It was such a long and hard day with heavy rains and muddy trails! The only thing you can do now is hop in the tent and hope that it won’t be bucketing down again tomorrow! But, as soon as you close your eyes, it starts raining again! All you can think about is how difficult it’ll be to pack away your soaking wet tent tomorrow morning.
This situation may sound familiar to a lot of you out there. In order to prevent this or something similar from happening to you, you have to waterproof your tent! But, how? When should you reproof it? Can you do it yourself, or does it have to be done by a professional? These are all questions that I would like to answer in my little overview of how to waterproof tents.
When to waterproof and why?
Nothing lasts forever, and the same is true of a tent’s waterproof coating. Sunlight, heavy rains, weather conditions, abrasion and even Father Time himself can play a role in effectively ruining the waterproof coating of your tent. But, how do you know when it’s time to reproof your tent? If water no longer beads up and rolls off the tent’s surface, it is time to reproof the tent. If you’re planning a long trip, it is particularly important to check the waterproof coating. The easiest way to do so is by using the good ol’ garden hose. If water just beads up and rolls off, all is well. However, if the tent ‘wets out’, meaning it holds the water, the tent definitely needs reproofing. As a rule, you should probably reproof your tent every couple of years. That way, you can be certain that you won’t get any wet surprises on your next trekking or camping trip.
Waterproofing does not necessarily mean waterproof
This needs to be said straightaway. Waterproofing a tent has little to do with the actual waterproofness of the tent. Whether or not a tent is waterproof depends on its coating and whether the seams were waterproofed as well.
So, if water gets in the tent, it is not necessarily due to the lack of waterproofing. It could be due to the fact that the coating is simply done for, that the seams have been split or that there’s simply a rip or tear in the tent. But that’s the topic of another blog entry.
Waterproofing the tent serves to prevent the tent from absorbing moisture. As soon as you pack away your tent, you’ll notice the difference between a heavy, soaking wet tent and one that is basically dry after a hefty shake.
Back to waterproofing
What kind of waterproofing products are there? Well, there are quite a few, but have no fear: they can be divided up into three main categories. For one, there are those that come in liquid form. These are available as an emulsion or as a ready-to-use solution for application. Then, there is the well-tried and tested waterproofing spray, but stick with the ones specifically made for tent fabrics. If absolutely necessary, you can also use shoe spray, but this is by no means a completely reliable alternative. Last but not least, there are plenty of home remedies that promise to protect your tent from rain and condensation. Oh yeah, and keep your distance from wash-in solutions, or waterproofing in the washing machine. A tent does not belong in the washing machine!
Which product for which fabric and the efficacy of home remedies
One thing up front: no matter what products you use, your tent will never be 100% waterproof. When your tent is exposed to very heavy rains and the rainwater literally ends up resting on top of your tent, the outlook is obviously pretty dire. Nevertheless, waterproofing is still essential! The waterproofing makes the water bead up and roll off the tent. And as long as the tent isn’t exposed to torrential rainstorms, you should be ok.
Now, we just need to decide which product is best for which fabric. Synthetic fabrics (usually polyester) are generally already waterproof when you buy them, but this won’t last forever. For these fabrics, waterproofing sprays are the best choice for added protection from water. For poly-cotton blends or pure cotton, water-based solutions should be used. This is important because cotton materials are characterised by their breathability, and using the wrong waterproofer can ruin the breathability. Nevertheless, regardless of your tent’s fabric, always consult the instructions provided by the manufacturer – both the manufacturer of the tent and that of the waterproofing product.
Now, onto the home remedies. The best known, and the most effective in my opinion, is aluminium acetate. Fisherman have been using this for years to waterproof their sailcloth. And what helps at sea couldn’t be bad for a tent. However, this method only works well on cotton fabrics or fabrics with a high percentage of cotton. It isn’t suitable for synthetic fabrics. In addition, you would need to soak the fabric in a solution of aluminium acetate for a while. If that’s not a problem, go ahead and try it out. Other home remedies are far less suitable. Using candle wax as a seam sealer, petroleum jelly or shoe polish won’t do the trick. These are not suited for waterproofing modern and very expensive tents.
How to waterproof a tent properly
Let’s get started. No worries, though, it’s not difficult at all. You don’t even need to be a professional to do it! First, the tent must be clean. It is best to pitch the tent in the garden, fetch some water and a sponge and get started! For stubborn stains, use a natural soap-based cleaner. No chemicals, as these could damage the fabric. Besides, chemicals have no business in nature! Once the tent looks just as clean as it did on the first day – or around there – the waterproofing games can begin! As always, read the instructions beforehand, as some products have to be applied to damp tent fabric whilst others to dry fabric. So, after you’ve read the instructions, you can get started!
Let’s start with sprays. This is extremely easy. Before you begin, be sure your tent is completely closed. Then, you can apply the spray evenly to the (clean) tent. Once you’ve finished applying the spray, leave it out to dry for several hours. If you want to be absolutely certain it worked, you can repeat this step. But, please always use caution: sprays should only be applied out in the open, and be careful not to inhale the fumes.
Now, the liquid products: after you’ve diluted the appropriate amount of the respective product with water, there are two possibilities. Many solutions are applied directly to the clean tent. You can use a brush or a sponge to do so, leave it out to dry and repeat, if necessary. Other solutions, such as the abovementioned aluminium acetate, require the tent to be soaked in the solution. Either the bathtub or using a plastic tub in the garden will do the job. Afterwards, the tent should be hung out to dry. That’s it!
Every tent’s weak spot: the seams
Reproofing a tent is simple, but when it comes to the seams, it’s a different story. Sometimes, it’s even worth buying a completely new tent instead of repairing the old one. The good news is that the coating will last for several years. The seams, however, can become leaky very quickly, but they’re pretty easy to reseal.
If your tent has a leaky seam, water is bound to find its way into your tent. The best way to rectify the problem is to use liquid seam sealers. Which seam sealer is best for your tent depends on the tent’s fabric. You’ll usually find this information in the product description.
Liquid sealers can be applied to the leaky seams from the outside using a fine brush. Then leave it out to dry and the seams will be sealed. By the way, seam sealers are often included with the purchase of a tent.
If the tent is clean and waterproofed, the coating is still intact and the leaky seals have been sealed, then there’s nothing else keeping you from next outdoor adventure. Of course, reproofing can be very time-consuming. But when a storm strikes and you don’t have to pack a soaking wet tent next morning, you’ll be happy you took the time to do it! Promise!