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How Do You Waterproof a Tent?

How to Waterproof a tent

Every camper dreads the sound of dripping water on the inside of their tent. If your tent’s seen better days and lost it’s durable water repellant coating you need to do something about it.

How do you waterproof a tent? There are 3 main steps to waterproof a tent. You need to seal the seams, repair the exterior urethane coating, and spray on a durable water repellent coating. It shouldn’t take longer than 2-3 hours to completely reapply waterproofing products.

Most tents come from the factory pretty much waterproof, but over time that waterproof coating will wear away. Luckily, it’s cheap and easy to improve the waterproofing in your tent.

How to Waterproof Your Tent

There are three main ways to waterproof your tent. To waterproof your tent you need to Seal the Seams, Repair The Urethane Coating and Spray on Durable Water Repellent. After doing these three steps you shouldn’t have to worry about rain.

Before You Start

Before you go out and buy waterproofing products you need to figure out which area of the tent is leaking. Is the waterproof coating on your walls peeling or flaking(need to apply a Urethane Tent Sealant)? Is the floor leaking? Do you have drips coming through your seams?

There is no one way to completely waterproof your tent. You need to figure out which area needs work and use one of the following repair methods.

Clean Your Tent Before Waterproofing

Before applying any type of waterproofing product your tent needs to be clean. You have to get off all the dirt, bird poop and sap off the outside/inside of your tent.

Just soak a soft sponge in warm water and wipe off the surface of your tent. You can use a mild dish detergent if you have a slight mildew smell. I’ve always found setting up my tent outside and hosing it off first speeds up the process. Once your tent is clean leave it out in the sun to dry completely.

Fixing Common Leaks

Finding your leak really isn’t all that difficult. Your tent will either leak through the walls, floor or seams.

The fastest and easiest way to waterproof a tent is to use a Durable-Water-Repellant Spray(this is my favorite). You can spray down your entire tent in 5-10 minutes. I explain how to use a DWR spray below.

If the DWR spray doesn’t work you’ll need to repair the Urethane Coating or Seams (preferably both). Unless you see peeling or flaking most leaks are going to come from the seams. Fixing the seams/urethane can be done in about an hour so it’s not going to be as easy.

1) Refreshing Your Durable Water Repellant

All tents come with a durable water repellent coating, but it will quickly wear out with use. You should probably reapply your DWR spray at the beginning of every camping season.

Don’t Worry! It’s actually pretty easy to replace with the right waterproofing spray (this is what I use) All you really need is a waterproofing spray, damp cloth and a garden hose.

Using a Durable Water Repellent Coating

  • Set up your tent in your driveway and spray it down with your hose trying to get off all the dirt and grime. After your tent is fully clean wait a few hours for it to completely dry before spraying on your DWR Coating
  • Apply your waterproofing spray evenly over the outside of your tents rainfly. Apply the spray liberally making sure everything is fully coated.
  • After a couple minutes the DWR spray should start to adhere to the fabric. Take your damp cloth and wipe off all the excess waterproofing spray.
  • Let your tent dry completely before putting it back into storage.
  • You might want to reapply your DWR spray at the beginning of every camping season.

2) Sealing Your Tents Seams

Your tent should come with it’s seams already sealed, but it will quickly wear away. Over time the sealant will start to crack allowing water to leak through.

If you start to notice dripping coming in through a seam you’ll need to do a little bit of repair work. Just make sure you buy the right seam sealer to match your tent fabric.

Polyurethane vs Silicone Seam Sealer

Before purchasing seam sealer you need to take a look at your tent. Most tents are treated with polyurethane but there are some silicone treated tents on the market.

You can either take the gamble with a poly-sealer (my favorite) or call the manufacturer for more info. I’ve also tried the Gear Aid Sealant and had great results.

Waterproofing a Leaky Tent Seam

Waterproofing a leaky seam shouldn’t take very long if your tent is already set up. Just make sure you apply the sealant on a sunny day with low humidity and no chance of rain.

Everything You Need:

  • Seam Sealer: My Favorite Sealer
  • Rubbing Alcohol
  • Disposable Rag or Paint Brush For Application
  • Newspaper, Cardboard Box or Drop Cloth to prevent spills
  1. Setup your tent on a dry sunny day so you can get a good look at all the seams. You might want to put the rain fly on inside out so you can get a better look at the seams. Personally I would reseal all of the seams since the rest will need it soon.
  2. Remove all of the loos seam tape on the bottom of your rain fly. Pick away at all the peeling sections leaving the intact sections in place. You will be applying the seam sealer over the entire seam not just the peeling areas.
  3. Use the rubbing alcohol and a rag to clean the seams before applying the sealer. The rubbing alcohol should dry quickly so wait a few minutes before applying the seam sealer.
  4. Apply the new seam sealer to the seams using a small paintbrush or the brush included in the kit. Brush the sealer on liberally to all the seams. If one of your seams is starting to leak the rest are sure to follow. You don’t want to have to reapply in a few months.
  5. Allow the seams to air dry completely over the next 24 hours before packing away your tent.
  6. You might have to reapply sealer every couple years depending on how frequently you use the tent.

3) Repair Flaking Urethane Coating

If you start to notice white flakes dropping in the inside of your tent it’s time to replace the urethane coating. Once again you’re going to need to figure out what type of fabric your tents made out of.

Most tents are made out of a polyurethane-coated fabric so you should be able to use a standard tent sealant (heres my favorite tent sealant). The rub on foam applicator really makes replacing the Urethane coating easy.

Everything You Need

  • A Cheap Sponge with a mildly abrasive side to rub away the peeling Urethane.
  • Rubbing Alcohol
  • Tent Sealant (My Favorite)
Waterproofing The Urethane-Coating
  1. Lay down your tent or rainfly (whatever is peeling) on a hard surface and gently scrub off the flaking Urethane. Use plenty of rubbing alcohol and your sponge to soak the flaking area.
  2. Apply a thin layer of tent sealant over the entire Rain Fly or Tent Floor. Since the applicator is small it’s kind of a pain in the butt to do, but you don’t want to repeat the process again in a few months. If you’re in a hurry just fix the peeling area, but I wouldn’t recommend that approach.
  3. Make sure you wash your hands after dealing with the tent sealant. The flame retardant chemicals are mildly caustic so it might cause a slight rash.
  4. Leave the tent sealant to dry for 24 hours before putting away your tent. Reapply the sealant whenever you notice flaking Urethane.