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How to waterproof a canvas tent

Updated July 13, 2021

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

Canvas tents are well known to be brilliant at stopping the rain and elements getting in to the tent. 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.

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 the tent.

If you’re looking for how to waterproof your 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.

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

Looking to have a camping adventure soon? Check our our reviews of the best canvas tent.

Seasoning a canvas tent just after you’ve bought it

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.

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 overpromised on the waterproofing.

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.

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

To season your canvas tent, you should:

  1. Set up your tent
  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 dry
  5. Repeat the process a couple more times

Waterproofing a canvas tent

While your canvas tent should be waterproof for a good while after seasoning it, after a while you will 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 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.

To waterproof your canvas tent:

  1. Set up your canvas tent
  2. If dirty, clean your canvas tent with soap and water and leave it to dry
  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

You can also apply a second coating around 4 hours after the first if you are wanting maximum protection from the elements.

How waterproof does the tent get after treating it?

While this does depend on the tent, canvas tents are famed for their excellent waterproofing abilities.

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

How often should you waterproof your tent?

Typically, the full waterproofing steps should take care of any leaks and you shouldn’t have to retreat the tent 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 the tent, the canvas tends to start pulling tightly to one corner and can leave the tent comprimised when the weather gets bad.

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.