How to Waterproof a Canvas Tent – It Only Takes 6 Simple Steps

How to Waterproof a Canvas Tent
How to Waterproof a Canvas Tent

I once neglected to waterproof my tent; I’ll never make that mistake again. 

Canvas is naturally waterproof, and I assumed it would arrive ready to resist all the rain in the world. Unfortunately, your canvas tent will leak the first time it gets wet. To properly maintain your tent, you must know how to waterproof a canvas tent.

You need to season your canvas tent with water, soaking it thoroughly. Then you can move on to using silicone or fluoropolymer waterproofing spray. If you do not do this, rain will leak through the tiny holes in the canvas fibers and drench the inside of your tent.

Table of Contents

The Differences Between Waterproofing and Seasoning – How to Waterproof a Canvas Tent

There are two steps to waterproofing your canvas tent, and many people don’t realize that you have to season them before you waterproof them. However, it’s important to realize the difference between seasoning and waterproofing.

You’ll often need to do seasoning and waterproofing to achieve a fully waterproof tent.

Seasoning – The Differences Between Waterproofing and Seasoning

Canvas is a woven fabric. Its construction creates tiny holes between the fibers, and this can let water into your tent. However, if you get your canvas wet enough, it swells up. The swelling prevents water from leaking through these holes.

A brand-new canvas tent won’t ensure you stay dry if the rain falls right onto your canvas tent. It’ll take several heavy rainstorms before the fabric swells up enough to permanently close those holes.

You need to fight fire with fire here: prevent future leaks by drenching your tent before exposing it to the elements while camping.

Seasoning your tent with water will make it waterproof. You’ll have to repeat the process yearly, but the results hold up well.

Waterproofing – The Differences Between Waterproofing and Seasoning

You may wonder what waterproofing is if seasoning renders your tent waterproof. Well, seasoning doesn’t keep the tiny holes shut forever. Older canvas tents can thin out, and some tiny holes open back up.

Waterproofing will ensure those holes remain closed. You use a product that creates a barrier between your tent and the elements, and your tent will be waterproof once again.

You can waterproof your brand-new canvas tent and season it, although it’s not 100 percent necessary to do both. If your tent leaks once it’s properly seasoned, then you can waterproof it too.

However, waterproofing your tent can decrease its breathability, so be prepared for that once you waterproof your tent with a product.

Seasoning a Canvas Tent – How to Waterproof a Canvas Tent

Seasoning your tent is more important than waterproofing it; you can season it without waterproofing it, but it’s not a good idea to waterproof it before seasoning it.

You’ll want to do this before you take your new tent camping. For best results, do this in the summer during hot weather.

Step #1: Set Your Tent Up – Seasoning a Canvas Tent

You’ll need to have your tent pitched for the entire seasoning process, so make sure you have an area large enough. Make sure you’re okay with getting the area wet.

Keep the doors and windows of your tent shut.

Step #2: Get It Wet – Seasoning a Canvas Tent

Now you need to get the tent fully saturated.  A hose works best for this, and ideally, you’ll use a setting that resembles heavy rainfall. 

Spray your tent with cold water from the bottom right to the ceiling. Pay extra attention to the seams.

When you’ve drenched your tent for about 5 minutes, you can go inside and check if the sun is shining through any holes you’re trying to close up. If you notice rays of sunshine through the walls or seams of the tent, you need to continue drenching it.

Keep soaking the tent until you can’t see the sun peeking through any small holes from the inside, and then you can leave it to dry.

Using a cold–hot–cold type of treatment will work best here, so ideally, you’ll leave it to dry for a day in a very hot backyard. 

Step #3: Soak It Again – Seasoning a Canvas Tent

You want your tent dry inside and out, and the outside should be hot. Now it’s time to soak it again.

This time, soak your tent for twice as long. Doing it for 10 minutes is best. Again, use cold water, and ensure you can’t see the sun peeking through the walls when you’re inside.

Let your tent dry again in the sun.

Step #4: Test Your Tent – Seasoning a Canvas Tent

Test Your Tent

You can stimulate rainfall with your hose, but you could also take your tent down and put it back up when it’s rainy. You want to be sure that your tent can hold up against normal and heavy rain.

Check the inside for leaks after your tent has been rained (or hose-rained). If there are no leaks, then you’re good to go. You can use a waterproofing spray on any leaky areas, as seasoning them further likely won’t help.

The results of your efforts should resemble the video.

Step #5: Let It Dry – Seasoning a Canvas Tent

After you test your tent, you must let it dry again before packing it. The hard part is over; all that’s left is to pack your tent away and take it out on a real camping trip.

Step #6: Maintain The Seasoning – Seasoning a Canvas Tent

You should re-season your tent every 12 months for best results, but use your best judgment as time passes. When seasoning stops working effectively, then it’s time to start using a more waterproofing spray.

Waterproofing a Canvas Tent – How to Waterproof a Canvas Tent

Waterproofing a tent is easy. All you need is a product or two and a little time to apply them; be sure to choose the right product for your tent.

Step #1: Select a Product – Waterproofing a Canvas Tent

There are two main options — Silicone and fluoropolymer waterproofing sprays. Both are made of silicone rubber, but fluoropolymer products often have more weather, oil, and water resistance than silicone on its own. You can read more about fluoropolymer coatings here.

You can’t go wrong with either, although I recommend using a fluoropolymer.

The Scotchgard Heavy Duty Water Shield works well on canvas tents and has fluorochemical properties. And best of all, it lets your tent stay breathable!

Alongside this, you’ll need some seam seal for added seam protection. This Gear Aid one works well on canvas.

Step #2: Lay Your Tent Out – Waterproofing a Canvas Tent

Once your products are ready, lay your tent out on a flat surface. You want to ensure you have plenty of room to move around the fabric and coat its exterior.

Step #3: Spot Clean Your Tent – Waterproofing a Canvas Tent

If your tent isn’t new, you might have some dirt on the canvas’s surface. You’ll need to remove this dirt before you get to work with waterproofing. You can do this using some distilled white vinegar and a soft brush.

The ratio of vinegar is one cup of vinegar to one gallon of water. If you like, you can use a cup of salt and lemon juice instead. This solution can also work to clean a tent with mold and mildew.

Spot Clean Your Tent

Using mild dish soap is another alternative, but never use a product that contains bleach. Bleach can damage the canvas.

Dip your brush in the vinegar solution, lightly scrub your tent’s dirty areas, and keep going until all the stains are gone. If your tent is particularly dirty, you may want to hose the entire tent down with a light spray setting.

The video may be of help with spot-cleaning your tent.

Step #4: Use Your Product – Waterproofing a Canvas Tent

Go ahead and use your waterproofing spray and seam seal. Use the seam seal along all the seams where the walls attach to each other and the floor.

You can use the waterproofing spray on areas that leak, or you can use it on your entire tent. Follow the instructions that came with your waterproofing product.

Step #5: Test Your Tent – Waterproofing a Canvas Tent

Wait for the waterproofing spray to dry, pitch the tent, then test your tent to see if the spray worked. Grab a hose and lightly drench your whole tent. Check inside to see if it leaked. If it leaks, go over the leaky areas with your waterproofing spray again.

Step #6: Let It Dry – Waterproofing a Canvas Tent

You can leave your tent to dry once it passes the test above. Leave your tent assembled to ensure it doesn’t shrink; canvas shrinks when wet.

Drying it in the sun is safe to speed up the process. Canvas can handle a lot of UV light, but don’t leave it in the sun too long, just in case.

4 Canvas Tent Maintenance Tips – How to Waterproof a Canvas Tent

It’s not enough to season and waterproof your tent and leave it at that. You want to be sure that you care for your tent, too, so it doesn’t develop any damage like mold or rot that can hinder its waterproof nature.

1. Pack Your Tent Dry – Canvas Tent Maintenance Tips

It may be tempting to assume you can pack your tent wet and it’ll dry in storage, but never, ever do this. Packing your tent wet creates the perfect conditions for mold and mildew growth; mold thrives in dark, damp spaces.

2. Ensure It’s Clean Before Packing – Canvas Tent Maintenance Tips

Dirt holds moisture, so be sure your tent is clean before you pack it away. Spot-cleaning it, as I described earlier, should do the trick.

3. Store It Correctly – Canvas Tent Maintenance Tips

Store your tent in a cool, dry place, as mold and mildew can’t thrive in these conditions. It’s also a good idea to store it in a sealed container so bugs and mice can’t work their way into the bag and chew your tent to pieces.

4. Clean It Once Per Season – Canvas Tent Maintenance Tips

You should thoroughly clean your tent at least once a year, even if it doesn’t look too dirty. Spray it down and use the vinegar and water solution in high-traffic areas. This will ensure your tent stays clean and pleasant for future use.

Clean away any mold, too, and then you can do annual seasoning and waterproofing.

How to Waterproof a Canvas Tent
How to Waterproof a Canvas Tent

Conclusion – How to Waterproof a Canvas Tent

Seasoning is highly effective at keeping water out of your tent, and waterproofing it with a product is the icing on the cake. There are tons of fantastic waterproofing products available to help you keep your tent rain-free.

Maintaining your seasoning and waterproofing spray is imperative to keeping a leak-free tent, so create a maintenance schedule for the best results. I recommend doing it in the summer.

Once you’ve got the routine down, your tent should stay waterproof for as long as you use it.

Frequently Asked Questions – How to Waterproof a Canvas Tent

1. Why is Waterproofing a Canvas Tent Important? – FAQs

Waterproofing your canvas tent is important because it protects the fabric from water damage, which can weaken and tear the fabric over time. Keep your tent dry to avoid mold and mildew growth, which can harm your health.

2. What Materials Do I Need to Waterproof My Canvas Tent? – FAQs

You’ll need a waterproofing spray or solution designed specifically for canvas materials to waterproof your canvas tent. A soft-bristled brush or sponge may also apply the solution evenly.

3. How Often Do I Need to Waterproof My Canvas Tent? – FAQs

The frequency with which you waterproof your canvas tent is determined by several factors, including weather conditions and frequency of use. Re-applying the waterproofing solution every year or two is generally recommended, but it’s time to reapply if you notice water soaking through the fabric during rainstorms.

4. On My Canvas Tent, Can I Use Regular Waterproofing Spray? – FAQs

Regular waterproofing sprays are not recommended for canvas tents because they are designed for synthetic fabrics and may contain chemicals that harm the natural fibers in the canvas material.

5. Should I Spray the Tent With Waterproofing Spray From the Inside or Outside? – FAQs

For maximum moisture protection, apply the waterproofing spray to both sides of the fabric (inside and outside).

6. How Long Does the Waterproofing Spray Take to Dry? – FAQs

The drying time varies depending on the product, but most sprays require 24 hours to fully dry before they can be used.

7. What Happens if I Don’t Waterproof My Canvas Tent Properly? – FAQs

Water can seep through the canvas tent and dampen everything inside, leading to mold growth and damage to your equipment if it is not properly waterproofed. This can weaken and deteriorate the fabric over time, significantly shortening its lifespan.

Ben Wann- Tent Camping Expert

My name is Ben Wann, and I’m a lifelong tent camper and backpacker who jumps on every opportunity to get out and enjoy nature! I created this site to inspire others to get outside and to make the process easier for you.