5 Simple Steps on How to Waterproof a Tent

How to waterproof a tent - 5 easy steps

When it rains, why does the water roll off some tents in small droplets while other tents soak up? In order for a tent to defy wind and weather, the manufacturer applies several coatings on the tent fabrics. One of them is impregnation: the impregnation protects the tent from water, sun and dirt and extends its lifespan.

In this post, you will learn everything you need to know about how to waterproof a tent. I’ll tell you what impregnation is, why you have to re-impregnate a tent regularly and how you can re-impregnate your tent.

We will also help you choose a waterproofing agent that will perfectly suit your tent!

Contents

You need to know how to impregnate in front of the tent

The tent impregnation is a thin, transparent protective layer that sits on the outside of the tent. It is a powerful protective shield against environmental and weather influences.

How do I know if the tent impregnation is working?

You can easily recognize a well-impregnated tent: The tent cloth does not get wet because the water rolls off the surface in large droplets.

How can I renew the impregnation on my tent?

Features by a liquid impregnating apply the tent. The agent is then absorbed into the fabric and makes the tent water-repellent.

The advantages of a good tent impregnation

There are many good reasons why you should waterproof your tent. Contrary to what is often thought, impregnation does not make your tent waterproof but your tent has another layer; the water protection coating.

The tent impregnation has these properties that are very practical in everyday camping!

UV protection

If you stand in the sun unprotected, you will get sunburn. Your tent feels the same way. It doesn’t turn brown, however, but light: UV radiation bleaches the colors of the tent.

With an impregnation, the tent stays beautiful; it keeps its strong colors. Thanks to the impregnation, the tent fabric also ages more slowly. The fabric remains flexible and break-proof. So you can enjoy your tent for a long time.

Rain protection

Because the water cannot penetrate the tent fabric, the tent dries faster after a downpour. This is practical – if you pack a dry tent at the campsite right away, you no longer have to dry it at home.

In addition, a dry tent weighs less than a wet tent and is easier to carry.

Protection from dirt

The tent impregnation prevents dirty water and mud from penetrating the tent fabric. Splashes of mud either roll off or can be easily wiped off with a cloth. Thanks to the impregnation, your tent is also better protected from acidic bird droppings.

Another plus: mold cannot find any nutrients on a clean tarpaulin.

Does a new tent have to be impregnated?

The tent does not need to be impregnated immediately after purchase. The manufacturer has already done that for you. However, the sun, wind and rain wear away the impregnating agent over time.

This is how you test whether you need to waterproof your tent

You can easily test whether the impregnation is still intact. Wet your pitched tent thoroughly with a garden hose or a watering can! If the water rolls off easily everywhere, everything is fine.

However, if you discover a film of water or even wet spots in the tent fabric in some places, it is time to act – you will have to re-impregnate the tent.

Only a few dry spots can be seen. The outer tent has soaked up almost everywhere with water and is sagging heavily. Time for a new impregnation!

How often do I have to re-impregnate my tent?

When to re-waterproof your tent depends on how you use it.

A tent that stands on a windy beach in Spain for 4 weeks in the summer needs more waterproofing than a tent that is only under a tree in the shade for a weekend.

We recommend that frequently used tents that are erected for several weeks each year be re-impregnated every 2 years. Occasionally used tents that are only pitched on a few weekends should be re-impregnated every 3 years.

In any case, you should treat your tent to new protection after washing your tent. Cleaning agents are not only good for removing the dirt but also a good part of the impregnation agent.

Do not wait to impregnate your tent fabric until it is faded and brittle! Then it is too late, the damage can no longer be repaired.

It is better to impregnate one more time than risk a rotten tent!

Wisdom from the editorial team

Can I waterproof all tents?

Yes. Tents are made of polyester, nylon and cotton. Tents from Coleman, MARMOT, Teton and ALPS all have one thing in common: They are made of a fiber fabric. That is why you can treat each of these tents with a universal impregnation for textiles or with a special tent impregnation.

Tents made of PVC on the other hand need a care product for plastics.

When is the best time to impregnate?

While you re-waterproof your tent, it should be dry and, if you are using a spray, reasonably windless. Roaring sun can dry the waterproofing agent too quickly.

We prefer to waterproof our tents in spring when the new camping season begins.

What do I have to do before the tent impregnation?

Your tent should be clean, dust-free and grease-free so that the waterproofing agent can penetrate the tent fabric. Wash off any leftover detergent with plenty of clean water.

How long does the impregnation take and what does it cost?

It depends on the size of your tent, and the waterproofing agent used. For a small igloo tent, we usually need about 20 minutes. With our large motorhome awning, it can take 1 hour.

The cost of the impregnation agent is between 5 and 30 dollars.

Which waterproofing agent is right for me?

There are impregnation sprays for spraying on, liquid impregnation, wash-in impregnation and foams that you apply with a sponge. In the following instructions, we will tell you which means you can best impregnate your tent and give helpful tips for the correct use.

1. Instructions: Impregnate a small tent

We prefer to impregnate small tents (max. 4 people) with an impregnation spray. Sprays have an excellent water-repellent effect and they are particularly easy to use.

Which waterproofing spray do I need?

In principle, every impregnation spray is suitable for outdoor equipment and every universal impregnation spray applies to textiles. We have had good experiences with Scotchgard Fabric Water Shield Impregnation Spray in our tents. The spray is affordable.
Scotchgard Fabric Water Shield

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Step-by-step instructions: This is how you waterproof a small tent with spray

With our step-by-step instructions, you can easily re-impregnate your small tent. It’s not difficult at all, I promise! A clean 3-man tent that has already been set up takes about 20 minutes.

Get accessories

Get yourself a suitable waterproofing spray and secure a mouth guard so you do not breathe in the spray.

Preparation

On a dry day, set up the tent outside, tension it to remove the folds from the tent wall and close the zippers so that no waterproofing agent gets into the tent. Clean your tent of dirt and let it dry.

Spray the tent

Take a look at the product information for your spray and apply the impregnation spray evenly to your tent from a distance of approx. 30 cm. This is best done with evenly swinging or circular movements from the forearm.

If the old tent impregnation is already very weak, the tent fabric quickly absorbs the impregnation agent. It is not necessary to soak the fabric completely. A thin, even layer is enough.

The outside of the tent is always impregnated! The entire tent fabric of the outer tent. Any windows made of transparent material and the tent floor do not need to be impregnated: they are not absorbent and cannot absorb the spray.

  • Important: Always impregnate the entire tent, preferably in one go. This avoids possible color differences after impregnation.

Let dry

If there is any waterproofing agent on the windows, wipe it off with a cloth. Let the tent dry and air out completely so that the smell of the spray dissipates.

Test the impregnation

Test the new waterproofing with a watering can or garden hose. Refinish areas where the water does not roll off in small droplets.

The tent is now completely impregnated. Congratulations, you have made an important contribution to the care of your tent! The impregnation lasts for about 2 to 4 years with the normal use of the tent, or until the tent cloth is cleaned with detergents.

How much waterproofing spray do I need?

A can with 400 ml impregnation spray is sufficient for approx. 7 square meters of tent fabric.

Are you don’t know exactly what size your flysheet has? Then we have a simple rule of thumb for you: One can of Impregnol is enough for 2-person tent.

  • Tip: One Can is sufficient for a 2-person tent, two cans for a 4-person tent and three cans of impregnation spray for a 6-person tent.

2. Instructions: Impregnate a large tent

A large tent (5 people or more) can easily have a surface area of 20 square meters or more. Impregnation takes a long time with spray cans. That is why we like to work with liquid impregnation for large tents.

The advantage: you can apply the liquid impregnation extremely quickly and very evenly with a pressure sprayer. Even on the hard-to-reach tent roof.

Which impregnation agent do I need?

Liquid impregnation is available in canisters with a capacity of several liters and at reasonable prices.

We treated our large tunnel tent with various impregnating agents and we got along best with Grangers Outdoor Clothing Care Kit. The liquid impregnation has an environmentally friendly silicone base, protects the tent well against UV radiation, and is cheap at around 10-12 dollars per liter.

Grangers Outdoor Clothing Care Kit.

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Step-by-step instructions: This is how you impregnate a large tent with liquid impregnation

Impregnating large tents is not difficult. A clean 6-man tent that has already been set up takes about 30 minutes.

Get accessories

Get yourself a stepladder, a suitable liquid impregnation, a pressure sprayer and the safety of a mouth guard so you do not breathe in the spray. This pressure sprayer works well.

Preparation

On a dry day, pitch the tent outside, roughly pull the creases out of the tent fabric and close the zippers so that no waterproofing agent gets into the tent. Clean your tent of dirt and let it dry. You can reach hard-to-reach areas on the tent roof with an articulated mop.

Spray the tent

First, take a look at the product information for your impregnation agent and adjust the nozzle of the pressure sprayer so that it creates a fine mist. Then carefully fill the device with the impregnation. Then apply the liquid impregnation evenly and generously to your tent with the pressure sprayer from a distance of approx. 30 cm.

This is best done with evenly swinging or circular movements from the forearm. The tent you can from a stepladder from sprinkle with the arm of the spraying.

It is not necessary to soak the fabric completely. A full, even layer is enough. The outside of the tent is always impregnated! The entire tent fabric of the outer tent. Any windows made of transparent material and the tent floor do not have to be impregnated: they are not absorbent and cannot absorb the impregnation agent.

  • Important: Always impregnate the entire tent, preferably in one go. This avoids possible color differences after impregnation.

Let dry

If there is any waterproofing agent on the windows, wipe it off with a slightly damp cloth. Let the tent dry and air out completely so that the smell of the agent goes away.

Test the impregnation

Test the impregnation with the garden hose and rework areas where the water does not roll off.

Don’t forget to empty the pressure sprayer afterward and rinse it with clear water. This protects the device’s seals.

The tent is now completely impregnated. Congratulations, you have made an important contribution to the care of your tent!

The impregnation lasts for about 2 to 4 years with the normal use of the tent, or until the tent cloth is cleaned with detergents.

How much liquid impregnation do I need?

One liter of liquid impregnation is sufficient for approx. 7 square meters of cotton or 18 square meters of synthetic tent fabric (nylon, polyester). You don’t know exactly what size your tent is? Then we have a simple rule of thumb for you.

  • Tip: Multiply the length x width x height of your tent. You get roughly the surface in square meters.

3. Instructions: Impregnate the cotton tent

Good impregnation is particularly important for tents made of cotton to prevent mold stains and mold. Please note that there are some special features when impregnating cotton tents.

Which impregnation agent do I need?

Cotton is a breathable natural fiber. The tent fabric is natural and sustainable. That is why we recommend to use a water-based agent to impregnate cotton tents.

Nikwax Cotton Proof does not produce any solvent-based aerosols and is free of harmful volatile organic compounds. It also does not contain any greenhouse-boosting fluorocarbons.
Nikwax Cotton Proof

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Step-by-step instructions: How to waterproof a cotton tent

Cotton tents should also be impregnated on the inside to protect them from mildew and mold.

Get accessories

Get a suitable water-based waterproofing agent such as Nikwax Cotton Proof and a sponge or large brush.

Preparation

Clean your tent from dirt. The tent does NOT have to dry out afterward. Put up the tent outside and pull the folds out of the canvas. You don’t want to impregnate your hand at the same time? Please put on gloves now.

Apply the agent

  • Mix Nikwax Cotton Proof in a ratio of 1: 9 with lukewarm water and mix well.
  • Apply the diluted waterproofing agent to the outside of the cotton tent with a sponge. For large tents, you can use a pressure sprayer. This is how you can also reach the roof.
  • The solution should soak the cotton fabric completely so that the inside of the tent wall is also protected.
  • Are there places where too much waterproofing agent has been applied? Rub off the excess with a damp cloth.
  • Impregnate the entire tent in one go. This will prevent stains from appearing.
  • Has some waterproofing agent landed on the windows? Remove it with a damp cloth.

Let dry

Let the cotton tent dry completely. The impregnating agent develops its water-repellent properties and its odor disappears.

Test the impregnation

Test the new waterproofing with a watering can or garden hose. Refinish areas where the water does not roll off in small droplets.

How much waterproofing agent do I need for a cotton tent?

It depends on how big your tent is and how thick the fabric is. We use around 100 ml of impregnation agent for 6 square meters of tent fabric.

  • Tip: Multiply the length x width x height of your tent. You get roughly the surface in square meters.

4. Instructions: Impregnate the pavilion

The roof of a pavilion must be impregnated so that it is protected from sun and rain. With normal-sized pavilions, this is not a problem with a stepladder and a pressure sprayer or mop.

With very large pavilions such as the Coleman Event Shelter XL with its 4.5 meters diameter, even a long arm can quickly become too short. That is why we master this challenge with a wash-in impregnation.

Which tent impregnation do I need?

You will need a water-based impregnation agent to wash it in.

We like to treat pavilions made of synthetic fibers polyester and nylon with Nikwax TX.DIRECT. Nikwax COTTON PROOF is suitable for a cotton or polycotton gazebo.

Both waterproofing agents are free of volatile organic compounds, free of fluorocarbons and reasonably affordable.
Nikwax TX.DIRECT.

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Step-by-step instructions: How to waterproof a pavilion

You need about 30 minutes for the impregnation. It is also important that the pavilion is dried thoroughly before packing it away.

Get accessories

Get a suitable water-based waterproofing agent such as Nikwax TX.DIRECT and a tub that can accommodate your pavilion.

Preparation

Clean your tent from dirt. Fill a tub with lukewarm water and add the waterproofing agent. 100 ml of agent added to 10 liters of water will be mixed well.

You don’t want to impregnate your hand? Now is the best time to put on gloves.

Wash the gazebo

  • Put your gazebo in the tub and let it soak for a few minutes.
  • Walk the gazebo with your hands, then let it soak again for a few minutes.
  • You can then knead the pavilion again. Overall, the pavilion should lie in the tub for about 15 minutes.
  • Rinse the gazebo until the water runs clear.

Let dry

Thoroughly dry the gazebo. The impregnating agent develops its water-repellent properties and its odor disappears.

Test the impregnation

Test the new waterproofing with a garden hose. If the water has not yet run off the pavilion in small drops in all places, you can repeat the wash a second time.

How much waterproofing agent do I need for a pavilion?

It depends on how big your gazebo is and how much space it needs in the tub. We use around 100 ml of impregnating agent for 10 liters of water.

  • Tip: Carefully hand washing is much gentler than washing in the machine.

5. Instructions: Impregnate the awning

Awnings are often set up longer than camping tents. They are also relatively expensive. That is why good protection from the sun and moisture is important to protect your tent from mold, mildew stains and material embrittlement.

Besides the outside of our awning, we also impregnate critical areas inside of the tent. Critical areas are areas that are exposed to moisture over a long period of time. This can happen especially in the corners and near the floor.

Which impregnation agent do I need?

Because of the large surface area of ​​an awning, we ignore small spray cans. A liquid tent impregnation, which is available in large containers with at least one liter, is better. This can save you a lot of money and work.

Grangers’ Outdoor Clothing Care Kit is ideal for awnings made of synthetic fibers polyester and nylon. For an awning made of cotton or polycotton, we use Nikwax COTTON PROOF.

We fill both impregnation agents into a pressure sprayer with an arm so that we can easily reach the roof of the awning.
Grangers Outdoor Clothing Care Kit

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Step-by-step instructions: How to waterproof an awning

It is best to waterproof your awning on a dry, windless day when the sun is not too strong.

Get accessories

Get yourself a suitable liquid impregnation, a pressure sprayer and the safety of a mouth guard so you do not breathe in the spray. This pressure sprayer works well. You also need a stepladder and a mop.

Preparation

Set up the awning, roughly pull the folds out of the tent cloth and close the zippers so that no waterproofing agent gets into the tent. Clean your awning from dirt and let it dry. You can reach hard-to-reach areas on the tent roof with an articulated mop.

Spray the tent

  • First look at the product information for your impregnation agent and carefully pour it into the pressure sprayer. The agent may be diluted beforehand. Adjust the nozzle on the pressure sprayer to create fine droplets.
  • Then apply the liquid impregnation evenly and generously to your awning with the pressure sprayer from a distance of approx. 30 cm.
  • The outside of the awning is impregnated. You can reach the roof with a stepladder.
  • Cotton tent fabric should be completely soaked with the waterproofing agent. For awnings made of synthetic fibers (polyester, nylon) a full, even layer on the fabric is sufficient.
  • Are there places where too much waterproofing agent has been applied? Rub off the excess with a damp mop.
  • The windows do not have to be impregnated. If you get any impregnation agent, remove the agent with a damp cloth.
  • Then impregnate critical areas on the inside of the awning. You can recognize critical points because they are exposed to moisture (e.g. soil moisture or condensation) for a long time in everyday camping.
  • Impregnate the entire tent in one go. This will prevent possible color differences after impregnation.

Let dry

With the door open, you can allow the awning to dry completely and air it out so that the smell of the remedy disappears.

Test the impregnation

Test the impregnation with the garden hose and rework areas where the water does not roll off.

The model is nature: Plants protect themselves with a water-repellent surface so that they can breathe and do not become too heavy.

Conclusion: regularly re-impregnate your tent

Are you wondering why you should waterproof your tent? There are many good reasons for this: Dirt does not stick to your tent so quickly. Moisture cannot penetrate the fabric. That is why the tent dries faster and is protected from mold stains and mold. Waterproofing agents also offer UV protection and thus increase the life of your tent.

With a garden hose, you can easily test how well your tent is protected. If the water rolls off in small drops, everything is fine. If a film of water forms or if the fabric gets wet, the impregnation must be renewed. In general, you should re-impregnate your tent about every two to three years.

Tents made of fabrics such as polyester, nylon or cotton can be impregnated with impregnating agents for fabric or special products for tents. The breathable properties of cotton are best preserved if you use a water-based waterproofing agent.

PVC tents should also be impregnated. There are plastic care products for this. They counteract the embrittlement of the material.

For small and medium-sized tents with up to 4 people, an impregnation spray is best suited. It is best to impregnate large tents (from 5 people), awnings, pavilions and awnings with a liquid impregnation. After you have impregnated and dried your tent, you can use a water hose to test again how well the water droplets roll off the tent.

In most cases, excellent results can be achieved after just one operation and your tent is superbly protected from rain, sun and snow!

Thank you for your interest in our guide. We wish you nice camping!

FAQs: how to waterproof a tent

Here you will find answers to questions our readers have asked.

Theoretically yes, practically no! There are wash-in impregnations that are put into the washing machine and they are very easy to use. But the water-repellent effect of such impregnations is not ideal. In addition, your tent has a sensitive coating and zippers! The likelihood is not small that it will be damaged in the washing machine.

The exception is cotton tents. Cotton is robust enough to withstand washing in the machine without damage. At least if it is washed at 30 to 40 degrees. At high temperatures, a cotton tent can “shrink” in the washing machine just like a cotton T-shirt.

Most cotton tents are too big and heavy for a normal washing machine anyway. That is why we recommend liquid impregnation for your cotton tent.

Impregnating agents have a strong odor of their own. This smell can linger in a room for a few days, especially if something goes wrong with the tent waterproofing.

Propellant impregnation sprays can create an explosive mixture with the propellant. This is a problem if the spray is concentrated in the room air in an enclosed space. In addition, waterproofing sprays are potentially hazardous to health if they are inhaled in large quantities.

Liquid impregnation tends to leave white stains when it drips onto a surface and dries. Such spots look much better out in the meadow among the daisies than on your carpet.

The tent impregnation helps with this, but that is actually not their main task. The tent is waterproof thanks to its polyurethane or silicone coating. Cotton also has a natural protection against water, because it swells with moisture and thus closes the small spaces between the fabric threads.

Impregnation can close micro-cracks in the waterproof coating and small tissue defects. When it rains for a long time, water slowly seeps through the tent wall in these areas. The impregnation prevents that. However, if the tent leaks properly because of a leaky seam or a tear in the canvas, you will need to use repair patches or seam sealers to fix it.

The impregnation protects the fabric and its coating and ensures that it stays intact longer. That is why a regularly impregnated tent keeps its waterproof properties for longer.

Yes. motorhome or RV awnings and awnings are usually made of synthetic fibers or cotton. That is why they should also be impregnated regularly. If the surface is dirty, it must be cleaned before impregnation. You can ideally clean awnings with our instructions for cleaning awnings.

No, you do not have to. Impregnating the tent floor makes little sense. After a heavy rain shower, there can be water under the tent floor. However, the tent floor is usually so thickly coated that water has no chance of getting into the tent from below.

In addition, the waterproofing spray would not adhere well to the non-absorbent surface of your tent floor. And rub off the grass and the earth under the tent very quickly.

No, the opposite is the case! A non-impregnated cotton tent soaks up a lot of water in damp weather. The water blocks the exchange of air. That is why it is important to maintain the water-repellent properties of the tent fabric for a good climate in the tent.

Tents made of synthetic fibers (polyester, nylon, PVC) are generally impregnated from the outside. After all, impregnation is supposed to protect against sun and rain. Many synthetic fiber tents cannot absorb the impregnation agent on the inside because this is where the waterproof PU coating is located.

Cotton tents are also impregnated on the outside to protect them from sun and rain, but they can also be impregnated from the inside. This can increase protection against mold and mildew in damp environments.

Yes. Some laundries and dry cleaners impregnate tents. The best thing is to just ask on site.

Many local youth organizations that organize tent camps (e.g. THW, scouts, …) also have a great deal of know-how in the field of tent maintenance. Perhaps you will find someone there who would be happy to impregnate your tent for a donation or a fee.

For large tents, a stepladder and a pressure sprayer with an arm have proven to be ideal aids for us.

Depending on the size of your tent, you can impregnate your tent. It is important that you impregnate your polyester tent from the outside. On the inside, the tent fabric is not absorbent because the waterproof PU layer is applied here.

Suitable impregnation agents for polyester:

If you want to achieve the best possible water-repellent effect, we recommend Universal impregnation spray for small tents. If the goal is a high level of UV protection, we would use Nikwax Tent & Gear Solarproof.

Shoe spray, laundry wax, baby oil, and butter – there are many readily available home remedies that can help protect all kinds of objects and tents from water.

We mostly advise against it for the following reasons:

  • Because you stay in the tent for a long time, the health aspects of the impregnation agent are important.
  • Home remedies are not tested for material compatibility with tent fabrics.
  • A tent stands in the rain and in the sun for a much longer time than, for example, a normal shoe.

Instead of shoe spray etc., we use impregnating agents for our tents that have been made for the requirements of a tent.

Yes, as long as it is a cotton tent or a tent with a high cotton content. Acetic acid clay (real name: aluminum diacetate) is a well-known agent for the impregnation of cotton.

Instructions: To impregnate your tent with acetic acid clay, mix about 2% – 3% acetic acid clay in warm water and soak your tent in the solution for 30 minutes. During this time, gently knead your tent several times and then hang it up to dry.

Acetic acid clay is available from pharmacies in liquid form or as granules.

Camping in the rain has its appeal. In this article, we explain how to waterproof a tent and what you should pay attention to when applying these…

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