Canvas Tent Waterproofing In 5 Steps (Solved)

Why is canvas tent waterproofing so important? If you don’t waterproof your canvas water is going to seep through the canvas resulting in mildew buildup. Once that happens you’ll start to attract mold. That’s when you start to get that old mildew smell that we’re all familiar with.

But it’s easy to forget that, like all good things, canvas needs to be cared for to make sure that your nights under the stars continue to be dry no matter the weather conditions.

And if you’ve ever ended up with a sodden canvas tent and started picking up on the smell of mildew not long after, you’ll be able to share the common regret of not taking the simple steps to properly waterproof and season the canvas of your tent.

We will tell you how to waterproof canvas tents as well give you the steps to season canvas material on any size or shape of tent that will help campers, hunters and glampers alike.

Read on to find the five steps to canvas tent waterproofing.

Waterproof canvas tents are only waterproof if you treat them with waterproofing regularly.
Always season and waterproof your canvas tent before you leave on your trip!

Waterproofing a canvas tent

If you’re looking for how to waterproof a canvas tent just after you’ve bought it, or if you’re starting to see a few leaks appear in an older tent, you’ve come to the right place.

While your canvas tent should be waterproof for a good while after seasoning it, after a while you might start to get pin leaks and the tent will need an another waterproofing treatment.

This regular treatment should be in the form of a silicone based waterproofing spray. A popular choice of silicone waterproofing sprays is the Kiwi Camp Dry spray, although any silicone spray product should work well.

The one exception here is very large canvas tents where you may need several bottles to cover it completely. Some people find that they prefer a more budget friendly option of buying a bottle of concentrate and mixing it with water.

It’s important to note that the spray must be silicone based. Other types of waterproofing products, such as the Canvak spray, can degrade some of the treatments that manufacturers apply and can affect the breathability of the canvas.

For instance, Canvak is not compatible with Kodiak tents which come with a Hydra-Shield waterproofing solution.

How to waterproof your canvas tent

To waterproof your canvas tent:

  1. Set up your canvas tent using all the stakes and poles on a day with hot weather predicted.
  2. If dirty, clean your canvas tent with soap and water and leave it to dry completely
  3. Shake the waterproofing spray can well
  4. Spray the tent evenly with a light coat. Make sure to get it over the seams and any other common areas to leak on the tent. You may need a ladder for very large tents.
  5. Leave your tent to fully dry before using it or packing it away. Make sure there is no hint of moisture on the tent at all.

You can also apply a second coating around 4 hours after the first if you are wanting maximum protection from the elements before putting it back into storage.

recommended canvas camping tents

Some canvas tents are better than others. So if you’re looking to have a camping adventure soon, I recommend checking out my review of the best canvas tent.

A group of canvas tents  that are water repellent and ready for any kind of weather
Pick a hot dry day to season your canvas tent so you have enough time to wet and dry it a few times before nightfall.

Seasoning a new canvas tent

When you first buy a canvas tent, it is often not fully waterproof out of the box. This is due to the micro pinholes in the fabric leaving room for water to leak into the tent at night or on damp days.

This does depend on the manufacturer. Some tent manufacturers take the time to properly treat each tent before it is sent to market.

Nevertheless, many manufacturers do not do an adequate job and you certainly don’t want to find out when you’re camping that they may have over promised on the waterproofing or waterproofing of the tent you just bought.

What can we do to combat these leaks? Enter “seasoning”.

Seasoning a canvas tent is when you repeatedly soak and dry your canvas tent. This helps seal up the micro pinholes in the canvas and completes the waterproofing process. Its a vital part of tent care for canvas tents.

After you have seasoned the canvas tent it will be able to stand up to heavy rain and difficult weather conditions that canvas tents are well known for.

Canvas tents are well known to be brilliant at stopping the rain and elements getting in to the tent which is why hunting and glamping tents are made from this cotton fabric.

Don’t try seasoning a polyester tent with this method. It wont work. You’ll need a spray product for non-canvas tents to created a waterproof surface for them.

Seasoning tents is only for canvas based tents like glamping, hunting or wall tents. It wont increase the waterproofing of tents made from man made materials or parts.

How to season canvas

The best days to season a canvas tent are hot sunny days with no chance of rain

You’ll need a large ground area to set up the tent and to be able to get around it as well as a hose and tap.

To season your canvas tent, you should:

  1. Set up your tent – Make sure its as dry, tight and straight as possible
  2. Set up a hose connected to a cold water supply
  3. Spray your tent with the hose, making sure you hit all the fabric
  4. Wait for the tent to completely dry – it should be hot to the touch and then re-tension any parts that have now expanded
  5. Repeat the process at least twice more to ensure complete waterproofing

Don’t season your tent once when you first get it and think that it will last forever. Really, seasoning your tent an ongoing maintenance task that you’ll need to do every year. Its easy enough to do at the beginning of each camping season when you check over your gear before you leave on your trip.

How does seasoning canvas tent work?

Seasoning works by expanding and drying out the cotton fibers that the canvas tent is made from.

Canvas is a natural product that responds to weather elements like rain, sun, snow and long dry periods.

Canvas reacts to hot, dry, wet and cold differently.

Heat – canvas relaxes and expands.

Cold – canvas will go stiff and hard and will also shrink

Wet – canvas expands.

Dry – canvas will pull its self tight and shrink.

So hosing cold water onto a hot dry tent material causes the cotton fibers to swell and retain that shape once it dries creating a solid waterproof surface for your canvas tent.

How do I know if my canvas tent needs seasoning?

If your tent is pulling tight in the corners or seems very soft and easily expands, then you can definitely season it to change the structures of the cotton fibers and close the gaps to help make it completely waterproof again.

Canvas waterproofing will make your canvas tent suitable to use in any weather
Plan to season and waterproof your canvas tent at least once a year as preventative maintenance.

recommended canvas tents waterproofing spray

I recommend the Kiwi Camp Dry spray. It’s cheap and it does what it says on the tin.

Is the Canvas tent fully waterproof and will it keep me dry after treatment?

While this does depend on the tent, canvas tents are famed for their excellent waterproofing abilities and keeping your gear dry.

Generally, after seasoning and waterproofing a canvas tent, you should expect you and your gear to stay completely dry inside the tent, even during heavy rain and extreme weather.

How often should you waterproof tents and treat canvas?

Typically, the full waterproofing steps should take care of any leaks and you shouldn’t have to retreat the tent too often.

That being said, there’s two cases where you may have to retreat the tent more often. The first of these are for those who live in rainy areas – for obvious reasons.

The second of these is for those who live in very sunny areas. The UV rays of the sun can damage the coating of tents, much like it does to our skin.

For both of these cases, a seasoning and waterproofing treatment every 6 – 12 months works well.

If you’re camping somewhere which has fairer weather then you should be able to get away with only treating the tent every couple of years, although making it an annual event may be the most sensible course of action.

If you do forget to look after your tent, the canvas tends to start pulling tightly to one corner and can leave the tent compromised when the weather gets bad and it will let water in.

A good example of a water resistant canvas tent set up ready for sleeping in
Seasoned and waterproofed canvas tents will make your night so much more comfortable when it rains!

Take your waterproof canvas tent outdoors!

Your canvas tent is all seasoned, waterproof and ready to-go, so let’s make sure we actually make time to go outdoors and end up under the stars with a campfire burning brightly as often as possible.

If you want more information about canvas tents, see our articles below. But otherwise – happy camping!

Back one: Is your canvas tent covered in mud or are you starting to see troublesome signs of mold? Find out how to clean a canvas tent easily.

Next up: Canvas tents are undoubtedly some of the coolest-looking tents out there. But are they actually good? Find out in our guide – are canvas tents good?

Author at Wilderness Redefined camping website

James has been escaping to the outdoors for as long as he can remember. This first started in family camping trips but soon turned into adventure camps and hiking through the Scottish Hebrides. Now he has turned towards trying to make camping more comfortable and accessible.