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Waterproofing A Canvas Tent | Retreating Canvas

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Canvas tents are beautiful, comfortable, and durable even in tough weather conditions. However, without proper treatment, canvas material is not 100% waterproof — many find this out the hard way once the water has already damaged their tent, which can be a costly and unpleasant discovery.

In this article, we'll teach you everything you need to know about waterproofing a canvas tent. We'll cover when and why you need to waterproof your tent, which products work best, and how to waterproof your tent with canvas tent treatments so it stays strong and you stay dry.

Why Reproofing and Waterproofing Canvas Bell Tents Is So Important?

bell tent on fall dayNatural cotton fibers allow canvas to be a breathable yet water-resistant material. This allows canvas tents to maintain comfortable conditions and protect you from the elements, but heavy exposure to water can eventually make its way through the fabric’s weave. 

Your canvas tent can also be damaged by moisture over long periods of time. Even if the inside is dry, water seeping into tiny holes within the canvas can host mold and mildew that slowly degrade your tent, especially if it is packed while still damp.

Additionally, waterproof canvas tents don’t stay waterproof forever. If you want to keep your tent damage-free over several years, regular reproofing needs to be a part of your canvas tent maintenance. In other words, even if you buy a tent that is waterproof, knowing how to waterproof a canvas tent will help you make the most out of your purchase.

How often should I reproof my canvas tent in order to keep it waterproof?

The frequency you should reproof your tent is determined by the type of waterproofing product used, how often you use your tent, and the climate(s) it is exposed to. Lastly, protective gear like fly covers can reduce the frequency you need to reproof canvas tents, such as wall tents and bell tents.

You can also use a simple visual test to know if it’s time to reproof your tent: If rainwater soaks through the canvas instead of beading up and rolling off, it’s time to re-apply waterproofing treatment. As a general rule, you should aim to reproof your tent at least once a year if you don't use it often, and three times a year if you use it continuously. The image below can help you determine how often you should reproof your tent each year based on regional climate:

when to waterproof canvas tents

Natural Water Repellence: Tent Seasoning

Tent seasoning refers to the process of soaking and drying an untreated canvas tent multiple times in order to make it water-resistant by encouraging the cotton fibers of the canvas to swell, sealing the seams and needlework. Seasoning can be easily done at home in your outside using a garden hose or during the first rain.

Tent seasoning is a simple and natural way to make an untreated canvas tent water-resistant. However, keep in mind that this won't make it entirely waterproof, and it doesn't make your tent less prone to damage if it is packed or stored damp.

Waterproofing Products for Canvas Tents

If you want your tent to be waterproof, your best bet is to purchase a canvas waterproofing solution or canvas waterproofing spray. Here are our top three picks that we recommend for canvas tent treatment:

  1. Dry Guy Waterproofing Concentrate.This quality waterproofing concentrate is perfect for canvas fabric that needs to remain versatile in a variety of outdoor conditions. Though it must be diluted before use, its water-based solution makes it a safe yet reliable option.
  2. Hawk Tools Canvas Waterproofer. With an "easy" roll-on application and a non-toxic formula, this solution is great for those looking for a very effective,, durable & environmentally-friendly canvas waterproofing treatment.  You will likely need to drop your tent to treat the peak.
  3. 303 Fabric Guard. This heavy-duty fabric guard can be used on a variety of materials to make them waterproof. However, the ingredients that make it so effective also make it hazardous if applied improperly or without precaution.

How to Waterproof a Canvas Tent?

Follow these steps to make a canvas tent waterproof:

For best results, pick a sunny and preferably warm day so the weather doesn't affect your results.  You might want to plan on leaving your tent up for through 2 afternoons for proper drying and curing.

  1. If your tent needs to be cleaned, give it a good scrub with soapy water and an upholstery cleaning brush (or any firm scrubber, if you don't have one). You want to be sure no dirt, debris, or mildew is on your tent before you apply any waterproofing treatment. For tips on deep cleaning your tent, check out this tent cleaning article.
  2. Prepare your waterproofing treatment. Depending on which product you chose, you may need to dilute it or follow other specific instructions before applying.
  3. Apply the waterproof treatment. This will either be by spraying your canvas tent with it or painting it with a roll-on brush (depending on the brand).
  4. Evenly apply the treatment by using a brush / sponge. Even if you used waterproofing spray for your tent, using a brush will help you patch up spots you may have missed.
  5. Allow your tent to dry completely.
  6. Repeat these steps 1-2 more times as needed.

Buying a Waterproof Canvas Tent

Deciding to waterproof a canvas tent on your own can be a lengthy process. Luckily, you can buy waterproof canvas tents that are ready to go for your next event or trip!

All Life in Tents bell tents are waterproof and can be enjoyed in the rain or sunshine - even snow and high winds, too - and come in a variety of sizes and styles.Visit our online canvas tent shop to browse through our collection of quality canvas bell tents.

Brandy Lamb
Brandy Lamb

Father of two aspiring glampers, husband to one inspirational wife, and Co-Founder of Life inTents. Continuiously striving to help make camping more comfortable.

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