How to Waterproof a Tent

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When out in the great outdoors weather can be unpredictable the last thing you want is a leak inside your shelter. I can definitely attest to this as I have had my fair share of leaky and wet tent camping experiences, and they were not fun at the time. Knowing how to waterproof a tent is one way to prepare for the unexpected.

Most tents will come with a factory durable water treatment or DWR, treated or taped seams, and a good to go floor. However, over time the elements and sun exposure will slowly erode the exterior and interior and re-proofing will need to be done. That’s where we can help you out. In this guide I am going to teach you my technique for how to waterproof a tent or re-waterproof a tent.

How to Waterproof a Tent

How to waterproof a tent is a fairly easy process and it does not have to be time consuming at all. There are quite a few ways to waterproof a tent but first we need to address what the problem might be in order to fix it.

Common Causes of Tent Leaks

There are really four main reasons for why a tent may start to leak and each one takes a different approach for how to waterproof it.

ProblemTreatment
Water soaking through the rainflyRainfly needs to be re-proofed with DWR
Water coming through the seamsSeams need to be seam sealed or taped
Water soaking through the tent floorTent floor needs to be repaired or re-coated
Condensation build up inside the TentOpen vent or door for airflow, wipe tent down
Tent Problems and Treatments

Cleaning a tent

Clean Your Tent

The first thing I like to do prior to waterproofing my tent is to give the tent a good clean. Depending on where you are repairing focus on cleaning that area. If you are reproofing the exterior and the rain fly of your tent, then give it a good clean. If you are repairing the seams or the tent floor clean those areas. By cleaning the tent first, you will help allow the waterproofing and the seam sealer to adhere better to the tent.

For this process, I like to keep things fairly simple and not over complicate. For cleaning I will be using Nikwax Tent & Gear Solar Wash, Gear Aid Tech Wash, or a very mild soap like Dr. Bronner’s, a damp sponge or washcloth. Plus, some water in a bucket or a hose for rinsing the tent off when you are done.

Tip: For the exterior and rainfly, I do prefer to use Nikwax Tent & Gear Solar Wash for the extra UV protection. For the interior I will usually use a tech wash or diluted soap.

Washing the tent is a rather simple process. I’m going to lay out my quick method for cleaning below, if you need a deeper clean check out my guide for how to clean a tent. For a quick clean you will:

  1. Pitch your tent, you can use a ground sheet or tarp to pitch it on top of or the ground.
  2. After pitching the tent, I like to sweep or shake out the inside of the tent.
  3. Next, spray Nikwax Tent & Gear Solar Wash evenly over the fabric or use a bucket with Nikwax Tech Wash, or mild soap like Dr. Bronner’s.
  4. Afterwards, be sure to scrub the wash in with a damp sponge or cloth, paying attention to excessively filthy places.
  5. If you are going to be seam sealing your tent, pay extra attention to cleaning the seams as well.
  6. If you are recoating the tent floor give that floor a good cleaning as well.
  7. Rinse with clean water sometimes, I like to use a garden hose but you could use a sponge or cloth again to rinse.
Waterproofing the rain fly

How to Waterproof a Tent Fly

For the tent exterior or rain fly, I will be using the Nikwax Tent & Gear Solarproof spray as the waterproofing repellent coating. This has become one of my favorite water repellants to use for gear that gets a lot of sun and weather exposure because it also provides UV protection.

Here are the steps for how to waterproof a tent exterior or rain fly:

  1. After cleaning the tent it is time to add a waterproofing layer
  2. Your tent should still be pitched from the cleaning process, but if not pitch your tent.
  3. Start by spraying the rainfly with waterproofing spray
  4. Hold the spray bottle about six inches away from the fabric and spray it on evenly, making sure to cover all the fabric.
  5. Be generous with it, especially on the rainfly and other exposed parts.
  6. If there is any extra water repellent coating residue use a wet cloth to wipe excess coating
  7. Let the tent air dry completely

How to Seam Seal the Seams

After you have completed the cleaning and waterproofing for the tent. It’s time to apply seam sealer to your tent to waterproof the seams. Some tents come factory seam sealed or seam taped, and some tents will not come seam sealed.

Prior to seam sealing check the seams of common areas usually the underside of the rainfly and the tent floor and corners. If your tent came pre sealed, then check the seams to see if any of the seam sealant or seam sealed tape peeled off. If so, use rubbing alcohol and possibly a soft sponge or scrubber to help remove the rest of the seam sealer.

Picking the appropriate seam sealant is based on your tent’s materials.

MaterialsTreatment
Silicon Treated or CoatedGear Aid Seam Grip + Sil
All Fabrics (except Silicon coated)Gear Aid Seam Grip + FC or Seam Grip +WP

For further details and guidance on seam sealing check out my guide for how to seam seal a tent. For quick steps follow below:

  1. First, pick the appropriate seam sealant
  2. Then setup the tent, I recommend pitching the tent body outside or in a garage
  3. Flip the rain fly over and find the seams of the rain fly
  4. Prior to seam sealing make sure your tent is clean and dry
  5. Follow along the seams and apply seam sealer
  6. After, the rainfly is complete check along the inside of the tent body
  7. Follow along the seams of the corners and along the floor of the tent
  8. Apply seam sealer to the corners and tent floor
  9. Allow the seam sealer to cure for about 24 hours

I always recommend letting the seam sealant cure for about 24 hours to allow for the best adherence to the seams. Most products will be done curing before that though it depends on the temperature.

Assessing the tent floor

How to Waterproof a Tent Floor

The tent floor can become worn out over time most commonly from abrasions and micro holes. When it comes to waterproofing a tent floor there are a few options depending on the damage or type of fabric your tent uses. Prior to doing any repair to the tent floor you need to be aware of what type of material your tent floor is made of.

Below is a table with a few of my recommendations for how to waterproof or re proof your tent floor based on common materials used:

MaterialTreatment
Silicon Coated MaterialAtsko Silicon Water Guard spray, silicon solutions, Silicon Patches
Polyurethane (PU) or (PE)Seam Grip TF Tent Fabric Sealant, PU solutions, Tape or Patches
Dyneema Cuben Fiber (DCF)DCF based Patches or Tape
How to waterproof tent floor

The type of damage your tent has accrued will determine the type of treatment. If you have damage from very small holes or abrasion, you can solve it using liquid adhesives and resurfacing. For puncture or larger holes, I recommend using a patch on the underside and liquid on top or using two patches to sandwich the hole and keep it closed.

But for the example below, I will be guiding you through the steps for reproofing a Polyurethane (PU) tent floor:

  1. First, you will want to remove the old and worn-out PU coating with a dry brush or scrubber, and isopropyl alcohol.
  2. Next, clean the interior of the tent you can use Nikwax Tech wash or a diluted soap.
  3. Once the surface is clean and dry, then apply Gear Aid Seam Grip TF pressing it into the tent floor.
  4. Apply one thin and even coat across the fabric inside the tent
  5. Test dryness after four to six hours
  6. Wait 24 hours before storing the tent.

Seasonal Care for Your Tent

Seasonal maintenance is important for making sure your gear stays in tip top shape. Taking care of your tent is especially necessary as it is usually the most expensive piece of equipment you will likely have.

Regular inspection and maintenance will keep your tent in top condition, ensuring it continues to provide you safety and comfort in stormy conditions.

Pre-Camping Season Checkup

Prior to heading out on a backpacking or camping trip I like to do a pre-camp tent check. Here are some things to look for:

  • Signs of seam damage or worn threads
  • Small rips in the tent fly
  • Holes or tears in the fabric
  • DWR coating on the tent. If water no longer beads up on the tent fabric, it’s time to reapply the DWR
  • Holes, tears, or worn spots on the tent floor

Make sure to address any issues before heading out on your camping trip to ensure a dry and comfortable experience.

Post-Camping Cleaning and Storage

Cleaning your tent thoroughly after each couple camping or backpacking trips is one way to keep you gear in good shape.

  1. When cleaning your tent use a non-abrasive sponge or rag with Nik Wax Tent & Gear Solar wash, Nikwax Tech Wash or non-detergent soap
  2. Avoid using strong detergents that can harm the waterproof coating.
  3. Once clean, let your tent air-dry thoroughly
  4. If you do decide not to clean you tent prior to storage at least let it air dry prior to prevent mold or mildew

Bear in mind that proper storage is as crucial as thorough cleaning. Store your tent in a cool, dry place, and make sure it’s completely dry before you put it away.

Frequently Asked Questions

What can I put over my tent to make it waterproof?

To make a tent waterproof you can use various waterproofing agents to add a layer of protection. My favorite is to use Nikwax Tent & Solar Wash and Nikwax Tent & Solar Proof spray.

How do I know when to reapply the DWR coating on my tent?

It’s time to reapply another layer of durable water repellant when water no longer beads up on the fabric. If water tends to soak into the fabric instead of beading up it is time to add a new layer of DWR coating to the tent.

How do I make sure my tent is waterproof?

To make sure your tent is waterproof check it by spraying water on the tent. Check to see if the water beads up and rolls off. If the water just appears to saturate the tent fabric, then it is probably time to reproof the tent.

Summary

In my experience knowing how to waterproof a tent is a very important part of maintaining your tent’s longevity not only does it protect against rain but it also protects against UV damage from the sun. Knowing the techniques for how to waterproof a tent will ensure that you and your gear stay as dry as possible.

Unfortunately, waterproofing a tent isn’t a one-time task, but an ongoing process that requires regular attention and maintenance. But by following the information in this guide you will be sure to know you are using adequate products, your waterproofing technique will be effective, and you will stay dryer than you would have if you did not use a waterproofing repellant.

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