We all count on our rain gear and tents to keep us dry and much of this depends upon keeping the durable water repellent (DWR) coating on the fabric in top shape. This coating prevents the fabric from becoming saturated since it causes water to bead up and run off the surface. Over time, use and exposure to the elements the DWR will wear down. While the breathable membrane in jackets will still work without the coating it won’t be nearly as efficient. And with tents, drips start to form on the inside as the water soaks through. To keep your gear working at its best, it’s time to re-coat the fabric.
Traditionally, treatments to reapply that water repellent coating have been silicone based but they are not considered very environmentally friendly. Relatively new to the market are a few water based products.
We collected up a group of waterproofing compounds to try out side-by-side. Each of the products was applied to a clean section of uncoated ripstop nylon in the weight range normally used in tents.
Once treated, the fabric was allowed to dry for 48 hours and then exposed to water to see how they performed.
Water Based Products
Nikwax Tent & Gear Solarproof provides a waterproof coating that according to a representative from the firm, is also breathable. Even with this being the case, it is only recommended by Nikwax for use on gear such as tents, rucksacks, panniers and camera bags while there is no mention that it is appropriate for waterproof breathable gear. Revivex Durable on the other hand is a true DWR offering breathability allowing a wider range of applications from tent flys to waterproof breathable shells.
One benefit of each product is that by being water based, it can be applied to clean fabric that is dry or wet.
Nikwax Tent & Gear Solarproof
Nikwax prides itself on being one of the safest waterproofing products on the market with water used to deliver what Nikwax calls an, “elastic, water-repellent synthetic polymer” onto the fabric. According to Nikwax, the “Solarproof” components of the compound will protect from the UV rays that damage synthetic fabrics to extend the life of your gear.
Tent and Gear Solarproof is available in both a pump applicator, which works well on large and small projects alike. It also comes as a concentrate that is diluted and then applied with a brush or sponge. Once applied, the solution should be spread out with a damp cloth. After two minutes, the excess is wiped off and the fabric allowed to dry.
Instructions say to set the gear up, but the solution is very thin so it is best to lay it out flat so it does not run off. In this way you will get the best coverage.
Pump: 17 ounces, suggested price: $18.25, price per ounce: $1.07
Concentrate: 5 ounces makes 17 ounces, suggested price: $13.00, price per useable/diluted ounce: $.76
Revivex Durable Water Repellent Spray
With Revivex Durable, you are replacing the DWR on the fabric and it is recommended for use on gear from tents and packs to waterproof breathable rainwear such as Gore-Tex and eVent.
It uses water as the carrier and is applied from an aerosol can with no dangerous propellants. The spray can is a “bag on valve” which allows the can to totally empty so you get all the coating you paid for.
Being an aerosol, it is easy to apply but be aware the spray puts out a lot of product when the valve is pushed. Tents, packs and other bulky gear are hung to air dry while jackets can be placed in a clothes dryer on medium heat to set the water repellent.
When applying Revivex, try and lay flat whatever you are treating, like Nikwax, it is a thin solution and will run off the fabric. Instructions on the can are sparse just saying to spray it on the fabric. What worked best was to spray the treatment on, spread it out and then let it penetrate. After a few minutes, dry according to the instructions for the item treated.
Can: 10.5 ounces, suggested price: $13.95, price per ounce: $1.33
Nikwax (left) and Revivex performed similarly to one another.
The Bottom Line
Though both products performed as promised, Revivex won out by literally a nose in my test as Nikwax had an odd odor. Even after 48 hours it was still perceptible and two weeks later, it was mild, but still there. Another plus for Revivex is the allowance for breathability offering a wide range of products that can be treated, from tents to waterproof shells.
Silicone Water Repellents
Silicone based products have been on the market for years and when applied they offer some of the most durable water repellent surfaces. This has been proven in previous tests done by me on tents. Nikwax worked well, but had to be reapplied each season whereas the Atsko/Sno-Seal Silicone Water Guard continued to bead up water well into a second season.
But there are drawbacks to using silicone based products. The solvents used to deliver the compounds are flammable and can be dangerous until they dry. So unlike water based products that can be applied indoors if necessary, doing this with silicone products is potentially unsafe between contaminating the air you’re breathing and the possible combustion. It also takes longer for silicone products to dry and cure, up to 48 hours.
Added to the solvent issue is the type of propellants used in the aerosol cans, isobutane and propane, both hydrocarbons which are not exactly environmentally friendly.
Only the Atsko/Sno-Seal spray products have done away with the use of this volatile mixture to power the aerosol applicator, using CO2 captured as a byproduct from other manufacturers. Another plus to this system is that less propellant is needed and more of the waterproofing product ends up in the can.
Atsko/Sno-Seal Water-Guard Extreme
If you have ever used Sno-Seal on boots or gloves, then you have used an Atsko product. Water-Guard Extreme replaces the DWR on fabric and can be used on a wide variety of products. It also contains a UV blocker that helps prevent damage to synthetics.
Application is as simple as spraying a coating onto clean dry fabric and then allowing the surface to dry. By nature of the solvents used to carry the product, it penetrates quickly into the fabric making it easy to treat a wide area.
When spraying this on remember it is flammable, so avoid any open flames and excess will run off the fabric so be aware of drips getting on nearby surfaces.
Can: 10.5 ounces suggested price: $9.96, price per ounce: $ .95
Scotchgard Heavy Duty Water Shield
3m Scotchgard has been around in one form or another for a long time and the Heavy Duty Water Shield is yet another, using a “proprietary” silicone formula. Like the others it replaces the DWR on the fabric and it too uses petroleum solvents to carry the product to the surface. It also uses isobutane and propane as a propellant.
When it comes to the propellants used, at least 3m tells you what they are, while some manufacturers will only say, “hydrocarbons.”
Again, using these solvents makes coating the fabric easy with deep penetration. Once dry, it also repelled water extremely well. As far as how long it will last, instructions say to apply annually.
Can: 10.5 ounces, suggested price, $9.98, price per ounce: $ .95
Kiwi Camp Dry
Camp Dry was added to the test simply because it is so easy to find in most big box stores, but it did not do as well as any of the other products tested.
Like the other silicone products, it uses petroleum solvents to carry the compound to the fabric and it also uses isobutane and propane as a propellant, but they do not tell you this on the can, it is simply listed as, “hydrocarbons.”
Application of the product is straightforward, spray a light coating on a clean surface and let it dry, but instructions say to add a second coating after four hours. Even with this, the treated surface did not repel water as well as any of the other products tested.
Can: 10.5 ounce, suggested price: $6.95, price per ounce, $ .66
Left to right: Sno-Seal, Kiwi, and 3M Scotchgard. Two of these clearly out performed the other.
The Bottom Line
Both Sno-Seal and the Scotchgard performed extremely well, causing water to bead up and run off the fabric quickly. But considering the Sno-Seal product does not use dangerous propellants, can last multiple camping seasons and contains a UV block, it is easily my first choice in silicone treatments.
If you want a product that is environmentally safe and water based, then Revivex is the way to go. If you are looking for a waterproofing agent that is effective, will last into a second season or more and you are not concerned about which solvents are used, then Sno-Seal Water-Guard Extreme will serve you well.