How to Waterproof a Tent – 6 Effective Ways

Written by: Karyn James

Want to learn how to waterproof a tent? We’ll show you how to seal tent seams, repair tent coating and repel water effectively in this guide.

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How To Waterproof a Tent Effectively – DIY Methods

Here are some easy cheap DIY ways on how to waterproof a tent: 

  1. Clean all parts of your tent, including the groundsheet and rain fly.
  2. Seal the tent seams using a seam sealer.
  3. Repair the tent coating.
  4. Refresh water repellency.
  5. Use a waterproofing spray.
  6. Waterproof the tent floor.
  7. Waterproof the tent with a tarp.

By the end of this article, our aim is that your brain will be fully versed on how to waterproof a tent effectively.

As an avid camper, you know that rain is something you’ll encounter sooner or later. There’s nothing fun with waking up in a soaked tent while all your belongings are damp. We want to prevent our readers from experiencing this the hard way.

This is why we put together this guide on waterproofing your tent. But also consider re-waterproofing older tents that don’t keep out water efficiently any longer.

We’ve included some key products in each section, so be sure to check these out when getting the waterproofing items together.

how to waterproof a tent

When To Waterproof Your Tent?

Ideally, pick a dry, sunny day for tent waterproofing at least a week before you need the tent.

If it’s raining or just humid in general when you apply the durable water repellent coating and waterproofing spray, they won’t work properly. Make sure your tent stays dry when applying the waterproofing agents and that it stays that way until it’s completely dry again.

Also, a combination of sunshine and dry air will make your tent dry faster after applying waterproofing products.

How Do I Keep My Tent From Getting Wet?

While waterproofing your tent is an excellent way to keep your tent from getting wet, combine it with these tips for optimal results:

  1. Pitch your tent on a slope and in shelter.
  2. Ensure the tent’s door is pointing in the least-exposed direction.
  3. Ventilate your tent as much as possible.
  4. Take off wet clothing and wet gear in your tent’s porch.
  5. Dry your tent before storage.

Now let’s move on to the best ways to ensure you remain safe and dry inside your tent, even if it’s throwing it down with rain outside.

How To Waterproof a Tent Effectively – 6 Ways

How To Seal Tent Seams

The first thing you should do when tent waterproofing is to seal the tent’s seams. Damaged or worn-out seams on your tent body or rain fly can cause water to leak inside the tent.

Seams are a big culprit for letting water get into the tent. This is because the fabric on your tent is usually waterproof—or at least water-resistant—but the seams aren’t.

Even if only a small part of the seams appear to be letting in water, you should still seal as many of them as possible to be safe.

What You Need

  • Hot water.
  • Two cloth rags.
  • Rubbing alcohol.
  • Seam sealer.
  • Small paintbrush.

Step 1: Clean the Seams With Rubbing Alcohol

  1. Be sure to clean your tent with hot water first. For this, simply use some hot water and a rag.
  2. You’re ready to prep the seams with rubbing alcohol using a cloth rag when the tent’s dry. Apply a thin layer of alcohol on all the seams and wait a minute or two for it to dry.

Step 2: Seal the Seams With Sealant

OK, now it’s tent waterproofing time!

Make sure you spread the seam sealant along the seam’s inside. Depending on if the tent’s material is polyurethane-covered fabric or silicone-treated fabric, you’ll need different sealants. Be sure to pick the right one!

For tents made from silicone, the Gear Aid Silicone Sealant is a good option. If your tent is polyurethane-covered, opt for a sealant, such as the Texsport Polyurethane Seam Sealer to seal the seams.

Use a small paintbrush for application and cover all the seams with sealant. Use the product’s instructions to ensure you use the correct amount.

Step 3: Dry-Time

Letting the seams dry before doing anything else will ensure the sealant won’t rub off on anything and reduce its effectiveness.

How To Repair Tent Coating

You can spot damaged tent coating by flakes under the rainfly or chips on your tent’s floor. 

What You Need

  • Scrubber sponge.
  • Rubbing alcohol.
  • Tent sealant.

Step 1: Lay the Tent Flat

Make sure you lay your rainfly and tent floor on a dry, flat surface separately.

Step 2: Scrub off the Flaking Coating

Scrub off the tent floor’s flaking coating and the rainfly’s inside with a scrubber sponge and more rubbing alcohol.

Be careful not to damage the tent but also use enough force to scrape off the flakes.

Step 3: Apply Tent Sealant

Apply a thin layer of your chosen tent sealant, focusing on the seams. Follow the product’s instructions for this.

The Gear Aid Tent Fabric Sealer works great on most rainfly fabrics.

Step 4: Let Dry

Storing the tent away before it dries will make your tent coating restoration less effective. The sealant will rub off if it touches other fabric before it’s completely dry. Please make sure it dries for at least a day.

Remember to wash your hands after using flame-retardant chemicals, such as tent sealant, to avoid adverse health effects.

Step 5: Pack the Tent Away

When it’s completely dry, pack the tent away in the storage bag it came with. Storing the tent while still moist will make the tent sealant less effective because it will rub off.

If you want to refresh the water repellency, continue to the next part of this tutorial without storing the tent away.

waterproofing a tent

Tent Waterproofing: How To Refresh Water Repellency

After sealing the seams and repairing the tent coating, you should also re-apply the durable water-repellent coating.

This prevents water from soaking through your tent, and instead, the water just sits on the tent fly.

You know it’s time to refresh the water repellency if water isn’t beading like it used to.

What You Need

  • Hot water.
  • Durable water repellent coating.
  • A moist cloth.

Step 1: Get the Fly Wet

  • First, set up your tent.
  • Ensure the flysheet’s outside is clean before continuing. Simply wash it with hot water.
  • Then, put your rainfly on top of your tent. 

Don’t worry; you don’t need to wait for it to dry before continuing.

Step 2: Spray the Durable Water Repellent Coating

The KIWI Camp Dry Waterproofing Spray is a great option here.

Make sure you cover all areas evenly on the fly’s outside. Spray a single layer of coating all over the rainfly, but ensure you follow the waterproofing spray instructions.

Step 3: Wipe Excess Coating

Wipe off any remaining repellent with a moist cloth after a couple of minutes.

Step 4: Let the Tent Dry

Once again, wait for your tent to dry before storing it in the tent bag. If you don’t have a tent bag, you can store it in anything that doesn’t let moisture or dust in.

Waterproofing Your Tent With Waterproofing Spray

While refreshing DWR-coating is optimal for tents that just need a touch-up but already have a waterproof layer, using a waterproofing spray is the way to go if the manufacturer hasn’t waterproofed your tent.

You may have come across some homemade waterproof spray recipes. Even though these might seem like the cheapest option, I’d recommend against using these.

If you want to do tent waterproofing since your tent hasn’t been properly waterproofed before or the coating has come off, you don’t want to risk putting in all that work just to see that your tent still isn’t water repellent.

What You Need

  • Water-guard silicone spray

Step 1: Unpack the Tent and Put up Inner Part

Place it outside because it’ll need to dry after you’ve finished tent waterproofing.

The silicone spray also contains quite a few chemicals, so avoid using it indoors.

Step 2: Spray Seams and Lower Fabric With Silicone Spray

  1. Spray the seams from 3 inches (7.5 cm) away.
  2. Then back up 8–12 inches (20–25 cm) and focus on the lower fabric. You don’t have to spray the mesh part since this isn’t where water tends to sink in.

Silicone spray makes most tents water-repellent, with Atsko Silicone Water-Guard being an excellent option. You can waterproof fabrics, leather and canvas with this spray.

Step 3: Put Up Rain Fly and Spray It

Emphasize the rain fly’s seams and give a light spray to the rest of the tent fabric.

The rain fly is the most important part to repel water. This is because it’s your tent’s outermost layer, protecting the inner layers from getting wet.

Step 4: Let it Dry and Pack Away

  1. Let the tent dry, so the waterproofing spray doesn’t rub off on any other surface it comes in contact with.
  2. Then pack it away in its original bag or a completely sealed bag or container.

How To Waterproof Your Tent Floor

Besides waterproofing the rainfly and seams on the tent’s upper side, you also have to waterproof your floor to prevent water seeping up through any fabric weakness or cracks.

Focus on the area that touches the ground since this is where moisture will build up.

What You Need

  • Hot water.
  • Sponge.
  • Rubber gloves.
  • Fabric guard.
  • Bucket/glass bowl.
  • Paintbrush.
  • Cloth.

Step 1: Open the Tent and Peg It Upside Down

Be sure to peg it so that the groundsheet is facing up—this is the side you’ll need to waterproof.

Stretch it as much as possible for even application, but some creases are okay. After all, you don’t want to bring an iron with you while camping!

Step 2: Clean the Groundsheet

For this step, get rid of any dirt and dust on the sheet using a sponge and warm water. This will ensure the fabric guard protects the groundsheet better.

Focus on the seams since this is where the tent will have the most dirt ingrained.

Step 3: Let It Dry

Let it sun-dry until the sheet is completely dry before continuing. This will take an hour or two.

Step 4: Apply Fabric Guard

For fabric guard, make sure it’s made for outdoor use. I recommend the 303 Marine Fabric Guard.

  1. Now, put your fabric guard into a bucket or a glass bowl as per the product’s instructions.
  2. Put on some rubber gloves to protect your hands and paint the groundsheet using a clean paintbrush.
  3. Spread a thin layer over the whole sheet and keep a rather clear wet edge, so you know where you’ve already applied the fabric guard and where you still haven’t. Pay extra attention to the seams when applying the fabric guard since this is where water tends to leak in.

The seams are usually the parts of the tent that have none or minimal waterproofing.

A pro tip is to go over the sheet a second time with any remaining solution to cover up spots you might have missed the first time.

Step 5: Remove Excess Fabric Guard

If there are any small pools of fabric guard left in the creases, remove them with a dry cloth.

Step 6: Make Sure You Let It Dry

Let the groundsheet dry for about 48 hours before packing up the tent. You don’t need to hang it up outside, but drying it naturally in the sun is best for speed.

Ensure it doesn’t get wet during drying since it will ruin the waterproofing, so if the forecast is bad, hang it indoors.

Waterproofing Your Tent With a Tarp

Use a tarp to either double-up the water-repellency or if you don’t want to use any chemicals.

If you didn’t have time to waterproof your tent—or if you simply forgot to—using a tarp as a last-minute solution for waterproofing is also a good idea.

What You Need

  • Large tarp.
  • Grommet savers.
  • Paracord.
  • A long stick, paddle, or a fishing pole.

Go for a plastic tarp that’s big enough to cover your tent—ideally, twice as large as your groundsheet.

I recommend the Guard Rhino Heavy Duty Tarp, which is available in 5 sizes so you can pick the one that best fits your tent.

Step 1: Put up Your Tarp

First, put your tarp over your tent. Leave a similar amount of tarp hanging over both sides of your tent.

Step 2: Thread the Grommet Savers

  1. Using your grommet savers, thread them through the tarp’s holes.
  2. Use some paracord and tie it to the grommet savers with a square knot.

Step 3: Run the Tarp up Into the Trees

Aim to put your tarp about 12–16 feet (3.5–5m) in the air.

  1. Grab a stick with some jagged edges to help you since you won’t reach that far. You can also use a fishing pole or a paddle.
  2. String your rope or paracord onto the stick.
  3. With the stick, reach up high on the tree, swing it around, and then tie it off.
  4. Repeat the process on all four sides of the tarp. Aim to get one end of the tarp as high as possible, and the other end—the other two sides—3 to 5 feet (0.9m to 1.5m) lower.

Step 4: Fix the Tarp’s Angle

Make sure you get a slight angle on the tarp for the rainwater to flow right off and to avoid pools on top.

Drop down one side of the tarp by pulling on the edges, and you’ll end up with a good angle.

Waterproofing Your Tent FAQs

  1. Do Tents Need to Be Waterproofed?

    Yes, tents need to be waterproofed. Some tents are already waterproofed when you buy them, but they tend to only be water-resistant. Even if they’re made from waterproof fabric, the seams usually aren’t waterproof. u003cbru003eu003cbru003eYou never know if you’ll get caught in the rain when out in the wild, and even if you don’t, there can be moisture on the ground that soaks through the groundsheet and makes everything in your tent wet.

  2. What Is the Best Waterproofing for Tents?

    The best waterproofing for tents is either via a u003cstrongu003edurable water repellent coating or waterproof spraysu003c/strongu003e that suit the fabric you have. Most tents are silicone-treated or polyurethane-covered, so remember to check that the coating or waterproofing spray you choose is compatible with your fabric.

  3. How Long Do Tents Stay Waterproof?

    In general, you should waterproof your tent before using it for the first time just to be sure that the coating is functional and keeps the water out. After this, you’ll have to do tent waterproofing again u003cstrongu003eevery 6–12 monthsu003c/strongu003e or when you notice that the seams are coming off or letting in water.

  4. Should You Put a Tarp Under Your Tent?

    It’s not completely necessary to put a tarp under your tent, but it can work as an additional layer for waterproofing. Besides keeping water out of your tent, a tarp also protects it from punctures and mud. It’ll also add more warmth.u003cbru003eu003cbru003eIf you put a tarp under your tent, be sure to check that it’s not too big. A larger-than-necessary tarp will make rain and dew run down the tent walls and collect in pools under your tent.u003cbru003eu003cbru003eThe ideal size for this tarp should be slightly larger than your groundsheet. Make sure you fold the tarp under your tent on all sides so that nothing sticks out further than the groundsheet.

  5. How Do You Keep Water From Pooling Under a Tent?

    Keep water from pooling under a tent by setting it up at a slight angle, especially if you’re putting it up in the wet. This will make the water flow by your tent instead of pooling under it. u003cbru003eAlso, put your tent on high ground that won’t flood.

tent waterproofing

Wrapping-up How To Waterproof a Tent

How did you like my tutorial on tent waterproofing?

I’ve made it a habit to waterproof tents before using them, and you should, too.

You can’t predict the weather, but you can waterproof your tent!

If you want to put up your tent in the forest or even at a normal camping ground, make sure you waterproof it first. Talking from first-hand experience, wet sleeping bags, clothes and food is not fun, especially when planning on being out in nature for a few more days.

Have you ever waterproofed your tent DIY-style? What’s your favorite method? Let me know in the comments, and remember to share this article to spread it to all the avid tent-users you know.

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Karyn James

Karyn often went camping and boating as a child with her family where she has learned a lot about wildlife and the environment. Now that she has two very active little kids, she knows that planning is key to a fun and stress-free journey. You can find out more about Karyn here.

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