Whether you’re a camping enthusiast or you’re a novice going on your first adventure you want to be sure that your tent will do the job and keep you and your family warm and dry in all weather conditions. This doesn’t mean that you need to buy a new tent for every camping trip, as a well cared for old tent is just as good.
However, you will need to routinely give your tent some attention to ensure it remains waterproof and functional, and the way you store your tent between trips is essential. After all, the last thing you want to experience while exploring nature is wet and soggy sleeping bags.
This article will answer all of your questions and tell you everything you’ll need to know about how to waterproof a tent, from giving an old tent new life to preventing a new tent from degrading.
Why do you need to waterproof a tent?
It may seem strange that you need to learn how to waterproof a tent, but even the newest tents will need ongoing maintenance to ensure that they remain waterproof and have a long lifespan. There are a number of reasons why you may need to consider waterproofing your tent, from repairing a problem with an existing tent or even protecting a new tent from degrading when exposed to the elements.
Damage through use
As you would expect from any product that designed to withstand all weathers, tents will degrade over time. This can happen more quickly through frequent use or exposure to extreme weather conditions.
Just imagine the effect that heavy rain and wind, followed by intense heat can have on your tent fabric. and it will make sense why damage can easily occur. We even expect our tents to remain functional after months of storage, often in suboptimal places, so we need to expect wear and tear to occur and know the best tent care methods to increase the life-span of our tents.
The durable water repellent (DWR) coating covers the outside of the rainfly and it is prone to damage by dirt, so it needs to be reapplied periodically to ensure that the DWR layer remains effective.
You will be able to tell when you need to refresh the DWR coat, as water will no longer bead on the tent fabric and it will instead begin to collect on the surface and leak through. We can guide you through the process of caring for the DWR coat in a few easy steps.
Damage to the seams
The seams are the part of your tent where fabrics have been joined together and while they will have been protected and waterproofed when new, the tent seams are prone to damage. Once damage occurs to the seams you will find that water starts to leak through, but don’t worry, it is easy to seal the seams with seam sealer product and give your tent a new lease of life.
Damage from UV Rays
Sun damage can occur to any tent, new or old, even over a short space of time, especially if a tent is placed in direct sunlight during the summer months.
The UV rays cause fabrics to degrade, affecting their waterproofing ability. If when you are camping, the rain fly is not given shelter from the sun then it will start to breakdown and let the rain in.
However, you can protect the fabric by pitching your tent out of the sun, along with routinely applying a waterproofing spray with solar protection to stop any degradation to the tent. This will ensure that your tent will remain fit for purpose, so you will be protected from that summer rainstorm.
The number one rule for storing a tent is to ensure that it is never stored wet, as this is one of the quickest ways to breakdown the waterproof layers and allow the growth of nasty molds.
This can be avoided by ensuring tents are completely dried at home before packing them away into storage. Where people store their tents can also cause problems, as the places that experience high temperatures or fluctuations in temperatures should be avoided.
This means that areas such as the basement, attic space, or garage should be avoided if possible. The experts also recommend that tents are stored in a breathable bag to protect the tent fabric.
Water repellent fabric
Not every tent is made from a waterproof fabric with some of the cheaper ones only being water repellent. This doesn’t mean that they won’t be suitable for their job but they might not be able to withstand great quantities of rain.
This is not ideal if you are caught in a rainstorm as you don’t want leaks appearing inside your tent. However, you don’t need to worry because using a waterproofing spray on the outer layer can help improve the water-resistance ability of the tent and increase its life span.
Identify the problem
It is essential that you identify why your tent is leaking before trying to fix the problem. Otherwise, you will end up spending valuable time and money making repairs that may not be needed. There are a few simple steps to follow, which will allow you to quickly identify the problem.
- Set up your tent at home – give yourself plenty of time before you need it for your next camping trip.
- Before doing anything else double-check that you have set up your tent correctly, as this can be a common cause of leaks.
- Use your garden hose to soak your tent, ensuring each side is covered.
- Once wet you can assess your tent to find the problem area.
- Check the seams inside to see if there are any areas where water is starting to leak through. You might see drips of water along a small part of the seam. You might also see the seam tape starting peal and this may occur in more than one place
- Are there any areas of water soaking through the rain fly and are water droplets beading up on the outside of rain fly?
- Are there any wet or damp patches coming up from the tent floor, as the ground-sheet is a common place for moisture to appear?
- Check for any rips or tears in the fabric.
When to waterproof a tent
Even if your tent doesn’t have a problem then it may need routine maintenance treatment every now and again to keep it in top working order.
Some people will treat their tent annually at the start of every camping season to ensure that the weather cannot ruin their camping holiday, but the frequency of treatment will depend on how often your tent is used.
If you want to preventatively treat your tent then you can also follow the directions below on how to waterproof your tent.
How to waterproof a tent
To give your tent a complete MOT then you should follow each of the steps below. However, if you have identified a problem with your tent then you may want to jump straight to the appropriate step which will enable you to carry out your repair but ensure that you first clean your tent by following the information given for the essential treatment stage.
There are a few products that you’ll need when making your tent waterproof again.
- Waterproofing treatment
- Seam sealant
- Tent sealant
When choosing treatments to use on your tent you should make sure that they are suitable for the type of fabric that your tent is made from and always follow the instructions on the bottle.
You will also find the following equipment useful when carrying out repairs.
- A Cloth or rag
- Rubbing alcohol
- Dust sheets
Essential steps before treatment
Before starting with any repairs or treatment you should set up your tent and give it a clean with a sponge and a mild detergent mixed with warm water in a bowl.
A suitable tech wash can be used if you prefer but washing additives, such as bleach or conditioners should always be avoided.
Tents should always be hand washed and never washed in the washing machine as this can ruin the fabric and cause rips or tears. Once all the excess mud and dirt have been removed you are ready to move on to the next step.
Waterproofing the DWR coating
Replacing the DWR coating on your clean tent is easy to do in a few simple stages. You don’t even have to left your tent dry after cleaning. Leave your tent set up while you do this.
- Cover the side of the tent body with water.
- Spray the exterior of the rain fly with your waterproofing product. Make sure that it is applied evenly.
- Leave for a couple of minutes.
- Using a damp cloth or rag to wipe off any excess spray.
- Some types of product may require a second application, so check the instructions for further guidance.
- Make sure that the tent is completely dry before packing it away.
Seal the seams
Before starting this task it is essential that the seam sealer that you choose is suitable for the fabric that the tent is made from. You might need to research what material your tent is made from to be sure. Most commonly tent materials have a polyurethane coating but some may have been silicone treated. This will affect the type of sealer that you should use on your tent seams.
If you have found a small section of seam that is leaking then it might be tempting to just repair the faulty area. However, we recommend that all of the seams are re-sealed at this point to reduce the risk of any further seams failing and leakages occur.
- Dust sheets can be useful for this step if you need to prevent any damage to the surrounding floor from spillages or alternatively you can work outdoors.
- You will need to use an area with good lighting.
- Set up your tent inside out on the floor, so that the seams are exposed. The seams will be found on the underside of the rain fly and they may be hidden by a seam cover.
- Remove any flakes of seam tape that is starting to peel but leave any good quality tape in place.
- Clean the seams using a damp cloth or rag and rubbing alcohol.
- Apply the seam sealant to the seams using the brush provided, ensuring the right amount is applied.
- Give the sealant time to air dry before packing away.
Replacing the urethane coating
The urethane coating is found on the inside of the rainfly and on the groundsheet. If it starts to fail then you might notice bits flaking of the surface and this indicates that it time to replace the urethane coating.
This is easy to do in your backyard, but you need to ensure that the tent sealant type that you choose is suitable for the fabric that your tent is made from.
These sealants also contain flame retardant chemicals, which are thought to potentially harmful to your health, so care should be taken when handling the sealant and you should always wash your hands after applying them and wear gloves.
- Set up the rainfly and the groundsheet so that it is flat on the floor
- Clean the surfaces with a damp cloth and rubbing alcohol.
- Using the instructions on the sealant bottle, apply a thin layer of tent sealant to the rainfly and groundsheet. You may want to wear gloves during the application of the sealant.
- Let the sealant dry for at least 24 hours before packing the tent away.
The best waterproof tent sprays
There are a variety of options for different waterproofing products that are available to use on your tent. Each type of spray will have different functions, so you should check out all of there features before picking the best one for you.
1. Nikwax Tech Wash
This is a popular washing product for many different waterproof items, including tents. Nikwax Tech Wash can be used for handwashing so is perfect for the initial clean and is a great wash to use for maintaining your tents water repellent coating.
This wash increases the water repellency of the material by refreshing the DWR layer on the rain fly and increases the breathability of the fabric to keep your tent in perfect working order.
2. Star Brite Waterproofing Spray
If you are looking for a great all-round spray that is popular with every camper, then Star Brite is a good starting choice.
It is perfect for waterproofing a tent but it can also be used to preserve the fabric during the yearly maintenance check, ensuring that your tent remains waterproof throughout its lifetime.
The Star Brite spray also offers UV protection, so is ideal for helping to protect against degradation to fabrics caused by the sun.
3. Nikwax Tent and Gear Solarproof
This is another favourite camping product by Nikwax as it is easy to apply and is effective on both wet or dry fabrics. The waterproof treatment will repair the DWR coating and increase the length of the life-span of the fabric, while the solarproof properties will protect the fabric from any UV deterioration caused by sunlight. It is an easy product for anyone to apply, so is ideal for use after cleaning your tent.
4. Kiwi Camp Dry Heavy Duty Water Repellent
For a reliable waterproofing treatment, this Kiwi Camp Dry spray is a useful product that will offer all fabrics protection against the elements. It is also suitable for waterproofing other outdoor equipment so is the perfect option for all nature seekers.
This product does need 2 coats for maximum effectiveness and patch test a spot on the fabric before using to check for colour changes, so does require more time to apply than other treatments.
5. Scotchgard Heavy Duty Water Shield
For a reliable seasonal waterproof treatment, this Scotchgard Water Shield is ideal. It is easy to apply, with only one coat needed.
Scotchgard is not only suitable for tents but can be used for other polyester or nylon equipment, along with many other items, so is popular with all campers. If you only want to buy one waterproofing treatment then this one of the best options.
6. Canvas waterproofing
Some of the more expensive tents are made from cotton canvas material, so need to be treated differently to the standard tent, as they need to go through a different waterproofing process. However, canvas and the polycotton tent are rapidly increasing in popularity as people discover how durable they are and how well they perform in bad weather.
Tips to improve the performance of a canvas tent
These canvas tents do need to be used in the rain to weather the fabric and the seams before they become fully waterproof. This can be done during a camping trip, or you can prepare the fabric in advance in your backyard if you want to ensure the performance of your tent.
- Set up your canvas tent outdoors.
- Thoroughly wet the canvas with water, using a garden hose. Ensure that the tent seams have also been soaked.
- Allow to dry before packaging or repeating the process. It can take multiple cycles to reach maximum waterproofness, though the tent should work well enough to be used after 1 cycle.
Why canvas need waterproofing
Cotton canvas naturally has little holes between the weave of the fabric, which prevents it from being fully waterproof when new. The process of the fabric getting wet enables the cotton fibers to swell and close the gaps in the weave, making the fabric water-resistant and great to use to provide protection from the rain.
It is important to remember that the tent seams also have little holes resulting from them being sewn together. Each hole also needs the opportunity to close, by allowing the material to be soaked in water. It will take longer for the seams to close and become fully waterproof, compared to the rest of the fabric but this should not affect the performance of the tent.
For maximum dryness, when using a cotton canvas tent, ensure that no items inside the tent are allowed to rest on the canvas. Otherwise, moisture will be able to leak through the canvas and your camping gear may get wet.
Tent waterproofing with a tarp
The disadvantage of the traditional methods for waterproofing tent fabrics is that they are often chemical-heavy and there is concern about the effect that these chemicals may have on a person’s health and the environment. Some people may choose to not use waterproof products on their tent as they prefer to be eco-conscious. However, this doesn’t mean that the tent is useless after one or two uses, as there are alternative ways to waterproof your tent that can work just as well.
This alternative method of waterproofing is also ideal for people who have run out of time to fix their tent before their next holiday or may not know how to waterproof a tent using the spray products.
Tips for quick tent waterproofing
All you need to waterproof your tent last minute is a tarpaulin sheet. You will need to be aware that the rainwater will run off the tarpaulin, so make sure you don’t put your belongings underneath this area.
- Set up your tent.
- Cover the tent with a tarpaulin sheet.
- Make sure that the whole of the tent is covered.
Whichever method you choose to waterproof your tent you’ll be increasing the lifespan of your tent and getting the best value for money from your camping equipment. This means that your tent will be able to be used for years to come and will continue to look as good as new.