What can be worse than waking up in a puddle after sleeping in a tent on a rainy night? Most manufacturers deem their tents as waterproof, but what to do if your shelter doesn’t live up to expectations?
Learning how to waterproof a tent could save the day. Luckily, the process is not at all complicated. Let’s check it out!
How to Waterproof a Tent?
There are three main ways to waterproof a tent: sealing the seams, coating the rainfly with a water repellent sealer, and refreshing the urethane coating on the tent’s floor.
You can use these methods combined to enhance the water resistance of a cheaper tent or to restore your shelter to factory conditions after you’ve used it for a while.
Why Do You Need to Waterproof a Tent?
Most quality tents are waterproof when you buy them. However, a number of factors can reduce their abilities to repel water.
UV rays can damage anything, from the human skin to fabrics. Including the fabric your tent is made of. Sunrays can easily degrade lightweight tent fabric – and almost any other synthetic material – eventually disintegrating it.
If you’re an avid camper who leaves the tent pitched during the day, it could take less than a month for the fabric to deteriorate and lose its water resistance.
Ways to extend your tent’s lifespan include pitching it in shaded areas or protecting it with a fly.
Use and Age
Sunlight is not the only element that can damage your tent. Dirt and dust accumulated on the fabric, as well as constant exposure to rain, can also weaken the fibers.
Improper maintenance, such as not drying the tent completely before tucking it away in its bag, can soak the fabric and reduce its waterproofness.
Mold and mildew can also develop on the tent over time. Furthermore, the urethane coating may become brittle due to constant use and exposure to elements.
While most tents nowadays come with sealed seams, remember that they are the weakest points of the shelter. Not only you can damage them when setting up the tent, but most seams break over time, leading to leaks.
For this reason, you should pay special attention to them and reseal them regularly to prevent incidents.
What Tent Parts You Can Waterproof?
Waterproofing a tent could seem daunting, but the process is simpler than you may think. The first thing to remember is that all parts of a tent can be coated and resealed if needed.
Simply follow the quick steps below to waterproof the seams, fly, and tent base.
Whether you’ve found a damaged seam or the tent you bought has poor water resistance to begin with, you can seal the seams easily.
- Clean, soft rag
- Rubbing alcohol
- Seam sealer for silicone-treated or polyurethane-coated fabric, depending on your tent
- Set up your tent in a well-lit environment and carefully inspect all the seams inside the tent and on the inner side of the fly.
- Gently remove any peeling sections of coating, but try to leave the intact sections on the seam.
- Soak the rag in rubbing alcohol and clean the seams carefully, removing all dust and dirt.
- Apply seam sealer along the entire seam, even if only part of it was falling apart.
- Wait for the sealer to dry completely before taking down and packing your tent.
Tent rainflies are usually treated with a durable water repellent coating that creates the so-called rain beads on top of the tent.
This coating wears out over time, so it’s necessary to reapply a new layer whenever you notice that beads don’t form anymore.
- Clean, soft rag
- Waterproof spray
- Set up the tent and, if the rainfly is removable, set it on, too. Spray clean water all over the fly.
- Spray waterproof coating in an even layer, all over the exterior of the rainfly.
- Wait for a few minutes, then wipe off excess coating with a damp cloth.
- Let the tent dry completely before taking it down and packing it.
The Tent Base or Ground Cloth
Both the tent base and the tarp that goes under the tent can be easily damaged by twigs, rocks, branches, and other debris on the campsite.
Wear and tear inside the tent can also wear off the urethane coating of the floor. Here’s how to waterproof a tent base and ground cloth.
- Abrasive sponge
- Rubbing alcohol
- Tent sealant for silicone-treated or polyurethane-coated fabric, depending on your tent
- Set up the tent or lay the tarp on a flat surface.
- Use the sponge and rubbing alcohol to remove any flaking coating from the floor or ground cloth.
- Apply a thin layer of new tent sealant on the whole surface of the tent base or ground cloth.
- Let the new coat dry for at least 24 hours before taking the tent down and packing it.
Does Waterproof Spray Work on Tents?
Waterproof spray works on tents as long as it is used for its intended purpose; in other words, waterproof spray is an excellent choice for restoring the water repellency of the rainfly or tent walls.
However, it is ineffective for fixing damaged seams or a punctured floor.
If you’re struggling with any of these issues, a seam sealer or tent sealer – both of which are thicker rubber-like pastes – are a better choice for sealing any holes and punctures to prevent water from getting inside the tent.
The main thing to check before buying a tent is the hydrostatic head (HH) of the fabric the tent is made of, to determine if the tent is actually waterproof or only water repellent. A waterproof tent should have a hydrostatic head of 3000mm or higher. To assess your tent’s ability to repel water, set it up in your garden and wet it with a hose before going camping. Spray water on it from all sides, then check the interior for any leaks.
Scotchgard can waterproof the fly and walls of a tent, but it will not seal the seams and floor of your shelter.
From setting up the tent to the moment you can take it off and pack it back in its bag, waterproofing an entire tent – comprising floor and tarp – takes 24 hours. If you’re only resealing the seams or fly, account for about 6 hours.
It depends on how often you use the tent. Casual campers using the tent for 2-3 weeks per year on average should waterproof their tent every 2 years. If you use your tent more often, consider sealing it every 6-12 months, or whenever it leaks.
You should seal the seams with seam sealant on the inside of the tent or the inner side of the fly, applying approximately ¼-inch past the seams on either side.