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How to Waterproof Canvas Bags – An Easy Guide

Priscilla Greene |

When you love your canvas bags and want to wear them all year long, the idea of waterproofing them to resist all types of weather becomes the center of your attention. Your gadgets, books, groceries, and other personal stuff are important to you and you do not even want to think about what would happen to them if rain ruined them. 

Of course, you can buy waterproof canvas bags, but you can waterproof them yourself if you are into DIY projects. Things are not as difficult as one might imagine. Today, we will see together how to waterproof canvas bags in a few easy methods. Let’s begin, shall we?

General Guidelines

No matter the method you choose to waterproof your canvas bags (you can waterproof both canvas tote bags and canvas drawstring bags/backpacks), you should know and do a few things before you begin the actual process. Here are the main provisions you have to keep in mind:

  •         Make sure the bag is clean and free of debris or strings before you begin waterproofing it: you can use a lint roller to remove everything inside and out. If the bag is washable, wash it clean before you begin your DIY project. If the bag is not washable, try to vacuum it as best as you can inside and out.
  •         Make sure the bag is dry: no matter how you choose to wash your bag, make sure you do not begin the waterproofing process until it is completely dry.
  •         Make sure you perform the waterproofing project in a ventilated area; many recommend you do this outside in your yard or at least in your garage or any other area of the house that receives constant quantities of fresh air.

Now that you have prepared your canvas bag and chose a setting for your project, it is time to begin!

1. The Wax Method

waterproofing canvas bags with wax 

Wax is a natural product used to waterproof items since the old times. Let us learn today how to waterproof canvas bags with the help of a common ingredient you can purchase from almost any store.


One of the easiest ways to waterproof your canvas bag is to use wax. In order to set things in motion, you will need the following items:

  •         A chunk of wax (you can go for a mix of paraffin and beeswax or use 100% organic wax);
  •         Two pots;
  •         A cup of water;
  •         A brush;
  •         A hairdryer.


If you made sure your canvas bag is clean and dry, you can begin the process of waterproofing canvas material.

Step 1

The first thing you need to do is test the wax on an inconspicuous piece of the canvas bag. We recommend testing the wax on the inside of the bag. Keep in mind that such a treatment might change the bag’s color and texture.

  •         You can rub the chunk of wax directly against the canvas or warm up some wax and use the brush to spread it on a small area of the bag.

If you do not mind the canvas getting a darker shade after the wax treatment, then there is no harm and you can begin.

Step 2

Boil a bit of the water in one of the two pots you have at hand and then place the other pot inside it with the chunk of wax. Wait patiently for the wax to melt. You can stir lightly with a chopstick. Let the wax sit for a couple of minutes. You should not use the wax while it is still boiling, as it may damage the fabric.  

Step 3

Use the brush to evenly spread the warm wax onto the fabric. Make sure you overlay the strokes so the wax coats the fabric thoroughly. Use the brush with care to properly wax some of the more difficult areas, such as crevices, seams, rivets, buttons, around leather or other insertions, nearby the zippers if any, and so on.

Keep in mind that the wax might darken the color on or around these sensitive areas, which in turn may give the bag a more rugged, worn look. If you want to prevent this as much as you can, use your hand inside the bag or garment to separate it from the seams and rivets underneath.

Step 4

Use your hands to work the wax into the fabric, just as if you would knead pizza dough.

Step 5

Use a hair drier to heat the wax a bit more. This allows the wax to deeply penetrate the fabric and coat it thoroughly to make it truly water repellent.

  •         You can also add another layer of wax, finishing up with the hair drier again to make sure the wax spread and penetrated all crevices, seams, the zipper areas, the areas under the buttons, and so on. Offer more attention to the bottom of the bag.

If you are waterproofing a canvas tote bag or a drawstring backpack, turn the bag inside out and repeat steps 1 to 5 for the inside as well, using a lower quantity of wax, but respecting the same principles. This makes sense if you do not want your bag to suffer water damage from the inside (especially if you use it to carry groceries and products that can spill and stain).

  •         If you apply wax from both the inside and the outside surfaces of the bag, it can become a bit stiff, but at the end of the day, you will have a fully waterproofed bag.

Step 6

Let the bag dry. You have two methods to accomplish this:

  •         Put the bag into an old pillowcase and put it in the dryer for 15 to 30 minutes.
  •         You can hang the bag up to cure in dry, fresh air, in a warm spot, for 24 to 48 hours. Any slight odor from the wax will dissipate.

Final Thoughts on the Wax Method

As you can probably figure it out, wax breaks down in time, so your bag will need re-waxing at least once a year to preserve and refresh their water repelling properties.

  •         Washing the Waxed Canvas Bag: we recommend you wash your waxed/waterproofed canvas bag as seldom as you can and never wash it in hot water, to prevent the wax from breaking and melting onto the rest of your laundry. Instead, you can wash the bag with care in a recipient with cold water. Even better, you can use a natural bristles brush to clean off your canvas bag.
  •         Instead of soap or detergent for cleaning the bag, you can use a special canvas cleaner. You should re-wax the bag after a session of brushing/washing your waterproof bag.

Now that we learned how to waterproof your canvas bag with the help of wax, it is time to move to the next method we want to talk to you about!

2. The Alum Powder and Detergent Method 

waterproofing canvas bags with alum powder and detergent

If you want to learn how to waterproof your canvas bag with the help of laundry detergent and alum powder, we have prepared the guidelines for you below. Keep in mind the general guidelines mentioned above: your canvas bag should be clean and dry before you begin your waterproofing project.


You can purchase alum powder from your grocery store and we are sure you can find a pound of laundry detergent around the house.

  •         Two large containers/buckets;
  •         1 pound laundry detergent;
  •         ½ pound of alum powder;
  •         Plenty of water to boil and fill in your containers with (about 4 gallons).


In comparison to the previous method, this one will take you a little bit more time and you do need to keep the timeline, so make sure you follow this process when you have some spare time on your hands.

Step 1

In one of the two containers, mix the laundry detergent with the hot water. Make sure the canvas bag is totally submerged in the detergent mix.

Step 2

Stir the mix lightly to make sure the fabric gets completely saturated with it. If parts of the canvas bag float above the water level push them down by hand while still stirring. Alternatively, weigh the canvas bag on the bottom of the container with a glass jar or bottle.

Step 3

Wait for at least half an hour for the fabric to soak up the water and detergent mix and make sure all the canvas bag’s areas get as much of the mix as they can.

Step 4

Take the canvas bag out of the bucket/container and hang it out to dry.

  •         Clip the bag onto a drying wire outside in warm fresh air (or in a place where it gets even warm temperatures and constant airflow).
  •         Do not fold the bag over a hanger or a drying wire, as the two soaking wet sides can stick to each other. You want the canvas bag to hang freely, get as much air, and sun evenly on both sides.
  •         Leave the canvas bag to dry for as long as it takes (24 to 48 hours).
  •         It goes without saying, but do not rinse the canvas bag, just let it dry.

Step 5

Use the second container to mix in half a pound of alum powder with the other two gallons of water. Stir the solution well, so the alum powder dissolves well in the water.

Step 6

Take the dry canvas bag from the hanging wire and soak it in the bucket containing the mix of alum powder and hot water. Make sure the bag is completely submerged and keep it on the bottom of the container with a weigh (glass jar or bottle). Stir lightly to make sure the canvas bag gets as much of the mixture as it can. Keep the bag inside the alum powder mixture for at least 2 hours.

Step 7

Take the canvas bag out from the bucket and let it dry by hanging it again on the wire in a warm temperature in the presence of constant airflow.

Final Thoughts on the Alum Powder and Detergent Method

Keep in mind that you should probably re-treat the canvas bag once a year using this method to refresh the water repelling properties of your bag.

  •         Washing the Waterproofed Canvas Bag: you should wash the canvas bag as infrequently as you can after you treated it this way. Use cold water and handwashing, or use a natural bristles brush to gently remove dust and debris from the surface of the bag.

Other Methods for Waterproofing Canvas Bags

1. Commercial Products

One of the easiest ways to waterproof your canvas bags is to use waterproofing sprays and seam sealers. You can usually find them at outdoor and camping supply stores. If you will use your canvas bag a lot in an outdoor environment, you may want to sun-proof it as well by buying a spray also containing UV protection.

This will prevent your canvas bag’s colors from fading. Waterproof sprays and seam sealers work great with canvas, nylon, and leather as well.

Keep in mind that if you use this method, you will need to apply two coatings of spray onto the tote bag to make sure it is totally waterproof. Also, when you use seam sealer, try to seal the zippers as well (if any). This will protect your belongings from leaking water.

2. Turpentine and Soybean Oil

We do not recommend this method in particular, because it darkens your canvas bags (and makes natural colors or white/beige shades look soiled and rugged), but we have to mention it as a viable means to make your canvas items waterproof. It is also a complicated method requiring a lot of time and attention. It is also messier than the other two methods presented above.


These were our recommendations and guidelines on how to waterproof your canvas bags. We hope they were useful to you. If you have other ideas or you have developed your own methods to make canvas bags water repelling, feel free to share your discoveries, tips, and tricks.