canvas and waxed canvas detailed guide

Canvas & Waxed Canvas Fabric - What it is all About?

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You are looking for a classy but natural bag or accessory but you're lost in the flow of information about these popular and remarkably durable materials?

You are on the right page to find out the principal characteristics and distinctions between canvas and waxed canvas.

Let's have a look at some key features! In this guide, you'll discover:


Canvas Fabric: When Lightweight Meets Robustness

What is Canvas?

Canvas, and especially cotton canvas is a remarkably robust and durable material, used for centuries in many civilizations for its properties. Its surface is very smooth and it is extremely tough to tear the fabric because the meshes are very thin, guaranteeing maximum strength to the bag, that can endure tough wear.

Another significant advantage of the canvas is that it is a lightweight material and therefore extremely breathable, allowing you to store wet clothes in it without risking to die opening your bag when you come back from a sports session. However, the material still blocks air and various impurities, perfect for travelers looking for a practical and lightweight bag to carry around.

Where does the term "Canvas" Originally Came From?

This material was not always made of cotton or linen as it is today. Originally, the weavers of the time used mainly hemp to weave. It is the use of this material that gave canvas its name, "canvas" being a derivative of the Latin word "cannabis" which literally means "made of hemp".

It is estimated that the first use of cotton in the manufacture of canvas products dates back to around 1500 B.C., particularly in the Indian plains. Later, thanks to trade, cotton cloth gradually spread to Europe, around the 8th century.

light blue cotton canvas backpack laying on the floor

How is Canvas Fabric Made?

Cotton canvas is nowadays mainly made from cotton or linen. The weaving technique is marked by a tight weave where the weft threads cross the vertical warp threads in a perpendicular manner, above and below each warp.

To make a cotton canvas, one can choose to use a two-ply yarn or two single yarns braided together, giving weight, strength and texture to the final material.

📷 Credit: OnlineFabricStore's Youtube Channel

What is the Difference Between Duck Cloth & Canvas?

We often read that duck cloth and canvas are two diametrically different materials. This is not the case. Duck, whose origin does not come from the animal but from the Dutch "doek" which means "linen cloth", is a cotton cloth with similar characteristics to canvas.

The only "difference" lies in the weight of the fabric used, often thinner than canvas, and a tighter weave, with two threads together in the warp and one in the weft.

Cotton canvas and duck cloth are very similar and opposed to other canvas fabrics because they both share a plain weave pattern instead of twill weave one. We can therefore say that duck is a type of cotton canvas.

women's rucksack made of cotton canvas cloth

Is Canvas Material Weatherproof?

If not treated of processed with materials like wax, cotton canvas is not fully waterproof but water-resistant. Don't stay too long under the rain because, even if the fabric isn't very porous and will repel most liquid at first, it will eventually absorb the water or moisture at some point and get soaked.

However, it's very easy to waterproof a canvas fabric. You can chose do go natural or choose a chemical method. Basically, you just need to cover one side of the fabric with either a waterproofing spray or wax (paraffin or beeswax will do the job perfectly).

Waxing cotton can be done with a hairdryer by melting the wax directly onto the fabric or by melting it in a recipient and apply on the fabric with a brush. First signs of this techniques were found in the early 1900s on shipyards where sails were waxed to make them tougher and weatherproof.

How to Clean Canvas Fabric?

Taking care of a canvas bag is also very straightforward as it is an organic and "unprocessed" material. Indeed, it can be washed simply with soap and water, provided that it is rinsed well with clear water and then dried afterwards.

To clean your canvas fabric, you'll need:

  • a soft-bristled brush
  • a soft cloth
  • mild soap or saddle soap

Here a a few basic steps to follow:

  1. Brush off dirt: With a soft-bristled brush or a damp cloth, carefully brush the fabric to remove any impurities that may be on the surface of the cloth.
  2. Wash away stains and marks: if your canvas is stained, either by dirt or liquids, we recommend using a mixture of mild soap and warm water, applied in circular motions to the canvas. If you have a waxed canvas, be careful not to use water that is too hot, or the wax will melt.
  3. Rinse: with another soft cloth, rinse the canvas with clear, cold water to remove all soap residue.
  4. Dry: we recommend that you let your canvas air dry in a place protected from sunlight and heat sources and ventilated.

Here are some examples of our cotton canvas bags:

Vintage Canvas Backpack
Vintage Canvas Backpack
Retro Canvas Rucksack
Retro Canvas Rucksack
Small Canvas Backpack
Small Canvas Backpack
Women's Rucksack
Women's Rucksack

Waxed Canvas Fabric: the Extra Feature that Makes the Difference

What is Waxed Canvas?

Waxed canvas is a fabric, usually cotton, to which beeswax or paraffin wax is applied in order to make it water resistant. By impregnating the canvas, the wax closes the spaces between the mesh, sealing them when it hardens. This prevents water from passing through.

Where Waxed Canvas Comes From?

During their journeys, sailors were often confronted with harsh weather conditions and had developed the habit of covering their clothes with fish oil, grease or linseed oil to make them water resistant.

This pragmatic use was later extended to sails, as sailors noticed that wet sails were more efficient, but also heavier, which was not desirable. Gradually, wet sails were replaced by waxed sails, which were less heavy and just as efficient.

The use of waxed canvas then spread to the whole field of marine, from protective clothing to sailors' travel accessories. Then, the tendency was brought to land to be democratized to other sectors, in particular the agriculture, the army, the outdoor environment and the world of the fashion.

📷 Credit: Snake River Holsters Hoffmann Leather Works's Youtube Channel

Since then and until today, waxed canvas is mainly used for this water-repellency characteristic. It is used in particular to design objects that are likely to be subject to bad weather: tents, backpacks, outdoor accessories, etc.

While texture and comfort may seem "rugged" the first time around, the advantage of the waxed canvas is that it becomes more refined and softer over time, developing a patinated appearance over time.

waxed cotton canvas backpack and its leather strap

How to Clean and Care for Waxed Canvas?

Taking care of a waxed canvas bag is a little more "challenging" as there is wax on the fabric, but follows a similar process. You don't need to wash a bag made of waxed canvas unless you feel the need, as the wax cover protects the fabric against dust and most stains.

When to re-wax a waxed canvas?

Over time, the wax layer can become thinner and it is advisable to re-apply a layer of wax every 6 to 12 months, depending on your use. It depends on how often you use your tarp but also on its age. An old canvas will need a little more maintenance than a new one.

If you're not sure what to look for, there's a quick way to tell if your canvas needs attention: drip a few drops of water on the surface of your canvas, if they are absorbed and don't roll off, it's time to take care of it.

How to re-wax a waxed canvas?

To re-wax your fabric, first clean the canvas following the tips we gave above for cleaning classic canvas. One thing to avoid: never wash a wax cloth in a washing machine, nor use hot or lukewarm water, as the wax tends to melt easily at high temperatures

You are ready to re-wax your canvas. Here are the basic steps to follow:

  1. Get your wax block and melt it, ideally in a bowl in a water bath or with a hair dryer, to obtain a liquid easy to apply
  2. Apply the melted wax with a soft cloth or brush to the canvas in a circular motion. Make sure to rub the wax thoroughly into the fabric and avoid applying too much wax. If you see that it is the case, do not hesitate to absorb the excess with a dry cloth or a paper towel
  3. Soak the canvas by heating it with a hair dryer, about 30 cm from the fabric to facilitate the penetration of the wax between the fibers
  4. Let your waxed canvas dry for 12 hours, in a ventilated room, away from the heat to give the wax time to cure.

How to remove scratches and marks from a waxed canvas?

Waxed canvas is a reactive and quite stiff material. As a result, when you receive one of our waxed canvas bags, for example, there is a good chance that wrinkles will have left small marks on the fabric. Don't be frustrated by this, it's a totally natural reaction of the canvas and it takes less than two minutes to resolve.

Also, if your waxed canvas is exposed to rain, it is possible that small spots of "discoloration" will form on the surface of the canvas. Again, no need to worry, this is a normal reaction and the same solution as for wrinkles should be applied.

To solve these "problems", simply heat your canvas with a hair dryer about 30 cm from the canvas for about 30 seconds, and rub the surface with a soft lint-free cloth. You will immediately see them disappear. Don't believe us? We made a video tutorial to help you:

📷 Credit: EIKEN's Youtube Channel

Here are some examples of waxed canvas bags:

Vintage Laptop Rucksack
Vintage Laptop Rucksack
Waxed Canvas Backpack
Waxed Canvas Backpack
Roll Top Rucksack
Roll Top Rucksack
Waxed Canvas Backpack
Vintage Backpack

On Eiken Shop website, we're offering both fabrics, so that our adventurers can choose the material they prefer. Our bags are also made of Crazy Horse Leather, one of the best quality cow leather on the market.

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Article by


Baptiste is an adventurer with a passion for urban and wilderness exploration and adventure, and a lover of vintage objects with timeless charm. As a Founding member of the Eiken team, he tries to share his passion and expertise for travel and vintage fashion through his articles.

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