Waterproof Water Repellent or Water Resistant?

Rain is part and parcel of living in England, yet we are constantly battling with it in a fight to defend ourselves and our property!

water on rip stop fabric

Though it’s essential for trees, plants, and our bodies to survive, we often need to control the water around us, as futile as this seems. We are of course extremely fortunate to  live in a part of the world where rain is plentiful. This gives us lush green landscapes, an abundance of farm fresh food and reservoirs full to the brim with rainwater ready to be converted into clean drinking water for the whole country.

raining heavy rain

We need water for our gardens but it can’t come into the house, we like to enjoy outdoor water activities but don’t want to get too wet! Or simply, we want to nip to the shops without getting soaked to the skin. Water proofing is a way of life here, luckily there is an abundance of fabrics and available to help us.

Types of rain are a rough guideline, we all know the difference between fine drizzle a steady shower and a torrential downpour, but wind factor and even the angle of the rain can effect the water proofing of a fabric and very importantly, the length of time a fabric has to endure the rain.

When dealing with rain, there are a large number of factors to consider that  determine the level of water proofing, unfortunately controlling the weather is still out of our hands so manufacturers of waterproof fabric  evaluate with testing of the fabric with various jets of water in controlled conditions.

Water repellent fabrics can vary considerably with how much water they can withstand and one of the main considerations is whether the fabric is breathable or not.

rip stop fabric colours

Water proofing fabrics come in a range of strengths yet finding the right one for the job at hand can be slightly confusing as times.  There are generally three categories a fabric will fall into when dealing with water.


The intention of a water proof fabric is to simply not let any water through the fabric. It can rest in puddles or roll off the fabric but it won’t soak through.  There are plenty of materials available which are made from purely plastic and are inherently waterproof such as transparent PVC, KISS Laminate PVC .

camouflage print quilted waterproof

These materials are ideal for certain jobs but the addition of woven fabric adds an extra dimension of strength, flexibility and durability.

lorry covered in 610 PVC tarpaulin

Completely waterproof fabric does not necessarily have to be thick or heavy to do the job, there is a range in fabric to match the toughness of the job at hand, from very thin lightweight rip stop fabric used for shower proof macs to very heavy duty  610grm PVC used for protecting lorries, boats or even building sites.

Water Repellent

This category consists of fabric designed to repel water but not at a 100% rate. For instance there may be a coating on the fabric to help dispel water from the surface but only for a limited time. As mentioned, the level of water proofing ability depends on time spent in the water as well as the fabric coating.

Fabric such as Teflon coated and neoprene are designed to withstand a certain amount before the fabric will become soaked . Water repellent fabrics can vary considerably with how much water they can withstand and one of the main considerations is whether the fabric is breathable or not.

neoprene with water droplets

A breathable fabric means it will allow water vapour from our bodies out through the fabric through microscopic holes in the fabric.

The coating on the surface of the fabric will repel rain for a limited amount of time only, and this still depends on how heavy the rain is and how long the downpour will last. For example, a lightweight breathable fabric can with stand bursts of short showers or drizzle, but prolonged heavy rain would soak the fabric after a while.

green neoprene fabric

Neoprene is another fabric that can get confused with being waterproof. Standard 2 -3 mm thick neoprene with fabric coated both sides should be water repellent. Neoprene has a very clever tick up its sleeve though, when the water eventually soaks through tho the skin, a layer of warm air is created directly between the skin and the fabric.

This warming quality is why its so widely used for outdoor water sports, you can splash about in water for some time before it soaks through, yet when it does, you are protected from the cold.

Water Resistant

There is a smaller amount of water resistant fabric available than water proof or water resistant. This category is made up of fabrics that may be designed to be weather proof but are not completely water proof. Unlike water repellent fabric, they either have no coating or a minimal level of water proofing on the surface of the fabric.

heavy duty water resistant canvas tarpaulin

Some of these fabrics are actually more natural in composition, traditional fabrics such as canvas and wool.

Very thick heavy weight tarpaulin canvas has been used for camping tents for centuries, the cotton canvas allows some air in and some body heat out so the interior stays at a moderate temperature. Wool can also be relatively weatherproof when woven and formed into a very dense cloth, hence its popularity as an outdoor coat fabric.

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