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When you see “waterproof” and “water resistant” in descriptions of fabrics on Sailrite’s website, you might be thinking to yourself that those two terms seem interchangeable. While they do seem incredibly similar, they convey very different meanings and should be taken into consideration when choosing an outdoor fabric.

Let’s Define the Terms

Waterproof: Fabrics marked waterproof will always repel water. They do not let water soak into them under any conditions, even if the fabric is old. These fabrics are mostly vinyl, vinyl-coated or laminated.

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Vinyl is an example of a waterproof fabric

Water resistant: Fabrics that are water resistant have been treated to repel water from their surfaces, but if the coating is old or water is pooling on top of the fabric they can soak through.

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Sunbrella Marine Grade (seen here) is a water resistant fabric which causes water to bead and run off its surface.

Water Resistance & Breathability

Waterproof looks like the way to go all the time then, right? Well, not quite. One of the biggest tradeoffs of a waterproof fabric is breathability. Waterproof fabric, by its nature, doesn’t let anything through its surface, and this includes air. This isn’t a big deal in some applications like awnings or speedboat interiors, but can be problematic for covers.

When air and moisture get trapped underneath a cover, mold and mildew and grow and cause serious problems. If you want to cover your boat, for example, in a vinyl or laminated waterproof fabric, we recommend adding a vent.

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Boat Vent II installed in a Surlast pontoon boat cover

If you value breathability more than full waterproofness, you can still use breathable, water resistant fabrics for covers. If they have a good pitch (from poles or the angle of an awning) the water will run right off these water resistant fabrics and they won’t require vents—although many people like to vent these covers, too.

There are also, of course, applications where waterproofness doesn’t matter that much. Patio cushions and pillows are a great example of this. Water resistant fabrics are desirable here because they will protect from the elements but the breathability makes them a more comfortable seat. And, since cushions can be brought inside and out of the rain, a fully waterproof fabric probably isn’t necessary.

Conclusions

In conclusion, while truly waterproof fabrics are great for protecting your boat, patio furniture and more, they can cause problems as covers if not properly vented. Water resistant fabrics offer much better breathability but need to be tented in a cover application. So, it’s up to you to weigh the pros and cons for your application and, of course, your personal preferences. But now you have to tools to make the best decision for your next project.


For more information on what to consider when choosing an outdoor fabric, refer to our visit Sailrite.com.

What’s most important to you when choosing a cover fabric? Share your opinions in the comments.

Many outdoor fabrics, like Sunbrella®, are water resistant naturally. But over time, after washing and being pelted by rain, some of that water resistance starts to wear away. One question we get asked a lot is “can I restore water resistance to my fabric?” The answer is yes, you can! We’ll show you what to use and when and how to apply it in today’s post.

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You can bring back the water resistance to your fabric with a spray-on treatment. Our favorite is 303® Fabric Guard. This product will restore water repellency, protect against stains and provide UV screening without affecting the color, feel or breathability of the fabric. It is safe to use on boat covers, awnings, patio cushions and much more. 303 Fabric Guard should not be used on vinyl, zippers, plastics, rubber, fiberglass or imitation suede, however.

How do you determine when and if your fabric needs treated? The best way to tell if you fabric needs treated is to do a quick test. Flick a small amount of water onto the fabric and watch how the water reacts. If the water is soaked into the fabric almost immediately, your fabric needs treated. To be diligent with your fabric, you can run this test every couple of months. You should also always retreat your fabric after a thorough cleaning.

How to Apply 303 Fabric Guard:

  1. Thoroughly clean your fabric and let dry completely before applying the fabric guard.
  2. Test the colorfastness of the material by spraying the fabric guard in an inconspicuous area and wiping the area while wet to see if the color transfers.
  3. In a well ventilated, area spray overlapping sprays until the fabric has been evenly misted (two light coats works better than one heavy coat). Be careful to avoid overspray on zippers and clear vinyl, as the fabric guard will harm these materials.
  4. Allow to air-dry and cure for 8 to 12 hours, depending on weather conditions. It will dry best in the sun on a hot day.
  5. Mist with water to test. Water should bead up on the fabric.

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You can find 303 Fabric Guard and other great fabric cleaners and protectants at Sailrite.com.

Do you use a fabric guard to restore water repellency to your fabrics? Leave us a comment and share your experiences!

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