Waterproofing a wool coat
January 16, 2013 2:34 PM   Subscribe

Can I scotch guard my coat?

It's going to be in the 30s and raining tomorrow. I have a coat which is 68% wool, 23% Nylon, 6% Cashmere. Can I waterproof it with scotch guard?
posted by nickhb to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I have worn wool and wool blend coats in the rain plenty of times and experienced no ill effects. There's a reason the Navy wears wool pea coats. Unless cashmere does something really weird in the rain (does it? I've never owned any cashmere before) or it's raining paint, I can't see why you'd need to scotch guard.
posted by phunniemee at 2:37 PM on January 16, 2013 [4 favorites]

Why on earth would you want to?
posted by bfranklin at 3:06 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

One of the reasons wool is so popular as a coat material is precisely because of its natural water repellant properties. It's not as waterproof as a vinyl slicker would be, but wool generally sheds water brilliantly and can absorb an astonishing amount of liquid without ever feeling more than slightly damp.

One of the only "bad" properties of wool is that it can felt/shrink if you expose it to heat and agitation, but assuming you don't do something like throw your coat into the dryer, it should be just fine if it gets rained on. I suppose that if it gets sufficiently saturated, you may smell a bit like wet sheep, but that still seems like a lot less fuss than trying to chemically waterproof it.
posted by Diagonalize at 3:21 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Do not do this to your coat.
posted by Specklet at 3:28 PM on January 16, 2013

Please don't. What's the point of a wool coat if you don't let it be wool?

What do you think people did before technical fibers when it was cold and raining? They wore wool. One of the reasons for that is that even if the wool gets soaking wet it will still be warm. And it takes a lot of rain to soak through a wool coat. (I was just watching video of the 1928 Winter Carnival at Michigan Tech. It was cold. People were wearing wool.)

Don't put it in the dryer when you get home.
posted by jlkr at 3:36 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

It really shouldn't be an issue. Here's a bit of advice for another concerned cashmere-blend coat owner. Let it dry out throughly and while hung properly. (I am also pretty sure cashmere and Scotchguard really don't belong together in the long run.)
posted by jetlagaddict at 4:00 PM on January 16, 2013

I've worn my cashmere coat in the rain with no ill effects (other than smelling a bit when its wet). The only risk here is the blended fiber - I'm not sure how the nylon is going to react, but I'm guessing the nylon is the lining and the exterior of the coat is the wool/cashmere blend.

Scotchguard isn't needed here.
posted by 26.2 at 4:02 PM on January 16, 2013

Yes, you can scotchguard the coat. It will help keep the coat from picking up dirt. Right now your coat probably feels nice and soft, and maybe looks like a decent coat -- it will fix that too. You'll have to use a lot of scotchguard to do it, the stuff works better on smooth fabrics like a nylon jacket fabric. Be sure to spray it outdoors. It's still going to soak up some water, depending on the texture of the coat.

If you aren't going to be out in the rain for hours, you probably don't need to worry about it. Buy a plastic poncho to put on over the top if you are worried, it's cheaper than scotchguard.
posted by yohko at 4:03 PM on January 16, 2013

"... There's a reason the Navy wears wool pea coats. ..."

To be fair, U.S. Navy pea coats were once made of high quality melton cloth of 28 to 30 ounce per yard premium weights, which is a very densely woven, very high long fiber wool content cloth, of minimally processed wool that retained a lot of the natural sheep lanolin, and that was brush finished to produce a very short, dense nap on the outer side. Melton cloth, in the heavy weights once used in regulation U.S. Navy pea coats, is very tough to cut and to sew - special heavy duty machines were once made to sew and cut the welt pockets specified in the original patterns, and were mostly only ever owned by a few specialty contractor firms around Philadelphia that once supplied the Defense Stores depot there.

Quality melton cloth achieved its reputation for warmth and water resistance by several mechanisms. First was the dense, short nap, which collected fine mist droplets, and allowed them to coalesce and run off the coat, without ever penetrating the underlying weave. Next was the very tight, dense weave of the cloth itself, which being made of wool (which naturally resists compression in twist), blocked wind and wind driven droplets of water very well. Third was the high natural lanolin content, sometimes slightly augmented by additional processing soaps and oils during the weaving of the cloth, which also lent the finished cloth significant resistance to wool moth damage. And finally, was the natural structure of wool fibers themselves, which can absorb up to 30% of their weight in water moisture without losing any insulation quality.

U.S. Navy pea coats of the late 1940's and early 1950's also often contained natural horsehair chest pieces and shoulder pads, and high quality silk linings, for additional shape retention in wear as well as warmth and water resistance. If you ever find one of those jewels in an antique clothing shop, you'll know it by its incredible weight/density, and if you can buy it, please respect it for what it is, and don't clean it, willy nilly. Its original owner was probably instructed to never do anything to the coat but brush the exterior, to keep salt water crystals off. In the damp, it may still smell faintly of him, for a reason.

As to the OP's coat, it isn't melton cloth, and at 23% nylon content, it is far from waterproof. On preview, yohko's advice about getting a plastic poncho (or improvising one out of trash bags) is probably best for the long term life of the coat.
posted by paulsc at 4:17 PM on January 16, 2013 [19 favorites]

You can waterproof wool diaper covers by lanolizing them - essentially bathing them in lukewarm water with a tiny bit of lanolin in it. Not sure if this would work with a coat, but maybe worth looking into.
posted by The Toad at 6:40 PM on January 16, 2013

My coat which I've worn through three heavy winters is 80 % wool and 20 % cashmere. I've never had any issues with water seeping in even with the pretty wet winters we've had lately and the coat is still in great shape with a couple of dry cleanings every season. This is really a non-issue -- just go ahead and wear your coat, it'll be fine!
posted by peacheater at 7:31 PM on January 16, 2013

I asked my dry cleaner this just last week, because I brought in a vintage wool overcoat whose lable says to "re-weatherize after cleaning," or words to that effect. It's probably from the mid-60s. She had no idea what process they were recommending, but said that anything "weatherizey" she had available in her shop would not be kind to the wool, and would impart an unattractive haze to the surface. She wouldn't do it.
posted by mumkin at 8:19 AM on January 17, 2013

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