How To Clean Pop Up Camper Canvas (The RIGHT Way)

Pop-up camper canvas collects dirt and grime through regular use. Plus, it’s susceptible to mold and mildew, which may lead to potential health issues.

Getting your camper canvas back to its pristine state doesn’t have to be complicated, however.

In this guide, we’ll show you how to perform basic cleaning of your camper canvas, how to remove mold and mildew if things get really bad, and how to waterproof your canvas after you’ve cleaned it.

Basic Camper Canvas Cleaning

Your pop-up camper’s canvas protects you from the outside elements including dust and dirt, which means that it will require regular, gentle cleaning.

For general canvas cleaning, you don’t need to run out and buy an expensive canvas cleaner. In fact, regular laundry detergent will work just fine.

Tip: Spot clean a small portion of your camper canvas with your preferred cleaner before applying to the entire area to ensure it doesn’t damage your canvas.

Many campers swear by Woolite, a popular laundry detergent, for its mild but effective properties.

Woolite Liquid Laundry Detergent

Woolite Liquid Laundry Detergent

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To clean your canvas with Woolite detergent, simply:

  1. Fill a bucket with 2-3 gallons of water.
  2. Pour a cap full of Woolite detergent into the bucket of water and mix.
  3. Scrub the inside and outside of the camper canvas with an ordinary sponge.
  4. Then use a clean wet sponge to rinse the canvas off on the inside.
  5. Use a garden hose to wash off any leftover soap on the outside.

Tip: If you have patches of heavy dirt, you may need to use a scrub brush instead of a regular sponge. Start with a gentle clean and only resort to harsher measures when you hit a patch of resistant dirt.

After rinsing off the outside of your canvas with your garden hose, be sure to check the waterproofing of your canvas. If you notice the water beading off the canvas nicely then your job here is done.

However, if you the water is soaking into the canvas, proceed to waterproofing your canvas below.

Removing Mildew From Canvas

When it comes to mold and mildew, we recommend using a specialized mildew cleaner, which contains preventative agents to avoid future mildew growth. You can even create your own mildew remover in a pinch by mixing bleach, dish soap, and water.

One of the most highly recommended mildew removers, which we even use ourselves, is Star Brite Mold & Mildew Stain Remover + Cleaner. The best part? There’s no hard scrubbing involved!

Star Brite Mold & Mildew Stain Remover + Cleaner

Star Brite Mold & Mildew Stain Remover + Cleaner

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You can, however, use any mildew remover that you have available.

Steps To Remove Mold & Mildew From Pop-Up Camper Canvas

  1. Spray mildew remover directly onto the affected area.
  2. Let sit until mildew stain disappears.
  3. Rinse with fresh water.

As you can see, Starbrite Mold & Mildew Cleaner makes the process super simple.

But, whatever mildew remover you use, be sure to read and follow the instructions on the product for maximum effectiveness and to ensure you don’t damage the material.

Waterproofing Camper Canvas

One of the potential dangers of overzealous cleaning is the removal of the waterproofing layer found on all camper canvas. While canvas is a dense material, it needs some extra help to make it fully waterproof.

This thin waterproofing layer is susceptible to wear and tear, especially around the joints and areas of frequent movement in the canvas.

Once you’ve lost the waterproofing layer, you risk allowing excess moisture into your camper. Moisture doesn’t just affect mildew growth; it can damage the entire structure of your camper.

At best, you’ll have a stuffy, unpleasantly humid space that smells of mildew. At worst, you risk expensive repairs and extensive downtime.

Luckily, you can easily test whether you have a waterproofed canvas or not. If you spray your canvas with water, a waterproof canvas will show small drops forming over the surface.

These areas still have their waterproofing layer intact. Any spots that don’t have beaded water need either a spot treatment or something more intensive.

Typically, you’ll find that waterproofing wears out in high-friction areas much faster than in others. These areas include places where other parts of the camper rub against the canvas, as well as areas where the canvas rubs against itself.

When Should I Waterproof My Canvas?

How often you need to waterproof your canvas depends on how much camping you do and how much wear and tear your canvas experiences.

Canvases that get exposed to more sun and rain, as well as those that see regular use, need more frequent waterproofing than canvases that sit in the garage for most of the year.

It’s a good idea to do a spot check at least twice a year, or more if you camp often. After a year or so, you’ll get a better idea of how often you need to apply extra waterproofing.

What Should I Do Before Waterproofing My Canvas?

Before you start waterproofing your canvas, make sure you rinse off any soapy residue. Many cleaners will leave a residue behind, and your water repellent will bind to that residue instead of the canvas. This can lead to both the waterproofing agent and residue washing away.

Also, give your canvas plenty of time to dry after you clean it. Having excess moisture in your canvas can affect the effectiveness of the waterproofing. You can even run the risk of trapping moisture in the canvas, which can lead to complications in the future.

How To Waterproof Your Canvas

To waterproof your camper canvas, you’ll need a high-quality waterproofing product.

There are many different products on the market, but we recommend 303 Fabric Guard. This high-quality product is extremely popular in the pop-up camper world and is made by Sunbrella, who makes some pop-up camper canvases (so they know what they’re doing).

303 Fabric Guard

303 Fabric Guard

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You can apply the waterproofing treatment to your canvas using two methods:

  1. If you only need to address small spots, using the spray bottle will work great.
  2. For larger sections, a spray bottle still works fine, but you may want to consider using a paintbrush or sponge roller instead. While this method uses more product, it also produces a more even and consistent coating.

No matter what method you use, limit the waterproofing treatment to the canvas area, and avoid spraying it on vinyl or other materials. The 303 treatment can damage or discolor your vinyl if you leave it on for too long.

The easiest way to protect your vinyl is to tape a covering over it with masking tape while you apply the treatment. You can also block it off with a piece of plastic and wipe away any excess that may pool on the vinyl.

Extra TLC

Cleaning and waterproofing your canvas is also an excellent time to consider giving your vinyl some love. While vinyl is durable and weather-resistant, it will certainly take a beating.

Luckily, you can use several products to clean and protect your vinyl at the same time. Many of these products work like car cleaning products. You spray it on, rub with a clean cloth and buff it off with another cloth.

Check out our complete step-by-step guide on how to clean pop-up camper vinyl for more information.

FAQ

Can you paint the canvas on a pop up camper?

Yes. Start by priming the area you want to paint with gesso and then paint it with acrylic paint. If you find that the gesso is too thick, dilute it with some water.

How long does canvas last on a pop up camper?

If you take care of your canvas, you can expect it to last around 15 years.

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