How to waterproof a tent – Best ideas

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Last Update: 28.May.2020

by Willie Test

Camping

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A tent which has lost its waterproofing is a no-go. But wait, don’t throw it out just yet. Reinforcing the waterproofing in a tent is not as complicated as it sounds. Waterproofing requires nothing but brushing a solution all over the tent fabric.

There’s a lot of thinking that goes into applying the right solution, though. You need to look into the compatibility, the amount you need, and alternatives in case of an emergency. For instance, did you know that a tarp can be used to rainproof a tent?

But before we dig into all that, here are a few ways you can check the tent for leaks:

How to Check Your Tent for Leaks

Checking your tent for leaks before you go on the trip is pretty easy. Pitch the tent in your yard and soak the tent (especially the seams) using a hosepipe. Preferably, soak one of the four sides, then check the inside of the tent to look for water pooling inside. If there is none, continue doing so with all four sides.  

If you’re already on the trip, then checking the tent for leaks can be difficult. Oftentimes, the open seams are noticeable enough. But there may also be minor tears that can let a lot of water in. If it’s raining and you found out that the tent is leaking, it is a good idea to waterproof it for the time being. 

Then later look for leaks in suspected areas. It can be done by stretching the cloth to either side of the seams and seeing if there’s a tear. Or you can run water from a bottle over the tent and see from where it leaks inside. Ideally, shining a light through the cloth will highlight any tears and inlets.

Best Ideas to Insulating a Tent

Insulating your tent is only required once every two years if you’re not using it too much. It is also possible to insulating a tent for winter climbing. But there is a couple of handful of ways to waterproof your tent. And this depends on what type of proofing you’re going for, and what your tent is made of. 

Nevertheless, here are the best ways to waterproof a tent.

Refresh The Urethane Coating

Many tents and tarps use a polyurethane coating with a specific waterproof rating. Tents which use the word “PU” when specifying the tent waterproofing have a polyurethane coating. For example, a tent with the rating 3,000 mm PU is a polyurethane-coated tent.

If your tent uses a polyurethane coating and you find it’s losing its resistance, then it’s time to refresh the coat. There are many good brands of PU coatings that come in a spray bottle or a brush-on liquid. Simply apply the coating on the outside of the tent (not the inside), especially around the seams. 

You have a choice between oil and water-based PU coatings. Oil-based coatings are easier to apply and require only two to three coats. But they can take longer to dry, and may leave brush marks. The longer drying time may increase the risk of dust accumulation.

Water-based PU coatings dry faster and produce lesser odor. However, these coatings can react aggressively to different materials. And they usually require up to four coats.

Seal The Seams

Alternatively, you can use a tent seam sealant to only close the seams. This sealant won’t be applied over the entire tent fabric. So if the fabric itself is losing its water retention, then stick to a new PU coating. However, you can use your PU coating solution as a sealant for seams. It is recommended to do so.

If the fabric of your tent is silicone treated, then a silicone-based sealant is recommended. This sealant is the best as it is flexible and stretches with the cloth. However, be careful with silicone sealants, as they don’t fare well with acrylic and many other fibers.

For acrylic canvases, you may want to use a special canvas preservative made just for acrylic. 

Do not use Teflon sealants. They are meant for plumbing and not for everyday camping use. These sealants contain PTFEs or fluorocarbons, which are toxic and fatal when inhaled.

Refresh The (Durable Water Repellant) DWR

A Durable Water Repellant, or DWR, is a type of finish that goes on the exterior of the tent. It protects the exterior from becoming clogged with water and sagging down. These repellants usually go on rain jackets, but can be applied to tents and camps as well. 

You could benefit from a DWR even if your tent didn’t come with one. They can be bought from online as well as physical stores in the shape of sprays and liquids to brush on.

If you want to revive the pre-existing DWR coating, try washing the fabric of the tent. It should remove dirt and anything meddling with the waterproofing. The next step is to apply heat and see if you can bring the DWR “back to life”. 

And if that doesn’t work, it may be time to apply another coating. It is best to just follow the manufacturer’s instructions from the bottle. 

How to Waterproof a Tent Floor

It is advised to use only the best waterproofing spray for tents. There are many waterproof sealants available, both on online stores and in physical markets. Read the instructions on the sealant to learn how to use it. 

Apply the sealant all over the cloth of the tent, particularly the floor. But make sure that you apply the second coat while the first one is drying, not after it. If the temperature is too hot, the first coat may dry faster. 

If that’s the case, or you own a bigger tent, then apply a coat on only part of the tent and apply the second coat directly after. Then move on to other parts.

Also, it is important to only apply the sealant when the tent floor is dry. Tent manufacturers apply their coat on the outside/underside of the floor. But you can apply on both sides if you have sealant to spare.

Canvas Waterproofing

Canvas waterproofing requires a waterproofing sealant. If you have an acrylic canvas tent, then avoid silicone sealants, as they tend to break down the acrylic fibers. 

Alternatively, you can look up some canvas preservatives. These can be brushed over the canvas or sprayed on. A preservative which is mineral spirits can work on any type of canvas, including acrylic and nylon.

Ideally, one gallon should be enough for a two-person tent. Since they use a lot of spirits and alcohols, they are runnier than water and require more coats. And the coats can take at least 24 hours to dry. But the result is always worth it.

Tent Waterproofing With a Tarp

A tarp is a special type of canopy that can be used in place of a tent or over it to provide added protection. Tarps are mostly made to be waterproof, either by applying a layer of silicone or Polyurethane (PU). Additionally, tarps made of polyester are the best, as polyester is waterproof to some extent.

Set the tarp over your tent like you normally do. If you’ve never used a tarp, read the instructions or look online. It’s too complicated to expand here. But it’s not all that different from setting up a tent. 

Look into the waterproof rating of the tarp, generally given in mms. The “mm” refers to how many millimeters high a water column the fabric can hold before giving way. Generally, any rating above 2,000 or 3,000 is a pretty good choice.

You can also lay the cloth of the tarp flat on the floor if the floor is starting to leak. Rainwater can pool on the ground and seep into the tent. 

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