotton parka of yours may have come waxed for you, you’ll want to know how to re-wax it when the time comes and keep it clean. As we come to the end of winter, maybe some of your waxed goods have taken a bit of a beating, so we’ll be looking at when it’s time to re-wax, how to re-wax, and how to maintain that wax coating when you’re done.
When Is It Time To Re-Wax?
You’ll know it’s time to re-wax your waxed goods when they’re dirty past the point of being spot-cleaned or treated with a dash of wax in a pale/dry area, or the wax has melted noticeably, evaporated, pooled into spotty patches, or isn’t deflecting rain and wind the way you want it to. You’ll see less dark, oily, and waxy hues on the item, and more of the pale interior cotton coming through. Whilst it looks incredible, the Barbour Solway jacket pictured above is showing signs it needs a re-wax if the fabric is to function optimally.
- Wax of choice – Paraffin wax, soy wax, or your brand of choice’s proprietary wax are all good options. Martexin is a good spray-wax option for easy covering.
- A heat gun or hairdryer – Optional but highly recommended. Not treating the freshly waxed item with some heat is going to result in an item caked with wax if you’re an amateur.
- A brush – To remove wax and dirt before waxing (Another brush is optional to blend in waxes after heat setting, your boot brush should work fine)
- A rag – To apply wax (you can also just use your fingers)
Preparation and Cleaning
When prepping your waxed article for re-waxing, the aim is to remove most of the surface dirt and any flakey, dried out wax. It’s generally recommended to not machine-wash your waxed cotton goods as it can tarnish the fabric by leaving it with an uneven variation of wax coverage or causing excessive crinkling. A handwash in some lukewarm water with some agitation will be fine to remove some of the surface dirt. Do not use detergent or soap, though, as this can discolor and dry out some of the wax. Hang dry on the line or put the piece on a hanger someplace warm and dry.
If your goal is to remove the wax from the garment completely prior to re-waxing it, you can soak it in cold water as you’ll want to scrub the exterior waxes off the jacket before re-waxing. To be honest, this will probably open a can of waxy worms that you will soon regret opening, and you’re best off just evening out the wax by
Applying New Wax
Lay your waxed cotton piece out on a flat surface with good lighting so you can see your wax coverage as you go. Using your hands or a cotton rag, apply your wax of choice as evenly as possible throughout the item’s exterior, if you don’t get as much wax down as you’d like, apply another layer. Remember, you’re aiming for totally even coverage, so be methodical.
Try to coat the entirety of one side of the garment with wax before heating or moving on to the next side. If you’re coating an entire jacket, be patient as the process can be time-consuming, and consider picking up a second tin in case you run out. Some brands recommend heating up the wax and applying it with a brush- read the recommended instructions on your can of wax before doing anything. Always follow the instructions on the wax for the best results.
Once there’s an even layer of wax down, grab your heat gun or hairdryer and set the wax with hot air. Once the wax is melted and shiny, you’re done, don’t overheat the wax to the point that it’s melted off again. Let the jacket dry out 24 hours before wearing. If you have the luxury of letting it hang in the sun for a little while, that will help with drying and blending of the waxes.
I wouldn’t expect a perfectly even color on your waxed items, especially with repeated re-waxes. This is why I recommend thoroughly washing your items thoroughly before beginning the process. Clean equals comfortable and results in as even of a color as possible.
Maintaining Waxed Cotton Goods
All that’s left to do is use your waxed cotton goods as they’re intended- to protect and deflect the elements off your body, the contents of your bag, dopp kit, etc. You won’t be washing them as often as your unwaxed goods, which is why it’s important to spot clean as needed, wipe off those bits of dirt from your daily commute as you notice them. Removing dirt and bacteria from any natural fiber is only going to extend its life.
It’s safe to assume that if you’re wearing a waxed jacket every single day, it can be fully cleaned annually (by machine or by hand if you’re wary), a bit less if you’re only wearing it when it’s raining. If you’re worried about laundering, refer to the care label or ping the manufacturer and email.