How To Waterproof Canvas Tent Surfaces

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When out camping, it’s a basic necessity for your tent to be completely waterproof. Especially so if it’s a particularly wet day. However, whilst a canvas tent is meant to protect you from the elements, you may have come across canvas waterproofing spray and wondered if it’s necessary or just as vital as snake oil. If it is important though, you may then wonder how to waterproof a canvas tent properly.

Why Is Waterproofing A Canvas Tent Necessary?

Many canvas tents will be resistant to the elements and even keep you dry. However, A canvas tent that has not been properly treated will invariably become less effective and less pleasant to use. Examples of this can include the tent taking on a mildew smell and eventually even leakage. 

Common canvas preservative methods include treatment with a waterproofing spray or seasoning canvas.

Old Vs New Canvas Tents?

When discussing canvas tents it is important to make the distinction between the different types of canvas. Typically, these can be divided between old and new canvas tents. Older ones are made of cotton canvas. Meanwhile newer ones use synthetic canvas. Each type of canvas can be effective at its job. Eventually though, they will often fall prone to issues over time if not treated properly.

Old Canvas

Older tents tend to be made from cotton canvas. Cotton’s natural waterproofing properties make it an ideal material for making an entire tent from. 

The reason it is waterproof is that the cotton fibres swell when wet, making the material less permeable and denser. 

This makes it very water-resistant. If the material isn’t quickly dried out though , then moisture will become trapped within the canvas fibres. Over time this can attract mildew, which is the reason many old tents smell musty. 

How To Waterproof Canvas Tent Surfaces

Additionally, the gaps between the fabric fibres may expand after a few years of use. Inevitably when this happens, if canvas preservative measures aren’t undertaken then your once waterproof tent will no longer be so.

New Canvas

New tent canvas isn’t made from cotton or indeed any one type of material. Instead, they will be made of a variety of different materials that are then coated. An example of this is vinyl-coated polyester.

These combined material tents make for a more effective natural waterproofing material than cotton canvas. This is because of the weave of the individual fibres from a much tighter weave.

However, as the tent starts to age it is prone to eventually leak. This is because micro pinholes between the fibres begin to expand. On a sunny day, this may not be too much of an issue. However, it will become a massive one when rainwater seeps into your shelter.

Seasoning Canvas Vs Waterproofing Canvas – What’s The Difference?

Seasoning and waterproofing canvas are two different processes that improve the natural water-resistance of the raw canvas material. However, which one should you be doing?  

Seasoning Canvas

Seasoning is typically done with brand new canvas material. This is because it best done when the durable material is at its strongest.

At its most basic, the seasoning process simply involves the repeated soaking and drying of your canvas. This causes the fabric fibres to expand and contract multiple times which will seal up microscopic holes in the fabric. 

The result of this is that moisture will not be able to get trapped within the fabric and attract mildew.

How To Waterproof Canvas Tent Surfaces

Waterproofing Canvas

Waterproofing canvas typically refers to the use of a waterproofing spray. These will be used to effectively treat the canvas surface of a tent. 

This should be done as soon as possible, even if the tent has been seasoned. This is because eventually the weave of the fabric will become looser and more gaps will form. When this happens rain will leek through.

In order to make the tent fully waterproof use a canvas preservative. These will seal up the needle holes in your tent whilst still keeping it breathable. Typically these will be a silicone-based waterproofing product such as Kiwi Camp Dry, although other types do exist.

How To Season Canvas Tents

One of the simplest ways to season your tent is to erect it outdoors and spray with the garden hose. Then thoroughly dry and repeat a couple of times.

Alternatively, you can submerge it in a bath of water and once soaked hang it to dry. Either way, you should avoid tumble drying as this will damage the fibres.

Canvas Tent Waterproofing

The process of applying a waterproofing spray is somewhat more involved than that of seasoning. However, once done, your tent will last a lot longer than it otherwise would have done.

When applying a waterproofing spray, ensure that you follow the steps below. Doing so on a sunny day with low wind will ensure the best results.

  1. Your tent may smell musky, have signs of mildew or generally seems weathered. If so, then scrub it well with soapy water and a firm brush.
  2. When clean, assemble the tent outdoors.
  3. Evenly coat the entirety of the tent with your spray. When doing so ensure the entire surface is covered. Especially pay attention to the hard to reach areas such as folds and seamlines.
  4. Following the spray. Use a paintbrush to spread the preservative around any areas the spray may not have fully coated.
  5. Allow the tent to dry and repeat the coating process. You can apply more than two layers if you’re uncertain about the result. However, two or three coatings should be sufficient.

How To Waterproof Canvas Tent Surfaces

Waterproofing Tents Is Worth It

Waterproofing canvas tents is of crucial importance to maintain their effectiveness as a shelter from the elements. Additionally, both seasoning and applying a canvas preservative will be somewhat effective at preventing leaks and mildew build up. However, for the best results, you should use both methods in order to cover your bases.


Do I need to waterproof a canvas tent?

As tents start to age, they are prone to eventually leak as the micro pinholes between the fibres begin to expand. Additionally over time moisture will become trapped within the canvas fibres. This can attract mildew, which is the reason many old tents smell musty. To prevent both of these circumstances from arising, it is strongly recommended that you waterproof your tent.

What can I use to waterproof canvas?

When waterproofing canvas you can either season it by repeatedly soaking or drying it with water or by applying multiple layers of a canvas preservative spray,

What is the best waterproofing for canvas tents?

When waterproofing a canvas tent you can either season it or apply a preservative spray. For the best results, a combination of both is recommended. Some examples of good waterproofing spray include Kiwi Camp Dry, Atsko Silicone Water-Guard and Star Brite Waterproofing Spray.

What do you use to seal a canvas tent?

You shouldn’t completely seal canvas tents. The limited breathability this would cause would inevitably result in condensation forming inside the tent and therefore make it unpleasant to use, especially if heating the tent. Instead, use a canvas preservative spray as this will prevent water from coming into the tent or becoming trapped in the fibres whilst still making the tent waterproof.