Top tips on how to waterproof a tent: The Complete guide

Water drops on waterproof membrane fabric
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Maybe your tent was waterproof at one point in its life, but now you’re being woken up by the sound of water dripping inside your tent…I know, there’s no worse feeling!

Or maybe your tent was never waterproof, but it’s time you sort that out. Whatever the reason is for you being here, you should stick around until the end.

In this article, I will walk you through the steps you need to take to waterproof your tent. I’ll also be touching on the things you can do to make your tent waterproof if it wasn’t already.

By the end of this article, you know exactly how to waterproof a tent.

Yep, that’s right, so make sure you stick around!

Why Do You Need To Re-waterproof A Tent?

Tent with waterproof fabric

Understanding why your tent needs to be waterproofed can come in very helpful. There are quite a few factors that can destroy the waterproofing of your tent.

And if you know what they are, you can take measures to help protect your tent from further damage.

Let’s take a look:

Usage And Age

Unfortunately, your tent will take a battering over time, and it doesn’t matter how well you look after it.

Things like being crumpled up and left in a bag, dust, and dirt, or being left out to dry in the sun can cause damage.

Damaged Seams

It’s not just the tent’s fabric that will become damaged over time; it’s the seams too.

To make things worse: 

Most people don’t think about the seams breaking. The constant folding of the seams will break the sealant and start letting water in.

When you’re folding your tent, try not to fold the seams to increase their lifespan. But of course, even if you take care of the seams, age will play a part in making them break.

Sun Damage

We all know UV rays damage our skin, but did you know it also damages the waterproofing of your tent? Just a few weeks camping in direct sunlight can cause significant damage to your flysheet.

When you camp, try and protect your tent by camping in shady areas. Else, you can keep reading to find out how you protect your tent against UV rays.

How To Identify The Problem

Woman and boy choose a camping tent in the store

There is no point in waterproofing parts of the tent that don’t need to; it takes time and costs money. 

But here’s the thing:

Sometimes it’s not even the tent waterproofing that’s the problem. And this is why I want to take a little bit of time to explain how to identify the issues your tent might be facing.

Let’s take a look at some of the most common problems:

Have You Put Up The Tent Correctly?

If your tent hasn’t been put up correctly, it will not perform well at keeping you dry… it’s just the way it is.

Your guy lines need to be pulled tight and staked correctly. You also need to make sure there’s a good gap between your inner and outer layers.

The final tip is to make sure all the ventilation windows are open to help deal with the condensation. A lot of people think their tent is leaking when in fact, it’s just condensation.

Is The Water Seeping Through The Flysheet?

If water is seeping through your flysheet, the most common cause will be the tent’s age or sun damage. It will need a spray with a tent waterproofing agent to fix your tent, but more on that later.

Is There A Hole In Your Tent?

If you find a hole in your tent, you’ve probably seen the cause of the leak. Luckily, this is a pretty easy fix and won’t result in you having to waterproof your tent.

Most tents will come with a repair kit; if it doesn’t, you can use tent repair kits like this one off Amazon. You can learn how to fix a hole in your tent from this REI article.

Is Water Dripping Through The Seams?

If this is happening, it’s usually because the seams of the tent have been stretched or strained and have broken the sealant. Again you can fix this relatively quickly. All you have to do is reseal them with some special sealant. 

Are There Damp Patches On The Groundsheet?

If water is seeping through the groundsheet, it can make sleeping very uncomfortable. If this is the case, you can either re-waterproof your groundsheet or buy a tent footprint to add an extra thin layer of protection.

How To Waterproof A Tent

Waterproof tent with rain drops

So, you’ve checked out your tent, and you can confirm it needs waterproofing, but how do you do it?

Well, you’re in luck; this section will tell you how to waterproof a tent, so you know exactly what you need to do:

Resealing Your Tent Seams

The seams of your tent are where the two pieces of fabric meet, and most tents come pre-sealed. But here’s the thing:

Over time these seals can break or wear down. This will make it easy for water to seep into your tent… not what you want. So, how do you fix it?

To seal the seams, you’re going to need a few things:

  • Seam sealer
  • For silicone-treated fabric, use this one
  • For Polyurethane-coated material, use this one
  • Rubbing Alcohol
  • A cloth

Once you’ve got all your equipment together, it’s time to start re-sealing your tent. To do this, follow my simple steps:

  1. Set up your tent somewhere dry and well-lit. You need to look at all the seams of your tent. The seams will be on the inside of the tent; look for any damage or peeling away.
  2. When you find a part that’s peeling away, gently remove any broken pieces.
  3. Get the tent seams ready for resealing by gently cleaning them with rubbing alcohol and a rag before you seal the seams.
  4. Apply the seam sealer to all the broken tent seams as directed by the instructions of the bottle.
  5. Allow the sealer to dry completely. 

Top Tip: If one section of the seam is starting to peel away, the chance is the whole thing beginning to go. In this case, you might want to do the entire seam to ensure it stays waterproof.

Refresh Your Urethane Coating

If you’ve been camping recently and noticed flakes on your tent floor, there’s a good chance the urethane coating needs replacing. It’s a pretty straightforward procedure if you follow these steps.

But, before getting started, make sure you have the right equipment:

  • Rubbing alcohol 
  • An abrasive sponge
  • Tent sealant 
  • Polyurethane-coated fabrics – use this one
  • Silicone-treated materials – use this one

Now you’ve got all your stuff together; it’s time to apply the sealant:

  1. Get your rainfly out of the bag and lay it flat on the floor
  2. Wherever you see flaking coating, you want to rub it off with the rubbing alcohol and a sponge.
  3. Apply a thin coating of tent sealant to the whole flysheet and tent floor. Make sure you follow the directions given on the bottle.
  4. Let the flysheet/floor dry for at least 24-hours before putting your tent away.
  5. Make sure you wash your hands; the chemicals are pretty harsh and can cause you damage.

Top Tip: Ensure you coat the tent in a thin layer and leave it to dry for 24-hours before packing the tent away.

Refresh The DWR Coating On Your Tent

You’ve noticed the water isn’t beading on your tent anymore, and you want to get it fixed. So, what do you do?

If your tent isn’t beading, it means you need to refresh the DWR coating on your rain fly.

To do this, you’re going to need a few things:

  • A clean damp cloth
  • Water
  • Spray-on DWR coating

Once you have your stuff together, it’s time to start re-spraying your tent. Just follow these simple steps:

  1. Set up your tent and spray down your rain fly with clean water
  2. Apply the waterproofing spray evenly across the entire exterior
  3. Take a damp cloth and wipe off any excess coating
  4. Let the tent dry and pack it way

Top Tip: You must remove the excess coating, so nothing is left behind.

What To Do If Your Tent Isn’t Waterproof?

Person covering a tent with rainfly

If your tent was never waterproof in the first place, and you don’t want to buy a brand new tent, what should you do? 

Your best option is probably to buy an external rain fly to cover your tent and provide a waterproof barrier to any rainfall.

But, being protected from above isn’t always good enough. In which case, you can purchase a tent footprint to stop any water seeping up from the bottom of your tent.

You could also follow my steps above to give your tent a waterproof coating.

The Top Five Takeaway Tips For Waterproofing Your Tent

Summer camp with tents in forest at rainy weather

Before we wrap the article up, I want to spend some time giving you six top tips for waterproofing your tent.

If you follow these simple tips, you’ll never have to worry about having a wet night camping:

1. Check Your Tent Every Time You Go Camping

If you haven’t used your tent in a while, it’s super important to check it before going on a camping trip.

There’s nothing worse than setting up your tent and realizing there’s a hole in it or the waterproof coating is starting to peel.

The easiest way to test your tent is by following these simple steps:

  • Set up your tent on a sunny day
  • Grab a garden hose and set it to mist
  • Have someone spray the tent while you’re inside
  • While you’re inside, check the tent seams and the walls to make sure no water is seeping through

Running this test will show you if you have any leaks and where they are. More importantly, it will give you peace of mind your tent is functioning correctly.

The benefit of checking it out on a sunny day is you won’t be fooled by condensation. Many people go out camping and start seeing drips coming from the seals.

Most of the time, this is just condensation and nothing to worry about.

2. Check the Whole Tent, Including The Seals And Rain Fly

Most people don’t check the entire tent before they go and feel like everything is fine, but it’s a different story when they get out there.

And this is why it’s so essential to run a thorough check of the tent. When it comes down to it, there are three main places you should check:

  1. The fabric
  2. The tent seams
  3. The rain fly

If everything looks good, you’re ready to go out camping. If things look a bit off, it’s a good idea to do some minor repairs before you head out.

3. Check Your Flysheet Separately

If your tent’s rainfly comes separately, try testing your tent without it first, that is, as long your tent isn’t made of mesh.

If your tent shows no signs of leaks, try the same test, but with the fly on. If your fly fails, you’ll know what part needs re-waterproofing.

4. Wash The Tent Before Waterproofing

Before waterproofing your tent, you need to make sure you clean the tent thoroughly before applying the product and let it dry. Most of the time, water will do the job.

But…

If you see any white flakes around the seam or the fabric, you’ll need to clean them away with rubbing alcohol.  

5. Make Sure You Use The Right Waterproofing 

This is probably one of our most essential tips. Different styles of fabric, tent seams, and rain fly will need different types of products.

To find the right type of waterproofing solvent you require, you’ll need to know what area of your tent needs waterproofing and what style of sealant is used.

You can find this information by looking at the user’s guide that came with your tent.

If you brought it second-hand and it didn’t have that information, your best bet is to check online or find a retailer with your tent.

Key Insights & Takeaways

Children camping in park on rainy day

There’s nothing worse than getting soaking wet while you’re on a camping trip, and it’s even worse if that happens while you’re sleeping.

Before you go on any camping trip, make sure you check out your tent before you go. If anything needs fixing, get it done, even if it doesn’t look too bad.

By following my guide on how to waterproof a tent, you’ll have no problems when it comes to waterproofing; just make sure you get the right style.

Anyway, I hope this has helped you understand what you need to do and how to do it. If you want some more tips on how to weatherproof a tent, check out the link.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do You Need To Waterproof A Tent?


Your tent should be waterproofed whenever it shows signs of damage to the seals, fabric, or flysheet. Basically, if water is starting to seep through, or you’re noticing white flakes on the tent floor.

Some people like to waterproof brand-new tents to assure them that everything is waterproof.

Some manufacturers only waterproof the vital areas instead of the whole tent, making it more water-resistant than waterproof.

Does Waterproof Spray Work On Tents?


Yes, the waterproof spray works on your tent, as long as it is the correct type of waterproofing spray for your tent. These sprays work great for the flysheet and the bottom of your tent.

But…

They will not fix the seams of your tent. For that, you need a special seem treatment that works specifically for tent seams.

Can You Waterproof A Tent From The Inside?


Which side you waterproof your tent is entirely up to you. Some people like to waterproof the tent from the inside. In contrast, other people want to work from the outside because it offers more ventilation.

And some people like to go over the top and waterproof the inside and the outside of the tent. 

How Long Does Waterproofing Last On A Tent?


It depends on the tent and how often you use it. As a rule of thumb, if you’re using your tent three times a year, you should be okay waterproofing the tent every couple of years.

If you use it more often than that, then you might have to redo it every year. Or, of course, you could just wait for it to start leaking; it’s up to you.

Should You Put A Tarp Under Your Tent?


If you don’t trust the waterproofing at the bottom of your tent and you don’t want to waterproof it, you can always place a tarp underneath. 

To be honest, putting a tarp under your tent is good practice anyway. It adds an extra level of protection to your tent and keeps you warmer and dryer.

It will help give you extend the lifetime of your tents too. Anything sharp under your tent won’t be able to piece through, thanks to the tarp.

How Long Should Your Tent Last?


If you take good care of your tent, you should get at least 5-years of quality camping out of it. That being said, a tent can last a lot longer or a lot less depending on the brand and model. 

Many other factors can lower the life span of your tent, including being left out in the sun, folded poorly, or being left uncleaned.

How Long Does Tent Waterproofing Take To Dry?


Most tent waterproofing will take at least 24-hours to dry completely, but it really depends on what the instructions say.

Just make sure you have a designated area where you can dry the tent for the whole day without the fear of it raining.

Jason
Jason
Hey, my name's Jason, and before I was a writer, I worked as an outdoor activity instructor where I took groups kayaking and camping. Now I use my personal experiences to share tips and tricks I've learned over the years. For as long as I can remember, I've been passionate about the outdoors, and now I want to share that passion with my readers.

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