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What is Waterproof Spray?

By Jackie Johnson
Updated May 16, 2024
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Broadly speaking, waterproof spray is any sort of coating that seals out moisture. There are usually a number of different possibilities on the market, and many varied ways to use this sort of product. Around the house, people often purchase sprays to treat things like carpets, upholstery, and furniture. The goal behind the application is usually to keep household objects from absorbing liquids that might stain them — spilled coffee, for instance, or pet accidents. Different formulations are often applied to outdoor furniture and fixtures like decks and stairways, particularly those made of wood. Wood is a naturally absorbent material, and excessive exposure to moisture, whether from rain or spills, can lead to rot and decay. Manufacturers might also use industrial sprays while goods are still in the factory. It is common, for instance, to waterproof clothing and supplies like sleeping bags and tents that will be used outside. Sprays often are made with a silicone or fluoropolymer base, both of which are effective waterproofing ingredients that generally won't leave streaks or a permanent unpleasant scent. They aren’t always safe to inhale, though, which can make at-home application something of a cautious art.

Indoor Uses

Many of the most common waterproofing sprays are designed to be used by consumers indoors. They usually come in small aerosol or plunger-release bottles, and usually carry their own set of specific application instructions. There are sometimes different formulations for different types of materials, which means that a spray designed for carpets and cloth furniture may not also work on clothing; similarly a product intended to protect suede or leather should probably not also be used on wood floors. A lot of the difference has to do with what added conditioners are included, as well as the level of active ingredients; from a technical standpoint, all of these products work in basically the same way. It’s their strength and intensity that people need to pay attention to.

Many carpets and upholstered furniture items come to the consumer pre-treated, at least to an extent. It’s usually a good idea for people to ask about existing protections when they buy something new or move into a new place. Manufacturers might also have recommendations when it comes to which products to use. In most cases, these sorts of apply-it-yourself sprays aren’t designed to be permanent and may need reapplication after a few years, especially if there’s been heavy use. It’s also usually a good idea for people to reapply a waterproofing after steam cleaning any furniture, as this and other deep cleanings may remove any previously applied treatments.

Outdoor Uses

Waterproof spray has many outdoor uses as well. Consumers apply these sorts of products to wooden items that see a lot of environmental exposure; lawn furniture, decks, and patios are common examples. From a practical standpoint, it’s usually best for people to wait to apply the treatment until the area is completely dry, which often takes some patience. Things like furniture are often moved into garages or sheds to prevent rain or other moisture from impacting the process.

Sprays are also commonly applied to things that go outside, like boots, coats, and even clothing. Treating outdoor equipment several times a year can help prolong its life and keep the user dry. In these cases it’s usually important for people to buy a spray that corresponds with the sort of material at issue. Many clothing retailers sell products specific to their garments, and it’s often the case that manufacturers will pre-treat certain items before the point of sale. This is most common for decidedly outdoor gear, and things like tents and sleeping bags. In most cases, the sprays will still allow items to "breathe" after application.

Silicone Spray Options

The majority of at-home treatments are made of silicone, which is a plastic polymer. When sprayed in a fine mist, this particular material is usually seen as best for all variety of fabrics. It is relatively harmless, typically has no odor, and is generally easy to apply. Silicone is highly resistant to water, and in addition to treating fabric, it can also be used to waterproof brick patios, concrete pathways and wooden decks.

Fluoropolymer Treatments

Fluoropolymer sprays are more commonly used in industrial settings, though they also are commonly available in outdoor stores and through online merchants. They can help keep clothing and outdoor equipment dry. This sort of spray tends to be a bit more durable than silicone, but it will still tend to wear off over time and, depending on use, will probably require a reapplication at some point. Some manufacturers add Teflon® to these sprays, which helps increase the ability of fabrics to resist water. Fluoropolymer-based spray is also commonly used in marine environments to protect fabrics on boats.

Common Risks and Precautions

Waterproofing sprays are generally considered safe for both humans and animals, but it’s still a good idea for anyone contemplating their use to think about a few basic safety precautions before beginning. The sprays can aggravate the respiratory tract and can in some cases cause a person to feel light-headed or dizzy if breathed in. For this reason it’s usually a good idea for people to use these products only in well ventilated areas. Applications should usually be allowed to dry completely before the product is used, too. For fabrics this can prevent streaks and stains if the material is transferred, and on flooring and furniture it can prevent slips and spills if the product is still moist.

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Discussion Comments
By anon357123 — On Dec 01, 2013

I used stuff called Liquid Glass Shield. It lasted for a few months and kept my feet nice and dry in an old pair of runners. But you'll need to buy a liter of it if you want to do more than a couple of pairs of shoes. They have a UK and Aussie site.

By anon314156 — On Jan 16, 2013

So does anyone think this will work on an old pair of running shoes? I have a few pairs I have hiked for days in and they are so comfortable the only problem is they get completely soaked by dew or any puddles. My main concern is that the material is very breathable so I'm not sure if the spray will adhere enough.

By indigomoth — On Jul 03, 2012

@browncoat - I spray as much of my hiking gear as I think I can get away with, actually. Waterproof fabric spray is invaluable if you are planning to hike anywhere that has a possibility of rain. There's nothing worse than walking all day in the rain, only to find that your sleeping bag has soaked through, or you're going to have to live with a dripping tent.

And gear like that is expensive, so it's good to be able to use a cheap alternative to refurbishing it, or buying whole new gear.

By browncoat — On Jul 02, 2012

I highly recommend spraying your hiking boots with waterproof sealant spray every few months if you use them regularly. There's nothing like being able to walk across a shallow creek and not having to worry about finding stepping stones or getting your feet wet.

It might not seem like a big deal, but if you are walking for a long period and your feet and socks are wet you are far more likely to develop blisters, which are a serious problem as they can get infected and just make the whole trip less enjoyable.

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