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What is a Rubber Raincoat?

By Grayson Millar
Updated May 21, 2024
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Like other raincoats, a rubber raincoat traditionally is worn over other layers of clothing to protect them, and the person beneath, from rain. As an overcoat, a raincoat even can be worn over other coats that provide more warmth, because raincoats generally are made of a fairly thin material to provide easy storage and transportation. Like other overcoats, a rubber raincoat generally is longer than the average coat and hangs down to about the mid-thigh area in order to cover additional areas of the body during a rainstorm. A rubber raincoat is made out of fabric that has been rubberized, a process that makes the fabric waterproof and rain repellent. Since its invention, the rubber raincoat often is referred to as a Mackintosh, in reference to Charles Mackintosh, a British chemist who first patented waterproof cloth in 1823.

Charles Mackintosh's purpose in creating rubberized fabric was to create a product that would help people cope with Britain's often-rainy weather. He originally tested the idea by using coal-tar naptha to melt rubber into thin sheets, which he then laminated onto wool fabric. The initial models of rubber-coated wool proved to be heavy, stiff and uncomfortable. In addition, the rubber often would melt in hot weather. The many problems of early Mackintoshes were countered by the discovery of the process of vulcanization by Thomas Hancock in 1843.

Vulcanization is a process that converts rubber into a sturdier material by adding sulfur or other chemicals to it during the melting process in order to cure it. Hancock's patent of vulcanization solved the problem of melting rubber. The problems of comfort and stiffness and the lack of portability of early raincoats, however, were not solved until manufacturers started using lighter materials in the production of rubber raincoats later in the 19th century.

Throughout the 20th century, Mackintosh-type coats have been produced using cotton and other light fabrics that make them more comfortable, lighter and easier to transport. The rubberizing process also has been perfected to make the coating much thinner and more durable. Manufacturers also apply solution and/or tape to the seams of the rubber raincoat in order to further seal the coat against possible spots where rain could leak through the coat. All of these processes make the coats stronger while also making them more flexible, which allows for them to be folded and kept in all varieties of bags so that they can be on hand anytime a rainstorm might occur.

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Discussion Comments

By anon315379 — On Jan 23, 2013

I wish that the classic reversible rubberized rayon raincoats were still being made. I had a couple of rubber raincoats when I was in high school and college and wore them all the time.

I still have a blue and yellow rubber raincoat and I am asked often, where I bought it. I always enjoyed the the feeling of the soft smooth rubber lining and enjoyed the smell as well. They are so much better than the chemical smelling PVC rainwear being worn today. Did anyone else wear one of these awesome 3/4 length rubber raincoats?

By geekish — On Jul 27, 2011

@tolleranza - I live in a rainy and not so hot and humid area so a nice pvc raincoat or rubber raincoat does the trick for keeping incredibly dry; but you are right - they are not great for keeping you cool.

I would suggest a plastic raincoat or ponchos. The fun things about these raincoats are they are inexpensive, can have fun designs (like you team's logo on them), and most important keep you extremely dry and much cooler than the thicker rubber rain coats.

By Sinbad — On Jul 26, 2011

@tolleranza - Just as @BambooForest mentioned, the rubber raincoat has gone out of style as well as the vinyl raincoat which look much like their rubber counterparts (all of the vinyl ones I see are typically for people who need heavy duty rain gear like the people you see working outside wearing the long yellow raincoats).

But you can still purchase children's rubber raincoats (I have seen them online). And a fun addition, in my opinion, is the rubber boots which are very in style so you can select from a variety of boots to match the raincoat of your choosing.

By tolleranza — On Jul 26, 2011

Rubber raincoats remind me of being a kid! I used to have a reversible rubber raincoat (or what I assume was a rubber raincoat it was very slick on both sides and not lightweight like the many of the rain jackets now).

Talk about keeping you dry! And at the time it kept me stylish (or so I thought with the Disney characters that were portrayed all over one side)!

The downside of the rubber raincoat was on the spring days when the temperature was starting to ramp up and because the raincoat had *no* ventilation (none at all!) You found after a while you would be a complete puddle underneath of the rubber raincoat.

Do they still have rubber raincoats for children? I don't see them as much anymore, and I wondered if they had made them with more ventilation now!

By Denha — On Jul 25, 2011

@BambooForest- I think that is true. I for one have not had a specific "rain" coat since I was about 8. When my parents no longer insisted, I no longer felt I needed one. Part of this is laziness, and part of it is that my other coats and jackets are usually enough in light rain or even heavy rain if I am only in it for a little while. Finding good rain gear would require more money and effort than I feel like putting in for how much I would get out of it.

By BambooForest — On Jul 24, 2011

Rubber rain coats and jackets seem to have sort of gone out fashion lately. Sure, some people now buy the PVC versions, but I feel like unless you live in an area well known for heavy rains, you are unlikely to see a lot of people with really good rain jackets.

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