How to Waterproof a Canvas Tent in 6 Simple steps

By Emma
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 certainly leak the first time it gets wet.

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, then rain will leak through the tiny holes in the canvas fibers and drench the inside of your tent.

How to Waterproof a Canvas Tent: Waterproofing vs Seasoning

There are two steps to waterproofing your canvas tent, and lots of 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.

Often, you’ll need to do both seasoning and waterproofing to achieve a fully waterproof tent.

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, then 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 keep those holes permanently closed.

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 every year, but the results hold up well.

Waterproofing

You may wonder what waterproofing is if seasoning on its own renders your tent waterproof. Well, seasoning doesn’t keep the tiny holes shut forever. Older canvas tents can thin out, and some of those 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 as well as season it, although it’s not 100 percent necessary to do both. If your tent leaks once it’s properly seasoned, then you can go ahead and waterproof it too.

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

How to Season 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 a stretch of hot weather.

Step #1. Set Your Tent Up

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

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 entire 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, then you can go inside and check if the sun is shining through any of the holes that you’re trying to close up. If you notice rays of sunshine through the walls or seams of the tent, then 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

You want your tent dry inside and out, and the outside should be hot to the touch. 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

You can stimulate rainfall with your hose, but you could also take your tent down for a while 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) on. 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 below.

Step #5: Let It Dry

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

Step #6: Maintain The Seasoning

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

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, too.

Step #1: Select a Product

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 one.

The Scotchgard Heavy Duty Water Shield works well on canvas tents, and it 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

Once you have your products 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 entire exterior.

Step #3: Spot Clean Your Tent

If your tent isn’t new, then you might have some areas of 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 a cup of lemon juice instead. This solution can also work to clean a tent with mold and mildew.

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

Dip your brush in the vinegar solution and lightly scrub the dirty areas of your tent, and keep going until all of the stains are gone. If your tent is particularly dirty, then 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

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

Wait for the waterproofing spray to dry in, 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 leaked, then go over the leaky areas with your waterproofing spray again.

Step #6: Let It Dry

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.

It’s safe to dry it in the sun 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.

Canvas Tent Maintenance Tips

It’s not enough to just 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.

Pack Your Tent Dry

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.

Ensure It’s Clean Before Packing

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

Store It Correctly

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.

Clean It Once Per Season

You should give your tent a thorough cleaning 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 your annual seasoning and waterproofing.

Wrapping Up

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 best results. I recommend doing it in summer.

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

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AUTHOR

My name is Emma, and I’m a city dweller who jumps on every opportunity to get out and enjoy nature! I’ve gone on a number of car camping and backpacking trips over the past few years. I created this site to inspire others to get outside and to make the process easier for you.