How to Accurately Tell if Your Tent Needs Waterproofing

Camper FAQs is reader-supported. Buying through links on our site may earn us an affiliate commission. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Read this page without ads! Go Ad-Free

The question of whether you need to waterproof your tent or not is often asked.

And, to be honest, it’s a great question. It’s one you should ask yourself (and answer) regularly before you go on a camping trip.

So, let’s learn how you can tell if your tent needs waterproofing (new and old tents), how to properly waterproof it, and more!

Tents & Waterproofing

Tents are designed to protect you from the sun, snow, rain, and other elements.

Part of the protective qualities of a tent comes from its ability to repel water. However, when that waterproof layer starts to erode or wear off, the tent becomes far less effective at protecting you from rain and other elements.

Even when you take extra special care of a tent, over time the waterproof coating will eventually start to crust and fade.

How Long Do Tents Stay Waterproof?

The length of time a tent will retain its waterproofing properties depends on the following:

  • How often it is used
  • The amount of time it’s spent in direct sunlight
  • How well it was cared for
  • If it was properly washed
  • The tents initial Hydrostatic Head rating

And so on. There’s no mathematical formula to calculate when the waterproofing properties will start to wear off. Just know that they will.

See How Long Does Tent Waterproofing Last for more information.

What About New Tents?

Even some new tents will need to have additional waterproofing added to them.

This really depends on the waterproof rating of your new tent, if it has any defects in it, and the type of weather you plan on camping in.

Keep in mind most new tents will have a waterproof coating with a minimum strength of 3000 HH. This will repel water from most rainstorms, light snow, and any dew that may form on your tent.

Did you know…
HH stands for hydrostatic head, which is a precise measurement of how much water a fabric can repel. The higher the HH rating, the more waterproof your tent will be.

Your tent’s HH rating may be higher or lower than 3000. It just depends on the specific tent you have.

But, even if your tent has a great rating, it could have some defects, even as small as a tiny tear in a seam that you can’t see, which could result in water leakage. So, you may still need to waterproof it.

But how do you know if a tent is waterproof? Let’s find out…

Do I Need to Waterproof My Tent?

Whether you have a brand new tent or an old existing one, the best way to tell if you need to waterproof a tent is to test it!

To run the test, simply:

  1. Set up your tent outside on a clean flat surface.
  2. Close the tent doors and windows.
  3. Set up the vestibule and rainfly.
  4. Pull out your garden hose and attach a spray nozzle.
  5. Spray the tent down.

Tip: When you turn on the water, don’t direct it to a single area. Simulate a rain shower by pointing the stream upwards and letting it fall gently on the tent for consistency.

If you notice any sort of water leakage in your tent, it’s time to waterproof it!

How to Waterproof a Tent

Waterproofing your tent can be done in 3 simple steps. All you need are cleaning materials (dish soap and a sponge), a seam sealant, and tent waterproofing spray.

Step 1: Clean Your Tent

Any dirt and grime on your tent will need to come off before you apply the seam sealer and waterproofing spray.

To clean a tent, set it up in your yard, and bring out some soap (dish soap is fine), a sponge, and optionally a gentle scrubbing tool, like a toothbrush.

First, look for problem areas to spot clean, where mud or mold have crusted or stained the fabric.

Tip: If you notice mold on your tent, check out our guide on how to clean a tent with mold, as there are some important steps to follow.

Wet the dirty areas with a sprayer or a garden hose, and spot-clean them with a gentle scrubbing motion.

After spot cleaning, wash the whole tent with water and dish soap and scrub it thoroughly with a soft sponge. Seams and zippers seem to collect dirt and dust, so take special care to clean these fixtures well.

After soaping up your tent, rinse it thoroughly. If you are applying seam sealant, you will need to let it dry completely. If not, you can leave your tent wet and proceed to step 3.

Step 2: Apply Adhesive Sealant to the Seams

Tent seams are typically the first place to start leaking on a tent.

Protecting the seams with a quality sealer is just as important as waterproofing the tent fabric itself, so I don’t recommend skipping this step.

There are many seam sealers on the market, but you should choose one that’s quick to bond, waterproof, flexible, and dries clear. I recommend you use Gear Aid – Seam Grip WP Sealant Adhesive.

If your sealant doesn’t have an applicator, simply use a brush to spread it over the seams.

Tip: Seal both the inside and outside seams for maximum protection.

Step 3: Protect the Tent and Rainfly With a Waterproofing Spray

Before buying a waterproofing spray, be sure you know what type of material your tent is made up of. Waterproofing sprays for nylon and polyester tents are different from cotton and canvas tents.

If you have a polyester or nylon tent, I recommend you use Nikwax Tent & Gear Solarproof.

For cotton or canvas tents, you will want to use Nikwax Cotton Proof.

Nikwax Cotton Proof Waterproofing

Nikwax Cotton Proof Waterproofing

Buy Now on Amazon

Clicking this link to make a purchase may earn us a commission at no additional cost to you.

How you apply the waterproofing spray will depend on the product you have and the type of material the tent is made out of.

However, using Nikwax Tent & Gear Solarproof, the process is extremely simple:

  1. Set up your tent on a clean, flat surface. You will need to waterproof the rainfly, too, so lay that on the ground next to the tent. If you use a tent footprint, you can add waterproofing protection to that, as well.
  2. Wet the entire outside of the tent with a hose.
  3. Cover the entirety of your tent’s exterior and rainfly with the waterproofing spray. Wipe away excess droplets with a cloth.

Lastly, let your tent dry thoroughly before putting it back in storage.

For more information, check out our guide on how to waterproof a tent in 3 simple steps.

Leave a Comment

We highly encourage discussion on our posts and in our RV Community Forums. The most helpful comments are those that you can learn from or that help others out. Please refrain from insults, complaints, or promotional material. See our community guidelines for more information.