We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

What is Oilskin?

Mary McMahon
Updated: May 17, 2024

Oilskin is fabric that has been impregnated with oil to make it waterproof. Before the development of synthetic fibers, this was the material of choice for waterproof garments and coverings. Sailors, especially, grew familiar with oilskin, since it protected them from the elements on the job. As a result, many sailors still call modern waterproof garments by this name, although they are made from different materials.

The base material for oilskin is usually canvas, since it is sturdy and the cotton fibers absorb oils that are rubbed into it. Linseed oil was a common choice, although oilskin could also be made by rubbing pitch and tar onto canvas. In addition to repelling oil, the fabric will also repel spills, and it was often used for table and floor cloths as a result. Garments made from it were also known as “oilskins.”

As one might imagine, oilskin garments were not always comfortable. The fabric could be stiff and unpleasant to wear until it had been broken in a bit, and it could also smell unpleasant, depending on what type of material was used to waterproof it. However, the benefit of not getting wet was usually worth the cost of mild discomfort or irritation.

Oilskins were used by outdoors people in general, in addition to sailors. Hunters, for example, often wore oilskin jackets, and the tarping was used to wrap loads for protection. As synthetic fibers entered the market, most people replaced the cumbersome material with the sleek new products. Modern oilskins often include design features that are designed to make them more useful, like sleeve closures to prevent water from working its way in.

It is still possible to buy oilskin fabric and garments made with it, and people can also make their own. Oils like beeswax make great waterproofers, and they smell pleasant, unlike the tar of old. Garments and shoes can also be oiled to make them waterproof if they aren't already; canvas sneakers and jackets, for example, may benefit from an oiling. Some companies make beeswax and oil products that are specifically designed for this purpose, and shoe stores often carry these products.

About Mechanics is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a About Mechanics researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Learn more
About Mechanics, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

About Mechanics, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.