Toxic Waterproofing Alternatives

I treat our tent a few times a year with a waterproofing spray because we love to go camping. I was very disturbed to read last month in the New York Times that waterproofing sprays can be very dangerous to the respiratory system. What do you suggest that we use instead? And for our boots in the winter?

Yes, waterproofing sprays as they exist now are a good example of win-lose products: They might do the job of repelling water on leather, tents, and other materials, but they can cause health and environmental harm.

Some good news is that there is a new breakthrough product on the horizon that mimics the leaf of the lotus, nature’s most repellent surface. The other is that some natural ingredients provide win-win waterproofing solutions. They work quite well and are also fine for health and the environment.

Michigan health officials issued an advisory for waterproofing products in spray cans because of numerous reports of serious respiratory illness in people and their pets. The chemical culprit causing is a Teflon-like chemical called fluorpolymer and its chemical relatives.

Fluoropolymers were banned in Canada for two years and since then they have plans to regulate, restrict or ban the entire class of the chemical. In 2005, EPA’s science advisory board recommended that fluoropolymer be classified as a likely human carcinogen.

Unfortunately, once we have floropolymers in our bodies it circulates there for years. If all new exposures to fluorpolymers were stopped, it would take us 4.4 years to excrete half of the fluoropolymers that have accumulated in our organs and tissues!

In my book, a zero-fluoropolymer lifestyle is the way to go, the only win-win for health and the environment, so we need to make do with the pretty good, but less than perfect, natural alternatives until the lotus-leaf repellent is considered safe and on the market.

Waterproofing Chemical Alternatives
Lanolin, beeswax, and linseed oil are often used as natural waterproofers. A fourth ingredient that works well as a waterproofer is to use straight jojoba oil. Linseed oil and beeswax seem to provide the most long lasting results, although lanolin or joboba are nice for a quick waterproofing of your boots; you just might need to repeat frequently. For any approach, make sure you thoroughly cover all exposed material that is to be waterproofed.

Lanolin is the pale-yellow natural oil secreted from the oil glands of wool-bearing animals. It’s a wax, not a fat, that’s naturally water-repellent. Because lanolin is often recommended for treating cracked nipples of breastfeeding women it is readily available in pharmacies. To waterproof leather, wipe off all dirt first and then simply rub lanolin into the leather like you would any other waterproofing treatment.

Beeswax is the glandular secretion of honeybees. It was used by the military in WWII to waterproof canvas tents, belts, and more. Ancient Greeks used beeswax and resin to waterproof the hulls of their ships.

Clean the material to be waterproofed, and then consider one of these waterproofing formulas:

Recipe 1
Ingredients: Equal parts beeswax, tallow, and neatsfoot oil (available online).
Combine ingredients in a pan and heat slowly until melted. Rub onto the material to be waterproofed with a clean rag.

Recipe 2
Ingredients: 4 oz. beeswax,
4 oz. resin or rosin (available in music stores),
1 pint vegetable oil.
Follow directions for Recipe 1, above.

Recipe 3
This formula should last for a year. Don’t use it for suede or thin leather. Ingredient: Beeswax.
Heat beeswax until melted. Apply a thick coat to the material to be waterproofed with a clean rag. Make sure to cover all exposed areas. Let set overnight before buffing.

Flax or Linseed Oil
Linseed oil is derived from the flax plant. In the 18th and 19th centuries, linseed was commonly used to waterproof tarps and military packs. A century ago, fabric was coated in linseed oil to make oilcloths for kitchen tables. However, using linseed oil to waterproof fabrics results in stiff and heavy cloth.

Use raw linseed oil (make sure not to mistake linseed oil with chemical dryers as pure linseed oil.)

Apply with a rag. Wipe off excess 30 minutes later or so. Let set until dried (24 hours or so), and repeat.

Jojoba Oil
Jojoba, commonly available in health food stores, is a liquid wax. Apply straight jojoba oil with a rag and buff.


Дмитрий Банду

I use Nanex Company products, they claim they are not toxic

Ruth V.
Ruth V.4 years ago

I want to make a baby changing mat that is washable, and waterproof with no PVC,lead etc in it. Is there a way I can do this from home?

Chris Ray
Chris R.4 years ago


Chris Ray
Chris R.4 years ago


Heather B.
Past Member 6 years ago

Thanks for a very informative article, Annie.

Corey N.
Corey N.6 years ago


Michelle M.
Michelle M.7 years ago

which waterproofing technique turns out the most clear, for a white backpack I have?

Cindy M.
Cindy M.8 years ago

1st, jojoba and apricot kernel oil are the 2 closest to what our bodies produce, so are the best to use for hair and skin, but avacado & olive have more protein. I also like sesame, I moisten my hair 1st, then apply, a hot oil works nice, but be careful because you can break out easy from too much. I've opted for using Aubrey on my hair and Dr. Hauschka on my skin, but both are costly, yet worth it. 2nd, Silk plants can be cleaned 2 ways: gently blow off w/air--reverse on vac, or empty sprayer. Also, you can put salt in a bag and turn plant in upside down and shake. Be careful its strong enough to be turned upside down 1st. Last, an air cleaner/purifier will keep down dust. Natural makeups are readily available now, check your health food store, or online. You can find some recipes through books at the library, and perhaps online, but be sure you know the consequences of your ingredients 1st. Not only does this sound costly, only 11% of the items currently used in American co's have been tested, NOT approved, by the EPA. Canada & Europe outlawed many that we use. Avoid sodium laurel sulfate, methyl & poly parabyns, and artificial colors & scents. They're very harmful in the long run & in most products, including items in health stores. Also, don't use beeswax & honey. Bees are very endangered which affects the environment! There's as much chance winning the lottery as is to getting honey humanely from the USA, & wax never.Burts, Ambrosia, Clarks, Zapatista try to honor bees

Rowena Cimafranca

please tell me where to get epsom salt.does iodized salt make an alternate? or what is epsom salt really?

Rowena Cimafranca

please tell me, where do i get epsom salt.