"Real Oilcloth" and How to Make It

By: Modhomeecteacher Jul 03, 2009

created at: 2009-07-03

photo image: http://mexicansugarskull.com/

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Why do they call it "oil"cloth? Probably because the recently advertised "real oilcloth" that is all the rage is made from cotton fabric covered with a petroleum based coating. However, genuine oilcloth, the real thing  grandma had on her kitchen table was made from cotton duck, canvas or linen that was

created at: 2009-07-03

coated several times with linseed oil to give it a waterproof-ish surface. The fabric could be dyed or printed before the linseed treatment.

Genuine oilcloth is biodegradable in a landfill. The falsely advertised "real oilcloth" made from PVC or polyvinyl chloride does not break down in a landfill. 

If you need  your custom fabric laminated with a PVC coating, here are a number of companies who will do the job for you.

If you'd like to give the real thing a try, here's what you need:

Heavy cotton duck or canvas

Wooden stretcher frame

Staple Gun

Linseed Oil and paintbrush

Oil paint or oil dyes if you want to create your own design

Now here's how you do it:

1, Stretch fabric onto frame for stability and smoothness

2. Create a design by tie dyeing, stamping or painting with oil dyes or paints

3.  With long brush strokes, cover entire piece of fabric on the good side, let dry, repeat

4.  Add design between coats of linseed oil and keep coating and letting it dry

5. Once it's good and coated, remove from frame, trim edges and use as desired

If you want to make an entirely water resisitant piece, make the item and dip it completely in linseed oil, let dry and repeat.

Oilcloth Upholstery Tip:

When using real or PVC oilcloth, use thicker staples, staple diagonally to the grain of the fabric and use a heavier grade of fabric. Laminated fabric tends to tear like paper if you staple with the grain and using finer staples.

I've used Custom Laminations on the list of fabric laminators and they have been most satisfactory.


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85041 views | Comments (62)


Beware, what is sold as "boiled" linseed oil in the hardware store actually contains toxic solvents as drying agent instead of using the traditional boiling method. I am reading alot about toxic chemicals lately after geting a chemical allergy from using a product called liquid wrench. I have since learned that it contains cancer causing benzene. Varnishes and linseed oils can contain toluene which is used in shale gas extraction aka "fracking. It is a neurotoxicant and exposure to it has been proven to lower ones IQ. It is also found in nail polish and people can develop an addiction to it. Fortunately we found solventfrepaint.com who sells "all back" organic boiled linseed oil to finish our wood floors with. I recomend this product and the book "detoxify or die" by sherry rogers. Glad I found this post I will attempt to use "all back" to make my oil skin. Thanks for the how to.

P.S. mineral spirits and polyurethane are toxic too.

Hello, I've used a 50/50 mix of boiled linseed oil and mineral turpentine (or white spirits i some areas). Straight linseed oil doesn't dry. The mix I've just described will dry within about 48 hours.

http://www.solventfreepaint.com/cleaned_linseed_oil.htm  This site deals in linseed oil in case someone needs a connection.

I tried to make this with the kids using your helpful intructions, however I didnt quite manage to source all the materials and ended up in a mess :D. Ended up buying a <a href="http://bluejigsaw.com.com">oilcloth</a> from blue jigsaw instead.  Was good enough.


Coco you can find it online...it's usually 15-25 $ a yard...The Vermont Country Store has some pretty reasonable right now.  

Do you have any reccomendations as to where you can purchase genuine oilcloth?  All I can find on the internet is the fake PVC cloth.  I'd really like to be able to buy some of the real deal to make a tablecloth for a friend.

Donna, wouldn't the urathane crack? you could try it on some scrap fabric.

I have some new, store bought cotton placemats.  I thought I would spray a couple of thin coats of clear polyurethane on them to  protect them from the messy eater (my husband) in the house.  I've been searching online and haven't found any references to this application.  Is there a reason this would not work?

@Martha in Oregon, Isn't Turpentine toxic?


For those worrying about toxicity of linseed oil, another site recommends mixing one cup of soy oil with 4 oz of turpentine. Spray or paint on and lay the fabric flat to dry. http://www.wikihow.com/Waterproof-Fabric

Does someone want to try it and let us know how it turns out?

go to solventfreepaint.com to get the best linseed oils, paints and varnishes. all solvent free. I've been restoring a 120 year old house in silverton co, using these oils and paints, and I'm blown away. I'm going to make some oilcloth work clothes. should be especially functional for my job oil painting buildings...

Hi there,

Do you know if are anyone manufacturing this original oil cloth?

So you can coat a jacket that's already made...lets say a carhartt coat with linseed oil and it makes it like a breathable rain jacket?
So you can coat a jacket that's already made...lets say a carhartt coat with linseed oil and it makes it like a breathable rain jacket?
So you can coat a jacket that's already made...lets say a carhartt coat with linseed oil and it makes it like a breathable rain jacket?

Hi I just stumbled upon your page as I was looking how to make genuine oilcloth. I am going to make reusable snack bags with the oilcloth and had a  question... Which side would touch the food? (there will be an untreated cotton sewn to it for the outer seen part).

Thanks!!! :)

How do you store an oilcloth?  If you are not 100 percent sure it is dry, then there is a possiblity of it heating up and catching fire, true?  I would like to make one, but want to keep it fairly clean inbetween uses.  Thanks.

Carlos...Thanks so much for your response.  I am going to try organic flaxseed oil and see how it dries...I am in no rush, but want to be sure if my kids are eating at the table I have put something safe on it for them.

To Sally and Angela about the type of oil.

Linseed and flaxseed are the same thing, however, linseed oil is processed with solvents that makes it inedible. Some of those solvents are what might have health risks.

Boiling linseed oil can, depending on the amount of time and temp, quicken drying times. Most "boiled" linseed oil, however, is instead mixed with chemical driers (like lead) to cut down on wait time.

I have bought the gallon jugs of raw oil from the hardware store (think it's processed with alkali). And also gallons of refined (usually processed with alkali) from Daniel Smith in Seattle or online. I dont remember what I have researched on drying times and quality but there are books and online resources that can help you find that out. Daniel Smith sells cold-pressed (which might have less added solvents) and stand oil too.

There is information you can find on additives and pigments that are added to linseed oil to make artist oils that can adjust characteristics.

-Carlos from Olympia, Wa.

To Angela regarding thickness of base material:

A thicker canvas will indeed become very stiff. Theincreased material will absorb more of the oil and it will become very tough. Sometimes that is exactlly what you want. Carhart's cotton duck canvas (12oz) is a common type of fabric and you have to be carefull about making it too stiff. I have accidentally made a jacket into a suit of armor. Usually a thinner material is used more like a linen (maybe a medium weight will be perfect for your application). That is what Filson's does up here in Seattle. When you use a thicker (ABSORBENT) material you have to be careful about overlayering it too quick which will retard the oxidation (drying times).

Carlos G. Olympia Wa

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