How To Waterproof a Tent: Best Ways to Stop and Prevent Leaks in Tents

There are few things worse than discovering that your tent is leaking during a rainy camping trip. After all, the main function of a tent is to provide you with shelter from the elements. But as time goes on, many camping tents begin to see a bit of wear and tear, often becoming less effective at keeping water out.

Fortunately, in just a few quick steps, you can waterproof your tent and bring it back to its former glory. The waterproofing process is quick, easy, and affordable. It typically requires only a few supplies and an afternoon of DIY fun. Let’s take a step-by-step look at how to waterproof a tent.

 

How to Waterproof a Tent

1. Clean the Tent

The first step is to thoroughly clean the entire tent. It is important to remove any built-up dirt and residue so that any sealants or waterproofing treatment that you use will be able to properly attach itself to the fabric. We recommend gently washing your tent by hand with a soft sponge or washcloth.

 

2. Seal the Tent Seams

Even if your tent came with sealed seams, it can erode over time, letting the water in. Luckily, fixing a leaky seam is not too difficult, and the process can be usually completed in less than an hour. In addition to keeping the rain out, sealed seams are also important for insulating the tent during winter camping trips.

Supplies Needed

To reseal the seams on your tent, you will need to get the following supplies:

  • A clean rag.
  • Rubbing alcohol.
  • Seam sealer.
  • A drop cloth or towel, if you are worried about spilling on the floor.

It is important to choose the appropriate type of seam sealer for your tent. There are different types of seam sealants available for each type of tent fabric. Most modern tents are constructed with polyurethane-coated materials, but many others are made using silicone-treated fabric. Both polyurethane and the silicone materials require their own specific type of sealant, so we recommend looking up the manufacturer specifications of your tent in order to choose the correct type.

How to Seal Tent Seams

Now that you have all your supplies together, it is time to start sealing the tent seams.

  1. Set up your tent in a well-lit area. You need the light to carefully examine the seams. For easier access, put the fly on the outside since the seams are underneath it and the inner side of the tent body.
  2. Carefully remove any seam sections that are coming loose or peeling away underneath the fly. The rainfly is part of the tent. Leave the sections in place that are securely attached.
  3. Gently clean the remaining seams with the rag and rubbing alcohol.
  4. Now, apply the seam sealer being careful that it is the right one.
  5. Since you have already fixed one leaky seam, it is a good idea to apply the sealer to the rest.
  6. Make sure the sealer is completely dry before taking down the tent.

 

3. Apply a Waterproof Treatment Spray

After a while of use, most tents will need to be treated with a new coat of water repellent. When your tent was new, water used to bead on the rainfly. When you notice that this is no longer happening, it is time to refresh the DWR (durable water repellent). For tents, water repellent is typically available as a waterproof treatment spray. The waterproof spray is super convenient, affordable, and easy to apply. With just a few minutes of work, your tent will be ready for waterproof camping trips.

Supplies Needed

To get started, you will need to the following supplies:

  • A clean damp cloth.
  • Water at room temperature.
  • A spray-on water repellent.

Water repellent spray can be found online or in most outdoor supply stores.

How to Use Waterproof Treatment on a Tent

With all the supplies in one convenient place, it is time to waterproof your tent.

  1. Pitch your tent on a flat, hard surface. If you have not washed your tent in a while, you should give it a thorough wipe down before proceeding. The tent fabric needs to be clean and dry before spraying on the repellent.
  2. With the rainfly lying flat, carefully spray-on the repellent. You want to evenly cover the rainfly’s exterior without any getting on the inside. If the coating is on the inside, you’ll be dealing with flakes again.
  3. Let the coating dry for a few minutes and then wipe-off any extra coating.
  4. When the tent is completely dry, it usually takes a few hours, pack it away until your next camping trip.

 

Closeup of water drops on the surface of a tent
The waterproof surface causes water beads.

 

4. Reapply the Urethane Coating

Another thing to keep in mind is the tent’s urethane coating. If you keep finding flakes on the tent floor or inside the rainfly, this is a sign that you need to reapply the urethane coating. The process is simple and should typically take less than an hour to complete.

Supplies Needed

You will need to gather the following supplies:

  • Rubbing alcohol.
  • A dual-sided sponge, preferably with one abrasive side and one soft side.
  • Seam sealant.

You can use the same sealant that you use to seal the seams of the tent. However, it is important to make sure that you choose the appropriate type of sealant for the fabric of your tent.

How to Reapply the Urethane Coating on a Tent

When you are ready to apply the urethane coating, follow these simple steps:

  1. Lay the tent floor and rainfly flat on the ground.
  2. Use the sponge and rubbing alcohol to gently remove the flakes.
  3. Following the directions on the seam sealer, apply a thin coating to the rainfly and tent floor.
  4. It will take at least 24 hours to dry before you can put the tent up.

After you have applied the sealant, it is recommended that you wash your hands. The sealant contains fire-retardant chemicals that can irritate your skin.

Wet Waterproof Camping Tent During Rain in the Woods
A waterproof tent repelling the rain.

 

 

Why a Tent Needs to be Waterproofed

You might think that when you buy a tent, all you have to do is simply set it up and take it down. However, over time, your tent will experience wear and tear, eventually requiring some routine maintenance. To increase the lifespan of your camping tent, it is essential to periodically waterproof it. Waterproofing your tent will keep you dry, keep your gear safe, and will help save you a lot of money!

Damage from UV Rays

The UV rays from the sun can damage the fabric of the tent and rainfly. UV damage reduces the tent’s ability to repel water and prevent leaks. Even after a couple of weeks of camping in the hot sun can damage the waterproof coating.

Wear and Tear Over Time

Seams will wear out over time, so the sealant that keeps them waterproofed needs to be periodically reapplied. This is usually due to normal wear and tear and is something every tent owner should expect to do at least once.

Fabrics will wear out over time, but with proper care, you can prolong the life of a tent. Always wash and dry it after every use. It is also important to properly store your tent. Do not wad the tent into a ball. Fold it neatly and place it in the protective bag. Remember, if you take proper care of your tent, it will last a lot longer.

 

 

Final Thoughts

If you intend to keep your tent for a long time, you will need to waterproof it at some point. How often waterproofing is required depends on a few factors including the frequency of use, location, sun exposure, and climate. It is an important part of maintaining a tent and should be considered every year or so.

It does not take long to apply the seam sealant or waterproof repellent and when you are finished, your tent will be ready for an outdoor adventure in the rain. Stay dry out there!

 

Happy Camping!

We would love to hear your tips and tricks for staying dry at the campsite. Let us know in the comments section below! 

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