Rejuvenating Waxed Cotton

Story by Costa Mouzouris// Photos by Costa Mouzouris
November 17 2020

Waxed cotton will provide many years of weatherproof service with a bit of annual maintenance.

Next to your motorcycle and possibly your riding partner, the next best thing to bring along when on going an extended tour is waterproof riding gear. The best wet-weather gear in my moto-closet is made by Aerostich and constructed from time-honoured waxed cotton. 

I’ve had an Aerostich Falstaff waxed cotton jacket for six years, and during most of that time, it has kept me dry even in the heaviest rain. However, this past season, it began to show its age; while it kept me dry during brief showers, water got through when the rain lasted for more than an hour. Fortunately, this does not mean it’s time to put the Falstaff in the dumpster. No, far from it. 

The beauty of waxed cotton is that the wax applied to the fabric is what makes it waterproof. And that wax can be reapplied repeatedly as needed, thus rejuvenating the garment over and over again. To refinish waxed-cotton garments, you’ll need a refinishing compound, a piece of cloth, a hair dryer and a bit of time. 

Aerostich recommends using Martexin Original Wax, which is made by the same manufacturer as the material used to construct the Falstaff jacket. Aerostich also sells Otter Wax fabric dressing, which is used for the same purpose. Because shipping from the U.S. would take too long for me, I sourced Gold Label waterproof wax locally, ordering a 400-gram container for $22.

Before rewaxing, the first thing you must do is clean the jacket. Important: it should be cleaned using a rag or sponge and cold water, and not washed in a machine. Machine washing will wash the wax right out of the fabric, making the rewaxing process much more tedious. 

Once the jacket is dry, you can begin rewaxing it. The paraffin waterproofing wax has the consistency of cold butter. I used an old sock slipped over my hand to apply the wax. You need to saturate the applicator cloth with the wax, then apply it to the fabric using a circular motion. The key is to apply the wax liberally, so you’ll need to keep dipping into the wax often as you apply it. Apply the wax under all flaps, and make sure you get it into any creases. Apply a bit extra at the seams. 

Applying the wax darkens the fabric considerably, especially if it is a lighter colour like my brown Falstaff. This makes seeing where the wax has been applied very easy. Once the garment has been fully covered, you must work the wax into the fabric using heat – so now is the time to bring out the hair dryer. (I suggest you buy your own. Don’t use that of your spouse if you want to avoid a good scolding.) Alternatively, if the day is warm or you have a sunroom with plenty of windows, you can hang the jacket in the heat for a few hours. Heat liquefies the wax, allowing it to penetrate deep into the cotton fabric. Properly rewaxed, the fabric takes on the appearance of leather or suede.  

Rewaxing and heating my Falstaff jacket took me about two hours. I used up about one-quarter of the contents of the 400-gram container, which means there’s plenty left for a few more applications. 

This is not the first waxed-cotton jacket that I have reconditioned: I also have a Barbour Gold Medal jacket, which I’ve owned for more than 30 years and have rewaxed several times over the decades. With age, dirt has clogged the weaved fabric and given the jacket a semiglossy, leathery look. While its fabric is now tattered and worn, and no amount of re-waxing will make it waterproof again, the Barbour got me though countless wet-weather miles during its prime.

As with anything that is exceptionally good at any one thing but inferior at others, waxed cotton has its drawbacks. One of them is that it will sully your pants as some of the wax transfers from one material to another. For this reason, you’ll also want to hang a waxed-cotton garment somewhere where it is not in contact with other clothes, especially after being freshly rewaxed. Rewaxed cotton also is quite heavy and bulky, so it doesn’t store well in a saddlebag. The fabric does breathe better than any synthetic waterproof material, and can be worn rain or shine. 

Waxed cotton is the most waterproof material I have ever worn even though, like a vintage bike, it does require some maintenance, which can get a little messy. Worn regularly, a waxed-cotton garment will probably need rewaxing once a year. But do it right, and it can reward you with decades of service.

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