Tent Waterproofing: Protect Your Shelter Against The Rain In 4 Easy Steps

When it comes to exploring the great outdoors, you don’t want to let something like the fear of rain keep you from going to a place on your bucket list. Maybe you have good gear, but it doesn’t hold up in the rain. Or perhaps you have a tent that’s been with you on many adventures and you want to give its rain repelling abilities a bit of a makeover. This is where tent waterproofing comes in.

Why Should I Care About Tent Waterproofing?

Depending on what kind of climate/part of the world you’re going to, it’s only a matter of time before you’ll start to deal with some form of natural elements. Unless you’re going to a desert of some sort, there’s a good chance that you’ll be up against rainfall at some point. If you’re not prepared for this scenario or just ‘hoping for the best.’ You’ll find out quickly just how miserable your excursion could get.

Water Sensitive Gear

Your tent might be one of the only structures you have that’s protecting you from what’s going on outside of it. And if it starts to leak, you’ll not only lose protection for yourself, but also for anyone with you and any gear that you might be trying to keep dry. This includes things like sensitive electronics, such as a camera, portable fans, speakers, and even your phone. Some would argue that it’s not pertinent to take these kinds of items as it is, but with tent waterproofing, at least you have the option to bring them if you choose to.

​Clothing and Comforts

​The tricky thing about a leaky tent, or one that’s not undergone tent waterproofing, is that once something inside gets wet, it’s pretty difficult to get it dry again. So if you’re trying to keep your clothing from getting wet, you’ll want a tent that holds up under rain. Also, the floor of your tent can attract dew if it’s not treated well or you have an ineffective ‘footprint.’

Also there’s your sleeping bag to consider. Because of the thick fabrics that make it up, excess water and dampness can cause mold or mildew to grow, which is toxic and can make you sick. On top of this, being wet constantly can be just plain uncomfortable, and is definitely not fun.

​Dampness and Cold Weather

​Finally, on top of everything we’ve mentioned, there are some cases where disregard of rain and water’s effects can be life threatening. If you are camping somewhere that’s both cold and wet, you could develop hypothermia very quickly and have to cut your trip short. One of the least ideal scenarios there is happens when you need to get out of the great wide wilderness as quickly as possible. But this is the road you go down if you’re ill-equipped for the conditions you’re presented with. Cold, wet conditions require adequate living arrangements that are suitable. With tent waterproofing, you’ll be able to do this.

​Preventing Tent Leakage

tent waterproofing

It almost goes without saying, but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. This is definitely the case with maintaining a sturdy tent. In many cases, tent waterproofing entails taking care of what you’ve already got. In the next few sections, we’ll go into some simple things you can do to keep your tent functional the way it is. Then, if you need to take additional tent waterproofing steps, we’ll suggest a few stop gap measures you can take to treat the fabric to keep it from leaking.

​Be Mindful of Your Storage Methods

Take a moment and remember that how you store your tent makes a huge difference in how it will hold up down the road. Take care not to pack it too tightly or wedged between other objects. Ideally you’ll want to store it loosely in a larger bag. This way the fabric won’t break down. Also, the tighter you pack the tent the higher the chance that any residual moisture that you may not know about will turn to mold or mildew. It doesn’t take much for these harmful nuisances to form. Also, make sure the place you’re storing it is cool, dry, and away from direct sunlight. Also when it comes to sunlight, there are some other things to remember.

​Minimizing Direct Sunlight Exposure

Direct sunlight exposure can break down the fabric of your tent quickly, causing it to be more prone to tears or leaks. Also, whatever’s in the tent will heat up the hotter it gets. The heating of these objects could also damage tent surfaces or walls. To prevent this, see if you can bring a shade structure with you when you camp.

You can even seek out shadier areas when you’re out on your adventures to prevent an oversaturation of UV rays hitting your tent fabrics. Also, as mentioned earlier, store it away from sunlight. If you don’t, it may break down. Because when it’s not in use, it may be ‘out of sight, out of mind,’ to you.

​Fixing Damages When They’re Minor

If you do notice a tear, or some weak areas of fabric, it will be important to repair these potential hazards sooner rather than later. Smaller holes can be sewn up. Crusty zippers can become smooth again with a zipper lubricant. Also, sections that appear weaker can be treated with a solution or film that can strengthen it before it tears or breaks. This also goes for the seams of the tent.

There are special sealants that can be used here. Also, as far as the objects you use in your tent, be careful handling harsh edged items, like tables or nightstands. And make sure to keep your knife sheathed or closed when not in use.

​Never Put Your Tent in a Machine Washer or Dryer

There’s a lot your laundry machines can do. There are also plenty of things that you should not put in either of them. Your sleeping quarters for the great outdoors is one of those things. Hot water and the vigorous cycles of the washer can cause little holes or tears to form.

In a machine dryer, the high heat and tumbling process can cause fabric to weaken and even split when it rubs up against some of the tent’s more solid attachments (like the metal pieces that fit into the ribbing). We’ll go into solid cleaning technique (another proven tent waterproofing essential) once we’ve explored how to treat it, which also sturdies it.

​How to Reinforce a Weak or Aging Tent

tent waterproofing

Next we’ll go into the process of taking your tent to the gym. This gives it all of the things it needs that will ultimately make it strong, sturdy, and long lasting. Make sure you have all of the materials you need handy before you begin and you’ll be set up for success. Also, in addition to strengthening the fabric itself with a water repellent, you can also spray it with a UV repellent substance. This will make the tent less susceptible to solar damage. You’ll also want to make sure that you reinforce the seams with a sealant. This process is a little more complex, but easy to do once you get started.

Setting Up

Before you spray your tent down with anything, you’ll want to find the space to set it up fully, unless you’re going to fully clean it first. In this case clean it well before setting it up. Once this is done, you’ll want to make sure there aren’t any loose sections of hanging fabric or parts of the tent that are unzipped or partially open.

Also, make sure that the area around your tent is clean, clear, and covered up. That is, if you don’t want anything near where you’re spraying to permanently have the repellent attached to it. This is especially the case if you’re working out of a garage or other slightly sensitive area.

The Spraying Process

Next take a reinforcing spray like Nikwax and spray down every inch of your tent, including the floor, walls, and underside. You’ll also want to spray the rain fly and footprint. A spray like Nikwax is essential to tent water proofing because in addition to increasing the tent’s water repellency, it also keeps it UV resistant. One quick note is to make sure you’re not spraying the mesh sections of the tent. If you do this, it will seal that mesh keeping your tent from being ‘breathable.’ As a result, you’d probably get uncomfortably hot the next time you got in your tent in a warmer environment.

A Difference You Can See

The difference between the look of an outdoor home that’s undergone tent waterproofing and one that hasn’t is clear. An untreated tent tends to soak in moisture and this wetness spreads along the full surface of the fabric until it starts to drip on the other side. With a treated tent, the water tends to bunch up in a series of beads and slowly roll off the tent instead. Which option would you rather have?

​Sealing the Seams

​Next you’ll want to reinforce the seams of your tent. These are the tent’s connective tissue and they’re some of the first areas that start to show signs of aging or disrepair after repeated use. To begin with, there are a couple of things you can do to care for the seams before and after you apply an additional sealant. First, don’t tie down your tent so tightly that you stretch out the seams. Also, when you’re cleaning your tent by hand, don’t stretch out the seams when you hang it. Repeated pulling or frictional grinding of the seams can lead to trouble for the long term life of your tent.

The Right Tools

Make sure you have the proper tools for this job. These are a rag, rubbing alcohol, a seam sealant for the proper type of fabric you’re sealing, and also a dropcloth to prevent spillage. The third item is especially important. Some tents are made of polyurethane treated fabrics and others are made of silicone treated fabrics.

Using the right sealant for the right type of fabric makes a huge difference. You can check your tent to make sure you know what it’s made of and then buy the right sealant accordingly. Once this is accomplished, you’ll begin the sealing process.

​Sealing the Seams Right the First Time

Executing this next step properly is one of the most important parts of tent waterproofing. First you’ll make sure you have adequate light. You can either set up in a sunny area or an indoor spot that’s well lit. Next, you’ll want to turn the tent inside out and lay out the underside of the rain fly face up. This is where you’ll be sealing from. Look out for pealing tape on the rain fly. Be sure to remove any tape that’s starting to peel off, while keeping the working sections intact.

Soak your rag with rubbing alcohol so that it’s somewhere between slightly damp and dripping. This cleans the seams, prepping them to be sealed. Next take the seam sealant you’ve chosen and apply it to the seam evenly. Things to look out for are seams that are almost ready to tear, but not quite. To be on the safe side, apply the sealant to all of the seams. This will ensure that they all last for an equal amount of time. Then allow the sealant to dry completely before putting the tent away.

​A Ground Footprint Hack to Try

Another thing you can do to ensure the floor of your tent doesn’t get soaked is to sew or seal the footprint or ground cloth to the bottom of the tent itself. This may seem like unnecessary extra work, but the shape of the ground footprint on the earth’s surface can actually do more harm than good. It can cause water to collect and pool up, encouraging it to then soak into your tent because of the space between your tent and the footprint itself. Sealing or sewing them together can help to prevent this. It’s also a neat way to reinforce the seams near the floor of your tent.

​Proper Tent Cleaning Technique

tent waterproofing

​We’ve mentioned it a few times before, but making sure that you properly hand clean your tent will keep it structurally sound. It will also be free from harmful compounds that may stain or break down the special fabric or material that makes it meant for the outdoors. But how does one do this effectively? Is it possible to find enough space to clean it? How must it be set up so that you can clean it thoroughly, without tearing it or getting it dirtier in the process? And what should it be cleaned with? This section of tent water proofing entails having your tent looking brand new and ready for sealing, or simply free from corrosive materials.

​Hanging the Tent Effectively

First you’ll want to use clotheslines or two long pieces of rope to stretch out the tent so that it lays flat and is also elevated. Next you’ll want to use some clamps to keep the tent from moving during the cleaning process. Finally make sure that any excess material is also draped over, not touching the ground, and not forgotten about when the washing takes place.

​The Right Cleaning Concoction

There are several different ways that you can form an effective cleaning solution. We recommend using some water and a few pumps of dish soap in a large bucket. Then make sure you have some microfiber cloths meant for cleaning. Depending on how dirty your tent is, you may have to change out the water and/or rotate the number of microfiber cloths that you use. You don’t want to be using a fully dirty cloth at any point, as this will just spread the mess around. Also, in terms of the wetness of the cloth, you’ll want it to be fully damp, but not sopping wet. This will collect dirt without making a mess.

​The Cleaning Itself

Once you’re ready, start cleaning the tent in fluid sweeping motions. Make sure all surface areas are covered, including the flaps, zippers, windows, and pockets. Also, as a general rule of thumb, flip the tent inside out first and clean the inside. Chances are the inside of the tent won’t be as dirty as the outside. Also, it’s where you spend your time when it’s assembled. So you’ll be able to feel the difference of a cleaner interior more than the exterior. In turn, the inside will be cleaner because it’s the first surface you’re touching with clean rags. The other order may have dirty rags touching the tent’s interior.

​Spot Checks During Cleaning

Cleaning is also a great time to examine your tent fully. You’ll be able to notice where the fabric might be getting weaker or seams that could be starting to break down. These might inform how you seal and guide the other tent waterproofing that you do later.

​Cleaning the Other Tent Components

Make sure you also clean the rain fly, the foot print, the stakes, the ribbing, and even the tent bag itself. You won’t want to have gone to the trouble of cleaning your tent only to put it back into a dirty bag. Once the cleaning of the other items is complete, find a spot to hang everything so that it can dry. In this case, you can actually seek out sunlight, because it will cause the fabric to dry faster. Keep an eye on it though, once it’s dry, you’ll want to put it away quickly.


When it comes to exploring the great outdoors, you don’t want to let something like the fear of rain keep you from going to a place on your bucket list. Maybe you have good gear, but it doesn’t hold up in the rain. Or perhaps you have a tent that’s been with you on many adventures and you want to give its rain repelling abilities a bit of a makeover. This is where tent waterproofing comes in.

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