How to Make Your Tent Waterproof

Hey there fellow campers and welcome to my post where I will share with you some practical tips on how to make your tent waterproof.  We who love to spend time with mother nature are perfectly aware that not everything we plan for happens – with one of theses things being unforeseen rain.   And a waterproof tent is a necessity for such a situation.

Now sadly, one thing to be aware of is that not all tents are completely waterproof – in fact I hate to break it to you but in my experience, no tent in 100% waterproof.  So to ensure you stay dry when out and about in the wilderness, let’s look at some ways to keep the water out below…

What do we mean by waterproof tents?

As above, when it comes to tents, technically no tent is entirely waterproof as at some point, water could still find its way through. In such circumstances, water has maxed out the tent’s “waterproof rating.”

Waterproof ratings (sometimes tracked as an IP rating) are usually measured in millimeters (mm) and range from 800mm to 10,000mm. The numbers represent the amount of water pressure a particular fabric can withstand. Therefore, if your tent has a 2,000mm-rated rating, it can withstand a 2,000mm or two-meter column of water bearing down on it before it begins to leak.

How to waterproof a tent - Tent in rain

Why do you need to waterproof your tent?

Apart from exceeding your waterproof rating above, there are a number of other reasons that your tent does not keep out as much water as it should.  These are highlighted below:

  1. Poor quality: Although the majority of half-decent tents are waterproof when purchased, some low-quality tents on the market only claim water resistance. These tents are not waterproof and will begin to melt when exposed to the elements.
  2. Sun damage: Just as harmful UV rays can harm our skin, these can also cause damage to fabrics that are exposed to the sun. Even a few weeks of camping in the summer sun can cause significant damage to your tent’s fly sheet, reducing its ability to protect you from the heavy rain.
  3. Repetitive use: Fabric constantly battered by the elements, covered in dirt and dust, dried in the sun, crumpled up in a bag or left for months will eventually deteriorate. Moreover, water is absorbed into the fabric due to the weather and dirt, making it less effective against rain and wind.

What are the steps to take to waterproof a tent?

There are three general steps in waterproofing a tent:

1. Seal the tent’s seams

Even in new tents – especially those made of canvas – the seam is the most common weak point when it comes to waterproofing.  And in older tents these could deteriorate over time which is why you would need to reseal them to improve their waterproofing capability.

Once you have decided to seal the seams, you will need the following:

  1. A rag
  2. Rubbing alcohol
  3. Seam sealer.

Note: Make sure you get the proper seam sealer for your tent. It’s important to remember that silicone-treated fabrics require a different sealer than polyurethane-coated fabrics. Most tents are made of polyurethane-coated fabrics, but if you’re not sure what type of fabric your tent is made of, you can always contact the tent manufacturer.

From here, follow these steps:

  1. Set up your tent in a dry, sunny area or a well-lit room so you can quickly inspect all of the seams. Seams on the underside of the fly and the inner side of the tent body are your areas of concern. It’s easier to access the seams if you put the fly on inside out.
  2. Examine the tent’s seam tapes. Once you’ve located the loose seam tape on the underside of the fly, gently peel away the peeling sections. But leave the intact sections alone.
  3. Prepare the seams in this step. This is accomplished by gently cleaning them with a rag and rubbing alcohol.
  4. Apply the seam sealer to the affected seams.
  5. If you notice that one seam is starting to fail, it is possible that the rest will follow soon. I recommend applying seam sealer to all seams.
  6. Allow the seam sealer to dry after completing the steps.
How to waterproof a tent - girl inside tent

2. Refresh the urethane coating

Most family camping tents, even those used in backpacking, generally have a polyurethane or polyester urethane coating. It is commonly referred to as a PU coating and a tent with this can have as high a waterproof rating as desired by applying multiple layers of the coating.

However, the urethane coating on the tent may wear off after repeated use. The good news is that you can reapply the PU coating with the following tools:

  1. A sponge that has an abrasive section.
  2. Rubbing alcohol
  3. Tent sealant

Note: Make sure you get the correct tent sealant. Remember that silicone-treated fabrics require a different sealer than polyurethane-coated fabrics. The majority of tents are made of polyurethane-coated fabrics, but if you’re unsure, you can always reach out to the manufacturer.

Next follow the steps below for the proper refreshing of the urethane coat.

  1. Cover the floor or the surface you plan to lay the tent with plastic.
  2. Gently scrub the flaking coating off your rainfly and tent floor using the rubbing alcohol and a sponge.
  3. Apply a thin layer of the new tent sealant to the entire fly or tent floor, following the directions on the sealant bottle.
  4. Allow at least 24 hours for the new coating to dry before storing your tent.

3. Restore the DWR

During wet weather, the rainfly is usually your first line of defense. Water beads up on the surface of an adequately coated fly and slides off. If this is not what’s happening with your tent, it’s time to reapply the DWR (durable water repellent) coating to your rainfly. 

Here are the items needed for this procedure:

  1. A spray-on water-repellent product
  2. A clean, damp cloth
  3. Water

Then complete the following:

  1. Set up the tent and spray the rainfly with clean water (if you just washed it, you don’t need to wait for it to dry before applying a new DWR coating).
  2. Apply the waterproof spray evenly to the rainfly’s exterior.
  3.  After a few minutes, remove any excess coating with a damp cloth.
  4. Allow the tent to dry entirely before storing it.

FAQ

Are tents waterproof?

Short answer – No. Even brand new tents tend to leak at some point – usually via the seams. Other factors such as sun damage and general wear and tear can affect the ability of a tent to repel water.

Can I spray my tent to make it waterproof?

Of course, there are a number of options available including both water and silicon based sprays. these should be chosen depending on the type of your tent.

How often should I waterproof my tent?

You should really only waterproof your tent when it is needed – i.e. it leaks. Alternatively, you can run some maintenance on them every 5 – 10 years.

Conclusion

And there they are, my tips on how to waterproof a tent. I would be pleased to know how this article helped you, and as usual,  let me know of your experiences here.

Also, please do not hesitate to comment below if you have any questions, concerns, corrections, or would like me to check anything else out for you.

Until next time.

Have fun

Paul

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Hi, I'm Paul

I am a passionate fishing, camping and four wheeled driving hobbyist who researches, tests and educates around issues and equipment relevant to them.

I am by no means a professional however my passion is to assist you in making informed decisions about buying and using awesome gear that will give you the best chance of success at whatever you are doing for the best price.

Please get in touch if you have any questions.

Paul