Canvas Tent Maintenance – Waterproofing, Cleaning, Repairing

canvas tent on prairie

Canvas tents have been around for centuries and for good reason.  These tents offer a lot of benefits that you just can’t get from other types of tents.

This being said, you won’t receive any of these benefits if you don’t take care of your canvas tent.  Luckily, this post is here to help.  On the rest of this page, we’ll go over everything you need to know about canvas tent maintenance.

Here is what we’ll cover:

  • Waterproofing a canvas tent.
  • Cleaning a canvas tent.
  • Repairing a canvas tent.
  • Canvas tent preventative maintenance.

Waterproofing A Canvas Tent

One of the best features of a canvas tent is the fact that it’s breathable.  This makes canvas tents comfortable to sleep in as it allows water vapors to escape.  As a result, you end up with much less condensation compared to those sleeping in a polyester or nylon tent.

The downside to this feature is that a canvas tent won’t be waterproof when you first buy it.  To make it waterproof, you’ll have to do something known as weathering.

Weathering A Canvas Tent

Canvas is a woven material that will expand after it’s exposed to water.  This expansion fills in any gaps there might be between the weaves of the cloth.

When the cloth dries, it tightens up and the weaves are pulled in tighter on each other.

Of course, this process doesn’t happen instantly.  For this reason, a new canvas tent that has not been weathered yet will be a leaky tent.

To get around this issue, you’ll simply need to expose your tent to water before you head out on your first trip.  Ideally, you’ll expose it to water multiple times so that it can go through the process of expanding and tightening until it is has become completely waterproof.

When you’re going through this process, you’ll find that the seams of the tent tend to take longer to season.  This is normal as these areas have larger gaps and therefore take more seasoning before they become completely waterproof.

How to Weather A Canvas Tent

The best way to weather the tent is to set it up and leave it out during a long rainstorm.  After the rainstorm passes, let the tent dry out and then expose it again.  This process can take a while, especially during a dry spell, but it is the most effective way to season a canvas tent.

Alternatively, you can get the process started by using your garden hose.  Unfortunately, this won’t always work.

The reason for this is that you need to expose your tent to water for a long period of time.  This is especially true if the tent has been coated with a waterproofing spray beforehand.

If you’re finding your canvas tent is taking a while to become waterproof, this could be your issue.  Just give it some more time out in the weather and before you know it, you’ll have a comfortable, breathable, and waterproof canvas tent to enjoy for years to come.

Cleaning a Canvas Tent

Cleaning a canvas tent is often more about what not to do rather than what to do.  This is because harsh cleaning methods can damage a canvas tent.

Here is what not to do when cleaning your canvas tent.

  • Don’t use a high-pressure hose.
  • Don’t use hot water.
  • Don’t scrub the tent.
  • Don’t use solvents or detergents.

Using a high-pressure hose can damage the fibers of a canvas tent.  For this reason, it’s best not to use a spray that is stronger than what you might find during a thunderstorm.

The same reasoning holds true for scrubbing a canvas tent.  Gently wipe off dirt and grime but never scrub the tent as you might damage the tent’s fibers.

The use of solvents, detergents, and even hot water can ruin a canvas tent’s waterproofing.

In some instances, you might find that you just can’t get the tent clean with water alone.  This is especially true when dealing with tree sap and bird droppings.

In these cases, it’s usually best to let the sap and droppings dry so that you can scrape them off.  Check to make sure it’s still waterproof afterward and apply a silicone-based repellent if it isn’t.

Repairing a Canvas Tent

One of the best features of a canvas tent is the fact that it can easily be repaired.  Tears, rips, holes, and issues with waterproofing are generally the main repairs you’ll have to make on a canvas tent.

Patch kits in conjunction with adhesive can create permanent repairs while patch kits alone can create semi-permanent fixes.  Bring a patch kit with you on your trip and you’ll be able to create semi-permanent repairs while you’re out in the field.

For longer tears, you’ll need to do some sewing.  In this case, it may be better to visit a professional repair shop but if you’re good with a needle, you could always try to do it yourself.

After this tear is re-sewn, you’ll still have to use a sealant on the new seam to waterproof it.

Canvas Tent Preventative Maintenance

Canvas tents can last a lifetime but they won’t be able to do this by themselves.  To get the most out of your canvas tent, you’ll have to do some preventative maintenance.

Here are some thoughts to keep in mind when caring for your canvas tent.

  • A canvas tent must be dried out before it is stored.
  • Mildew needs to be removed quickly.
  • Clean your zipper slides.
  • Your zippers may need to be lubricated.
  • Metal poles, grommets, and D-rings may need to be lubricated.
  • Use a tent footprint.

Put your tent away before it dries out and your tent will develop mold and mildew.  This is difficult to remove and it can leave permanent stains on your tent.

If you do find mildew on your canvas tent, remove it quickly.  Use a cleaner like Star Brite that is specifically designed to clean canvas.  Cleaning agents like bleach, vinegar, and Oxyclean might remove the mildew but they’ll also cause damage to your tent.

You’ll want to clean and lubricate your zipper slides, metal poles, grommets, and D-rings as well.  This will keep them from getting rusty and will keep them functioning better as well.

Lastly, consider using a tent footprint underneath your canvas tent.  This will reduce the wear and tear on your tent and will reduce the number of repairs you have to make in the future.

Storing a Canvas Tent

  • Don’t store your tent in an area of high humidity.
  • Don’t store in a high-heat area.
  • Don’t leave your tent out in the sun.

A large canvas tent isn’t always the easiest thing to store but it’s important that you store it correctly.  Store it somewhere with a lot of humidity and you could easily end up with mold.

Store your canvas tent in an area with high heat and you’ll reduce the longevity of your tent.  This is especially true if you leave your tent out in the sun as UV rays will essentially damage everything over time.

Christopher Schopf

Christopher Schopf like to write about hiking, camping, snowshoeing, kayaking, and anything else that gets him outside.

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