When you’re out camping and a rainstorm comes along, one of the last things you want is for water to start coming into your tent. It’s happened to us, and it’s probably happened to you if you’re reading this article.
Fortunately, it’s not too hard to find the places that need waterproofing and fix them, even if you’ve never done it before. Continue reading below to learn exactly how to waterproof a tent.
Why Should You Waterproof Your Tent?
Camping inside a leaking tent is no fun. It is super uncomfortable, makes it tough to stay warm if the weather is colder, and can ruin gear that isn’t waterproof. Waterproofing will make sure that the inside of your tent stays dry no matter the weather.
Many tents indeed come with some waterproofing already. However, lots of cheap tents aren’t built to handle wet weather and could use some extra protection before your first camping trip.
Even high-quality tents lose their coating over time, and a manual refresh is a great way to increase performance and extend their lifespan.
How Often Should You Waterproof a Tent?
The frequency at which you’ll need to waterproof your tent depends on how often you go camping.
As we mentioned before, cheap tents without waterproof fabric and sealed seams should be treated before using them, especially if you expect to camp in the rain.
If you’re not sure whether your tent fits the bill, check its HH rating online. If it’s under 2,000, then you should reinforce the tent before using it.
For standard or higher-end tents, it’s common to re-waterproof them at the start of each new camping season.
The best way to know if your tent needs waterproofing, though, is to periodically check potential problem areas yourself. If you notice a spot that looks worn down, it’s probably time for a refresh.
Step-By-Step Guide to Tent Waterproofing
The steps listed below will show you exactly how to waterproof a tent. Keep in mind that this covers every single spot that might leak. If your tent is in decent shape and is only worn down in one place, you can apply the advice for that specific section only.
Also, this advice applies to your standard nylon or polyester tent. If your tent is made of different material like canvas, the products you use will be different.
1. Clean The Tent Before You Start
Any waterproofing you do won’t work as well if it’s on a dirty tent surface, so cleaning your tent is the first thing you must do.
To keep it simple, you’ll need a large bucket of cool or lukewarm water, a non-detergent soap (mild dish soap works), and a non-abrasive sponge.
You should then gently spot clean dirty areas of your tent until they are completely removed. If the tent is very dirty, then you can soak it in the bucket for a bit first, but don’t put it in the washing machine.
Once the tent is clean, you can rinse off all the soap with a hose and hang it somewhere to dry. Make sure it’s completely dry before moving on to the next steps.
2. Check The Entire Tent For Leaks
Once your tent is clean and dry, it’s time to look for areas that might need waterproofing.
Set up your tent outside and give it a good spray with a garden hose. Once your tent has gotten a couple of minutes of water exposure, you can put down the hose and begin inspecting it.
Pay special attention to leaks on the tent seams and anywhere on the tent fabric.
The tent floor and rainfly are the most important spots, so note if any moisture has made it into the tent through there. Flip the tent fly inside out and check the underside for wetness.
If you see spots where the water repellant is starting to wear off, those should be fixed up as well.
3. Seal The Tent Seams
Now that you know what places on your tent need extra waterproofing, you can start the process. If the seams are an issue, here’s how to fix them.
First, you’ll want to gather the following materials, most of which should be easy to find in your home:
A small cloth or rag
A high-quality seam sealer. Make sure to get a kind that works with your tent material. Most tents use polyurethane-coated fabric, but some use silicon instead.
A small brush
How to Seal The Seams of Your Tent:
Set your tent up in a clean, dry place. Preferably with good lighting as well so you can easily inspect the seams. You’ll be sealing the seams on the inside of the tent and fly, so remove the fly and turn it inside out when you’re doing this.
Remove any peeling or damaged sections of seam tape while leaving the rest intact.
Gently clean the seams with your cloth and rubbing alcohol and let them dry.
Apply a thin layer of the seam sealant along the seams, covering it completely. Let it dry for the amount of time the instructions suggest.
4. Reapply Urethane Coating to Tent Fabric
Your tent floor and rain fly will take the vast majority of the punishment when it comes to rain, so it’s important to keep their waterproof coatings in good shape, both on the inside and outside.
Most of these tents will be covered with a layer of polyurethane on the inside. If you noticed it flaking off or any wet spots during your inspection, your tent is due for a reapplication. Here’s what you’ll need and how to do it:
An abrasive sponge
Tent sealant. Again, get one that’s made to work properly with your tent fabric.
How to Apply Urethane Coating to Tent:
With your tent and rain fly flat on the ground, gently remove any flaky coating with your sponge and the rubbing alcohol.
Apply a thin layer of the tent sealant to the affected areas. If your tent is in really bad shape, you can apply it to the entire inside of the floor and rain fly.
Let the coating dry according to the instructions on the sealant bottle.
5. Refresh DWR Coating on Tent Rainfly
The last area to tackle is the durable water repellent (DWR) on the outside of your tent fabric and rain fly. You’ll know that you need to apply this if the water is no longer beading but instead soaking into the fabric.
Materials you’ll need:
Tent waterproofing spray
A damp cloth or non-abrasive sponge
How To Refresh Your DWR Coating:
Set up your tent in an open outdoor area and spray it down with your hose (most DWR sprays want your tent wet but read the instructions beforehand).
Spray the outside of your tent fly with the DWR spray, giving it an even coating.
Wipe down any excess sealant from the rain fly with your cloth or sponge.
Let the tent dry for several hours.
Other Ways to Make Your Tent More Waterproof
Following the steps above is usually enough to make even the cheapest tent waterproof, but it never hurts to add additional protection, especially when it’s easy to do so.
Always Use a Rainfly or Tarp
If you’re a frequent camper, we doubt that you’ll be forgetting your rain fly, but it’s worth mentioning just in case. Every tent comes with one and it’s not an item that should be left behind while camping.
A heavy-duty tarp can be another barrier between your tent and the rain if you bring one along.
The easiest option is to attach it to a tarp right above your rain fly. If you’re camping in the woods, you can also tie it to some trees above your tent and it will act as a makeshift canopy, shielding you from the rain above.
Use a Tent Footprint
A tent footprint can act as a barrier between the wet ground and your tent floor and help prevent water from leaking inside.
In addition, footprints protect tent floors from ground damage and keep them cleaner, both of which are added reasons to bring one along.
By following the steps above, we’re confident that you’ll stay dry inside your tent no matter what the weather conditions might be.
If you have any other tips on how to waterproof a tent, make sure to leave them in the comments below. Happy camping!
The only difference in waterproofing a canvas tent vs a standard one is the type of waterproofing sealant and spray you use. For canvas tents, you should choose a silicon or flouropolymer based spray rather than a polyurethane one.
Carl is a content writer for The Camping Buddy, specializing in informational camping articles and product reviews. Carl has been a freelance writer for outdoor news sites while spending his time backpacking across the world. His favorite camping spot is Malaekahana Beach in Hawaii.