As strange as it may sound, one of the oddities of a new canvas tent is leakage.
It’s quite bizarre, and I learned this the hard way after getting soaked on my first outdoor camping trip. It seemed like the seams were leaking, and the roof wasn’t waterproof.
But as I came to learn later, it’s quite normal, and waterproofing a tent is actually pretty easy, though.
You simply need to season your canvas with water by soaking it. Next, use a waterproofing agent such as silicone or fluoropolymer. But keep in mind this may limit its breathability.
Now, I understand these processes might seem quite drastic, especially considering canvas tents are marketed as water-resistant and made from naturally waterproof cotton material.
But as you’ll learn later in this guide, the new canvas usually has micro pinholes on the weaved surface, which allow water to seep through. The aim is to coat and close these micro holes.
Waterproofing is also necessary for the old canvas tents because the wear they undergo may create holes, subsequently allowing seepage of water.
Either way, the trick is learning how to properly waterproof your tent, and, in the guide below, I’ll share the quick and effective ways to do it.
Before sharing the exact details I use to waterproof my tent, let’s first discuss whether canvas tents need waterproofing.
I’ll be straight up with you, and if you’ve been wondering whether you need to waterproof a canvas tent, the answer is a big YES!
See, I understand canvas is a durable material and has some natural waterproofing properties, but it’s not fully waterproof.
So, it’ll allow the seeping of water when exposed to inclement weather in one way or another.
The other reason is canvas tents, like any other gear, undergo wear. For example, after extended use, you’ll notice your tent starts to develop holes and tears, which in effect allow water to get through.
Now, understand waterproofing canvas tents isn’t simply about getting rid of excess water or making your space more comfortable.
The dampness and moisture of your tent can attract mildew and mold. Long-term exposure to these elements has negative health effects.
But more importantly, a damp tent is the easiest way to compromise the integrity and durability of your tent.
Of course, you could choose a plastic tent over the canvas, but keep in mind this will severely affect the breathability and aeration of your living space.
Instead, I would recommend treating your tent with special waterproofing materials. There’re a couple of options available, but I recommend silicone or fluoropolymer options.
Types of Canvas
Traditionally, manufacturers used cotton on the canvas tent to waterproof the older canvas tents.
It was a good choice of waterproofing material because once the cotton fibers wet, they swell, sealing the canvas fabric.
The only problem with the cotton is its tendency to hold onto the moisture and wetness, which attracted mildew.
On the other hand, modern canvas tents aren’t designed from a specific material. Instead, they’ve incorporated a range of fabrics and leveraged the waterproofing capabilities of vinyl-coated polyester or acrylic material for coating.
Generally, the modern versions have a tighter weave and hence better waterproofing capabilities. But at a cost- they’ve poor ventilation.
Waterproofing a Canvas Tent: Waterproofing & Seasoning
Waterproofing a tent is usually a two-step process; seasoning and waterproofing.
While you can still stop as a seasoning, I’d recommend you go a step further and fully waterproof your canvas tent.
Both processes are also quite different and unique in their ways. They’ve different outcomes and have different levels of waterproofness.
In the guide below, I’ll discuss each process in detail. I’ll also go further to share how to perform each process.
Seasoning is a waterproofing technique used to seal the small holes in your canvas fabric.
To understand how this process works, let’s first look at the anatomy of canvas fabric and how it reacts to water.
Canvas is a woven fabric, mainly consisting of cotton.
As with all other woven fabrics, the weaving on the canvas isn’t opaque but instead has tiny holes strewn all over the meshed fabric.
These tiny holes can allow water to seep in, which is why new tents often suffer from water leakage.
But, if the canvas gets wet enough, the cotton fibers swell. The result is they start to close on the weave holes and ultimately seal the fabric against water seepage.
Note that we’ve indicated if your tent gets wet enough. So, a light shower or a single heavy storm won’t get the fabrics sealed.
Instead, it’ll require getting super-drenched to seal off the weave fibers.
The good news is you don’t have to wait for the rains to drench your tent; I’ll share with you a step-by-step technique I use to get my canvas tents drenched.
I know some might be wondering why you need to waterproof a canvas tent after seasoning.
The simple reason is seasoning isn’t a long-term solution. You’ll need to perform the process after several uses, depending on the frequency of use.
I usually do mine after a season of use.
Plus, if you’re a frequent camper, the holes are likely to naturally open up by themselves, suffer from tears and holes, or even lose the natural water resistance.
The only solid solution is to create a barrier between the holes or, rather, your tent and the elements.
However, it’s always necessary to waterproof your tent after seasoning. But if it’s still leaking after seasoning, I’d suggest you proceed to waterproof it.
Keep in mind waterproofing may compromise the overall ventilation and result in condensation of your tent.
How to Season your Canvas Tent
While seasoning a canvas tent isn’t a long-term solution, it’s equally as important as waterproofing it.
I’d even suggest that you don’t waterproof your canvas tent before seasoning it.
The best time to season your tent is before heading out with your new canvas tent and during the long summer stretch.
Here’s a step-by-step guide on how the season your canvas tent;
Set up your tent. The entire seasoning process should take place on a pitched tent. Keep all the windows and doors shut.
And, because you’ll be drenching it in water, ensure you’re comfortable with the location you pitched the tent getting wet.
Start to drench your entire tent with hose water. Ideally, the water should simulate the rain.
Soak your tent for quite some time, until it becomes fully drenched. The time spent soaking the tent will depend on the size of your tent, but I usually soak my two-person tent for approximately 5 minutes.
While at it, be sure to soak all the areas, from top to bottom, paying special attention to all the seams.
Once you’ve drenched your tent, go inside and peek to see whether there’re any visible signs of sun rays.
The presence of sun rays may indicate the tent isn’t soaked enough and that the holes used to weave the fibers are still open.
If the fibers are yet to swell, you can proceed with the soaking process until all holes close.
Allow the tent to dry in a sunny spot.
Soak the tent again.
But before you re-soak your tent, you want to ensure it has dried completely. Alternatively, place it in a large bathtub filled with water.
This time around, soak your tent for a little longer than the first time, preferably twice the time spent on the first soak.
Again, peek inside your tent to see there’re no visible holes or sunlight rays.
Dry your tent.
It’s time to test the tent for its waterproofness.
You can use a water hose to simulate rainfall and see whether they’re visible signs of leakage or anything.
Alternatively, if it’s raining, take the tent with you outside, and see how well it holds up to the rain.
Pack your tent for the next adventure if there’re no leaks or anything.
But if there’re a few leaks, consider using a canvas waterproofing spray to conceal the holes because further seasoning won’t help.
The final step should be about maintaining the seasoning. I personally do it after a season, but the frequency should be best based on your judgment.
How to Waterproof your Canvas Tent
If your tent has worn out completely and seasoning isn’t helping, you can step up your efforts and consider a canvas preservative.
As I mentioned earlier, a waterproofing spray works by creating a barrier and repelling water. They seal the holes from water entry.
Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to make your tent waterproof.
The first step is choosing a waterproofing spray.
There’re a couple of canvas preservative options, but I’d recommend the silicone-based waterproofing product or a fluoropolymer-based waterproofing product.
I’m a big fan of fluoropolymer-based products because they’re oily and have better water resistance properties and natural waterproofing than the silicone options.
Along with the waterproofing agents, I’d also suggest you get a seam-sealer for extra seam protection.
Lay your tent, preferably on a flat surface.
While at it, ensure you’ve plenty of space to move around when applying the waterproofing spray on the tent fabric.
Clean your tent if you’ve an aged tent. Skip the process if you’ve a new canvas tent. A new tent simply needs a gentle wipe.
There’re several methods of cleaning a tent.
Use a soft brush or paint brush with soapy water to give the affected part a good scrub, and then rinse with clean water.
Alternatively, use a mixture of vinegar and salt and a hard bristle brush to clean if the dirt is stubborn.
I prefer using a pressure washer on stubborn stains.
But whatever method you use, avoid a bleaching product as it may damage canvas material.
Go ahead and use your waterproofing spray on the whole tent.
But first, ensure your tent is completely dry.
Depending on the instruction manual, spray your entire tent with the waterproofing spray, paying special attention to the seams and other hidden spots.
If you’ve a seam sealer, use it in all the locations where the walls meet each other.
Allow the tent and the waterproof material to dry before testing it.
As we did with seasoning, use a hose to spray water and imitate heavy rain.
If there’re leaks, note down the spots, and re-spray them.
Allow your tent to dry before packing it for later use.
Canvas Tent Maintenance Tips
Seasoning and waterproofing your tent isn’t enough if you want your tent to last for a long time without leaking.
You have to adhere to a couple of maintenance storage tips for the longevity of your tent.
These tips include:
1) Store your tent dry
It’s a good idea to store your tent dry to avoid the growth of mold and mildew.
A damp tent has a likelihood of attracting unwanted elements, which ultimately compromise its integrity.
2) Clean your tent before packing
It’s an important tip that will save your tent from harm from elements, mildew, dirt, and debris.
3) Clean your tent regularly.
Regular cleaning of tents is important for their longevity. It also provides a pleasant experience for future use.
Seasoning and waterproofing a tent are fantastic ways to make your tent waterproof and create a leak-free camping experience.
Depending on the state and condition of your tent, either of these techniques will provide a wonderful experience in the wild.
But as always, remember to clean your waterproof tent regularly, and your tent and cover surface should stay dry in storage.