How to Waterproof a Tent: Preparing for Camping Season

tent in a rain

Learning how to waterproof a tent may seem unnecessary, since many tents come with some type of waterproof coating, however, over time, even a top of the line tent will struggle with keeping the rain out. This is because the tent’s waterproof coating will degrade over time, losing its effectiveness against the elements. If you’ve noticed that your tent started to leak during your last camping trip and that the water no longer beaded on the tent’s surface, then it’s time to take matters into your own hands and ensure your tent is waterproof and ready to handle the elements on your next camping trip.

How to Tell if Your Tent is Losing its Waterproof Power

The weather can be unpredictable. While your camping trip may start off nice and sunny, it can end up being a wet, cold, miserable experience, especially if you’re caught in a storm with a tent that leaks. When you’re going camping, you need to be prepared for this type of sudden change in the weather. You don’t need to pack up camp at the first sign of rain. Instead, make sure your tent is waterproof and able to easily handle light to heavy showers.

Knowing where a tent is the most vulnerable and the spots that are prone to leaks can help you choose the right type of waterproofing base. If you’re not sure what condition your tent is in, and whether or not it’s still capable of handling rain, I recommend doing a little experiment in the backyard and setting up your tent. Have someone sit inside the tent while you spray the tent with a hose. The person inside the tent can tell you if the tent is leaking and from where.

You can also just examine the tent carefully after you’ve sprayed it down. If you notice that there are beads on the surface of the tent, then it’s relatively waterproof. If there is no beading and water has made its way into the interior of the tent, then it’s time to take matters into your own hands and apply some waterproof coating.

Waterproof Options

If you want to waterproof your tent, you’ll have three options:

  • Refreshing the water repellent
  • Refreshing the coating
  • Sealing the tent

Sealing the Tent

Water can penetrate a tent in four places. The seams is the first place where water will enter the tent. The seams are points where two pieces of material have been sewn together. When you seal the tent seams, you’re preventing water from seeping inside. Seams can be found along the:

  • Doors
  • Windows
  • Zippers

Fortunately, sealing the seams is an easy and fast job that should only take you about twenty minutes to do. Depending on preference, the seams can be sealed from the outside or the inside. The result is the same, a tent that can easily handle the elements and keep the interior dry.

To seal the seams, you’ll need the following supplies:

  • High-quality sealant: The sealant you choose must be designed for the type of fabric the tent is made out of. Because of this, it’s important to find out whether your tent is made out of canvas, polyester, or some type of nylon. Choose the right type of product based on the fabric to prevent damaging it.
  • Paintbrush: You’ll need to use a small paintbrush if the sealant you buy doesn’t come with an applicator.
  • Gloves
  • Damp cloth
  • Rubbing alcohol


Before you begin, choose a dry and clean area where the tent can dry out without being disturbed by the elements. If you have the space, do the waterproofing indoors.

  • Begin by removing any sealed sections that are peeling off.
  • Clean the seams using rubbing alcohol and a damp cloth.
  • Apply a thin layer of the sealant along the seams using the applicator or a paintbrush.
  • Allow the tent to dry overnight, or a minimum of twelve hours.
  • If you find any tears along the seams then you need to apply tape on the opposite side to hold the seams in place. After applying some tape, you can seal the seam. You may need to apply another coat of sealant on the tear, depending on the severity of the damage.

Waterproofing the Fabric

raindrops on a tent

Similar to the supplies you need to seal the seams, you’ll need the following supplies to waterproof the tent’s fabric:

  • Mask
  • Gloves
  • Sponge
  • Sealant

The process itself is very simple and should only take you twenty to thirty minutes, depending on the size of your tent.

This procedure should be performed on a sunny day, for faster drying. Find a dry and clean workspace for the application.

  • The first step is cleaning the tent if it’s dirty. You can do this using some water and a sponge.
  • If the tent is clean, then wet the tent with a damp cloth. Apply a thin layer of the product. Make sure you avoid rubbing any of the sealant into the mesh panels on the tent.
  • Use a sponge to remove any excess sealant.

Rain Fly Waterproofing Treatment

The rain fly makes up a large portion of a tent. The biggest difference from the rain fly fabric and the tent’s fabric is that the rain fly is designed to cover the tent and it’s in direct contact with the elements. As a result, it’s often subject to more wear and tear, compared to other parts of the tent. Because of this, regularly waterproofing the rain fly will be crucial.

If you seal the rain fly correctly, water will be prohibited from touching the tent, which will minimize seeping. Make sure you choose the right type of sealant, based on the type of fabric the rain fly is made out of.

For this waterproofing job, you’ll need the following supplies:

  • Sealant
  • Mask
  • Gloves
  • Damp sponge or cloth

This process is very similar to waterproofing the tent. To do, you’ll need to turn the rain fly inside out, so you can access the seams easily. Next, if the rain fly is dirty, wipe it down with a damp sponge.

  • Wet the rain fly down using a hose.
  • Spray the sealant onto the fly, evenly.
  • Use a cloth or sponge to wipe off any excess sealant.
  • Allow it to dry for four to five hours

Waterproofing the Floor

Many people often forget about waterproofing the tent’s floor when they’re preparing for a big camping trip. The floor is meant to keep the seams off the ground to minimize the amount of water that enters the interior. Aside from protecting the seams of the tent, the floor will also protect the gear you place on the ground. This can also include air mattresses and sleeping bags. By sealing the floor, you and your gear will stay dry in rainy weather.

For this job, you’ll need the following supplies:

  • Bowl
  • Applicator or paintbrush
  • Sealant
  • Sponge
  • Mask

Before you begin, take a close look at the floor and search for any flaky sealant. If you notice flakes, make sure you use rubbing alcohol and a sponge to clean the area well.

  • Next, pour the sealant into a bowl.
  • Apply the product on the seams of the floor using the applicator or a paintbrush.
  • Apply the product directly onto the floor
  • Apply two coats
  • Allow the sealant to dry based on the product’s instructions.

Refresh Waterproof Coating


The other option is to refresh the waterproof coating on the tent. This is a type of urethane coating that’s often found on the inside of the rain fly and the floor of the tent. The main purpose of this coating is to work as a type of barrier that will prevent any water from entering the tent.

This method should be used on a tent that begins to show signs of flaking. For this job, you’ll need the following supplies:

  • Tent sealant
  • Rubbing alcohol

For this task, a large, dry and flat workspace will be ideal.

  • Lay the tent flat on the ground
  • Scrub off any flaking areas, gently, using rubbing alcohol
  • Allow the coat to dry for twenty-four hours.
  • Make sure you wash your hands well to remove any sealant residue. This type of product usually contains flame retardant chemicals.

Other Handy Waterproofing Tips

As you can see, waterproofing your tent is a pretty straightforward process, however, it’s up to you to inspect your tent annually and look for signs that your tent may need another waterproof coating. In some cases your tent may need to be replaced altogether. Below, you’ll find some tips that will help you stay on top of tent care and maintenance.

Be Prepared

If you have a tent, make sure you take a proactive approach and always waterproof it before a major camping trip, regardless of the weather forecast. Even if the trip begins on a sunny day, the weather can change in an instant.

Know Your Tent’s Waterproof Rating

When you buy a tent, check its waterproof rating. The rating will show how much water a tent is able to handle before it begins to seep. The rating used is measured HH, or hydrostatic head. Purchase a tent with the highest HH rating possible.

Adding Another Coat of Sealant

When you’re waterproofing your tent, consider adding another layer of sealant, especially if you’re knowingly going to head into wet conditions. However, make sure that you allow the first layer of coating to completely dry before you add the second.

Ground Sheet

Look for a tent that comes with a groundsheet built right in. A built-in groundsheet will prevent water from seeping into the tent from the ground. Make sure the sides of the ground sheet are also turned upwards to make it more effective.

What Can Damage a Waterproof Coating?

Age, the sun, and poor care and maintenance can take their toll on your tent and its waterproof coating.

Harmful UV rays can damage the skin, but it can also cause significant damages to fabrics that spend a prolonged time in the sun. Even a short one-week camping trip can have a negative impact on the tent’s material and its waterproof coating. You can protect your tent’s fabric and waterproof coating by placing the tent under some trees, or even by placing a tarp over the top.

Poor care and maintenance is another leading cause of waterproof coat damage. If the fabric is covered in dust, dirt, and constantly battered by the elements, it’s going to deteriorate over time. Because of this, it’s important to clean your tent thoroughly, after every camping trip. Adding a new coat of waterproof sealant can help to prolong the life of the tent fabric.

Most tents will come with fully sealed seams, but these seams can break down over time. Adding sealant can solve future problems. However, in some cases, the damage may be so severe that you’ll need to replace the tent itself.

Mistakes to Avoid

camping tents

You’ll come across many options for waterproofing a tent, however, there are many that can actually worsen your tent’s ability to keep you dry.

Below, you’ll find a list of what not to do, in order to prevent damaging your tent.

  • Never apply grease to the rain fly. While this can keep water out, it also removes the waterproof coating.
  • Avoid applying duct tape since it can tear fragile parts of the tent.
  • Don’t use a candle to inspect tears since this can catch the tent on fire.
  • Do not apply the waterproof coating to the tent, floor, or rain fly the day before or the day of your camping trip. Some tents, especially larger models, will need several hours to dry before you can pack them up.

How Often Does a Tent Need a New Waterproof Coating?

When you reapply a waterproof coating, the sealant will last a long time, if you’ve done it correctly. Of course, this can vary from product to product and can depend on the condition of your tent and the type of material it’s made out of. In some cases, you may need to reapply the coating once a year, in others the coating can last three to five years.

Waterproofing a Polycotton or Canvas Tent

Most of the methods I’ve included here are designed for tents that are made out of synthetic fabrics. If you own a canvas or polycotton tent, the process is a little different since these materials have small holes that will allow water to easily enter the tent. The first thing to do is weather the tent by hosing it down. This process will expand the material to make it more waterproof. Next, you’ll apply a sealant that’s specifically designed for this type of material.

Final Thoughts

Learning how to waterproof a tent will come in handy, once your tent has been used for a few seasons and you begin to notice areas where water is able to seep in, or you find that water is no longer beading up on the material. As you can see, each type of waterproofing process is pretty easy to do, as long as you use the correct product based on the type of material your tent is made out of. Additionally, it’s also very important that you give the sealant enough time to dry before you fold up your tent and pack it away. With the tips in the guide, you should have no trouble waterproofing each section of your tent, so it will be ready to handle the next camping season, easily, and keep you, your family, and your gear, perfectly dry.