How to Waterproof a Canvas Tent?

Buying a canvas tent is quite an investment. These babies aren’t cheap, but the biggest benefits are that they’ll last you a lifetime (if you take care of them) and they are mostly 4-season proof. 

Part of taking care of your canvas tent is waterproofing the tent. If you don’t, you’ll have rainwater seeping through the material, and you, your family, and your belongings will get wet. Another reason to waterproof a camping or glamping tent is that mold and mildew will take root if a wet canvas tent isn’t left to air dry properly. And who wants a tent with a moldy smell? (no, thank you!) 

So if you have a non-waterproofed canvas tent, you better get waterproofing ASAP! Here’s how. 

How Do You Waterproof a Canvas Tent? 

A man with a plastic bottle in his hands stands in front of a white canvas tent with a stove jack

To waterproof your canvas camping tent: 

  1. Firstly, season or weather the tent by soaking it with water and letting the tent air dry. 
  2. Then, choose your waterproofing product. 
  3. Lay out your tent on a flat surface in your yard on a sunny day. 
  4. Clean the tent if it’s dirty and has been used. 
  5. Apply the waterproofing product to the tent (the whole area, seams, or specific areas, depending on your needs). 
  6. Let the waterproofing solution dry on the tent fabric. 
  7. Pitch the tent. 
  8. Test the canvas tent’s waterproofing. If there are leaky areas, apply the waterproofing solution to those areas and test again. 
  9. When the tent passes the waterproofing test, let the tent dry thoroughly. 
  10. Unpitch and pack the tent away. Store it in a dry and cool space, and maintain the tent. 

Tools Needed to Waterproof a Canvas Tent 

A white canvas tent pitched outdoors

You should first season the canvas tent, and here’s what you need: 

  • The canvas tent and everything you need to pitch it 
  • A garden hose 
  • A ladder (so you can soak the top of the tent) 

To waterproof the canvas tent (once it’s seasoned or weathered), you need: 

  • The canvas tent 
  • Tent cleaning supplies: sponge, soft brush (or vacuum with brush or upholstery attachment), bucket, cleaning solution (water and vinegar, or salt and lemon juice), and water 
  • Waterproofing product: silicone-based spray, fluoropolymer spray, paraffin oil or wax, beeswax, and linseed oil mix, water-repellent spray, or a waterproofing sealant or concentrate 
  • Paintbrush or roll-on brush 
  • Garden hose 

Pro Tip #1: When seasoning and waterproofing your canvas camping tent, choose days when it’s sunny and hot. This type of warm weather ensures the tent can air dry properly. 

10 Steps to Waterproof Your Canvas Tent 

Follow these 10 steps to fully waterproof your canvas camping tent: 

Step 1: Season the Canvas Tent 

First things first: It’s important to know that seasoning your canvas tent isn’t the same as waterproofing it, and you need to season the tent before you waterproof it to have a fully waterproof tent. 

Luckily, it’s quite easy to season or weather the canvas tent: 

  1. Pitch the tent. 
  2. Close all the doors and windows. 
  3. With your garden hose, spray the entire canvas tent with water for at least 5 minutes. 
  4. Once the 5 minutes are up, go inside the tent and see if you can see the sunlight shining through any of the fabric fibers. If yes, then drench or soak the tent some more, and if you can’t see sunlight, move on to the next step. 
  5. Let the tent air dry.
  6. Once dry, soak the tent for double the amount of time as you did in step 4. 
  7. Air-dry your tent again. 
  8. Once dry, disassemble the canvas tent and store it until your camping trip. 

Once the tent’s seasoned, you’ll want to waterproof it to ensure no heavy rain soaks through the cotton fibers and makes its way inside the tent. Waterproofing your tent also makes it more durable and ensures mold and mildew don’t grow in the fabric fibers. 

Step 2: Choose a Tent Waterproofing Product 

The first step to waterproofing a canvas camping tent is to choose the tent waterproofing product. 

There are various waterproofing product options for you to choose from: 

  • A silicone-based waterproofing spray like the KIWI Camp Dry Spray or a fluoropolymer waterproofing spray like the Scotchgard Heavy Duty Water Shield to form a watertight barrier to keep the water out of your tent interior 
  • A waterproofing sealant or concentrate to protect your tent from heavy rains and other wet conditions (follow the manufacturer’s instructions for product use) 
  • A water repellent spray if you need light rain protection
  • Paraffin wax or oil to create a watertight seal on the canvas 
  • Mix linseed oil and beeswax for a natural waterproofing product 

Pro Tip #2: Ensure the tent waterproofing product you choose is compatible with your canvas tent. Some products degrade the treatments the tent manufacturer applied to the canvas, and the product can also decrease the tent’s breathability factor. 

Pro Tip #3: Test the product on a small and inconspicuous area of your tent to see if it damages the canvas before you apply it to the whole tent. 

Step 3: Lay Out the Canvas Tent on a Flat Surface

Once you know which waterproofing product you want to use and you have it ready, choose a sunny day to lay out the canvas tent on a flat surface in your backyard. Make sure you have plenty of space to move around the tent. 

Now, spread your canvas tent on the grass or paved area. 

Step 4: Clean the Canvas Tent 

Next, you need to clean the tent before you waterproof it. If your tent is brand new and you’ve just seasoned it, you can skip this step. 

If there’s dirt, mold, mildew, or debris on your tent, follow these steps to clean the canvas camping tent: 

  1. Get everything you need to clean the tent. 
  2. Mix 1 cup lemon juice to 1 cup salt, or 1 cup distilled white vinegar to 1 gallon of water.
  3. With a sponge or soft-bristled brush and the cleaning solution, remove dirt, debris, and stains from the tent fabric. 
  4. Rinse the tent with water via a hose pipe. 
  5. Ensure all of the cleaning solution washes off the tent fabric. 
  6. Air dry the tent. 

Pro Tip #4 : Never use any cleaning solution containing bleach to clean your canvas tent as bleach can damage the fabric. 

Pro Tip #5: Use a pressure washer for stubborn stains.

Step 5: Spray the Canvas Tent with the Product 

A human hand holds a tent waterproofing spray

Apply the tent waterproofing product on the surface of a clean tent. You can opt to: 

  • Completely cover the canvas tent with the waterproofing product. 
  • Only “patch” the areas that leak 
  • Only seal the seams as this is typically a weak area 

Get your product of choice ready, and be sure to follow the specific instructions on the label. 

If you have a waterproofing spray, spray the product all over the tent’s outer surface. Then use a brush to make sure any spots you missed are now covered with the waterproofing solution. 

If you have a concentrate, wax, or oil, apply the product evenly with a paintbrush or roll-on brush.

Step 6: Dry the Tent 

After you’ve applied the waterproofing solution to the canvas camping tent, let it thoroughly dry in the sun. 

Step 7: Pitch the Tent 

Once dry, pitch your tent. 

Step 8: Test It! 

Now it’s time you become the rainmaker and test how well you’ve waterproofed the tent. The benefit of testing now is that you can fix any areas where water leaks through. If you skip this step and don’t properly waterproof the canvas tent, then water will seep through and you and your gear will be wet if you go camping and it rains. So it’s better to test your tent’s waterproofness to see if the solution you used worked. 

To test your tent, get your hose pipe and drench the tent. Then go inside the tent and see if it leaked. 

Waterproof any areas where the water leaked through (and remember to dry thoroughly after this), and then test it again.

Repeat this step and make it rain until there are no areas where water seeps through. 

A positive result of this step is that the water should glide off the tent fabric.

Step 9: Air Dry the Canvas Tent 

When your canvas tent passes the rain test, let your tent air dry before you un-pitch, pack, and store it.

A white canvas tent pitched in the forest

Step 10: Maintain the Canvas Tent 

Canvas tents are durable – when you maintain them. Here are some steps to maintaining your canvas tent so you can always use the tent for your awesome camping trips: 

  • Only pack the tent when it is dry to prevent mold and mildew growth. 
  • Clean your tent before you pack and store it. 
  • Choose a dry and cool area for tent storage. Placing the tent in a sealed container keeps mice and bugs from infesting and damaging the tent. 
  • Clean your tent yearly. 
  • Re-season and re-waterproof your tent at least yearly so the rain doesn’t seep through.

Alternative to Waterproof the Canvas Tent: Use a Tarp 

A quick and inexpensive way to waterproof your canvas camping tent is to use a tarp. 

Covering the whole canvas tent with a tarp will keep the wind and rain from affecting your camping trip. However, the tarp layer does mean your tent isn’t very breathable.

A white tarp stretched above a green canvas tent

Waterproofing a Canvas Tent FAQs 

What does it mean to waterproof a canvas tent? 

Waterproofing a canvas tent means you make the tent waterproof: water rolls down the tent instead of soaking the fabric and making its way inside the tent. To waterproof a tent, season it (soaking it with water so the cotton swells to close the needle holes) and then apply a waterproofing product. 

What is a canvas tent? 

A canvas tent is made from natural cotton fibers that allows the tent to be breathable, durable, and hold up to the elements. Regularly waterproofing a canvas tent makes it more durable as the tent is waterproof and not merely water-resistant. 

Should you waterproof a canvas tent? 

You need to waterproof a canvas tent to ensure it’s completely waterproof and the water can’t make its way through the natural cotton fibers. Exposure to excess water can damage the tent as mold and mildew grows; plus, your gear can get wet and damaged when wet. 

How often should you waterproof a canvas tent? 

How often you waterproof a canvas tent depends on how often you go camping, the climate in which you camp, and the waterproofing product you use. If you often go camping, reapply the waterproofing solution at least three times a year, and if you seldomly go camping, then re-waterproof your canvas tent yearly.

What’s the difference between seasoning and waterproofing a canvas tent? 

Seasoning or weathering your tent means you soak and dry the tent until the cotton fibers are swollen to seal the needlework and seams so the water remains outside. A seasoned tent is water-resistant, while a waterproofed tent has been treated with a special solution to make the tent waterproof.

Alex Buchnev

Alex Buchnev

Alex loves kayaking, fishing, and all things outdoors. When he's not out there in the wild, he's probably typing away at his laptop or trying to be the world's best father for his two lovely daughters.

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