The long-term failure of seemingly intact corrosion resistant organic coatings is thought to occur via the development of ionic transport channels, which spontaneously evolve from hydrophilic regions on immersion, i.e., as a result of localized water uptake. To this end, we investigate water uptake characteristics for industrial epoxy–phenolic can coatings after immersion in deionized water and drying. Moisture sorption and the changing nature of polymer–water interactions are assessed using FTIR for dry and pre-soaked films. More water is found to be absorbed by the pre-soaked coatings on exposure to a humid environment, with a greater degree of hydrogen-bonding between the polymer and water. Furthermore, morphological changes are then correlated to localized water uptake using the AFM-IR technique. Nanoscale softened regions develop on soaking, and these are found to absorb a greater proportion of water from a humid environment.