Tent Maintenance – How to Waterproof and Clean Your Tent

Your tent should last you quite some time when it comes to camping, hiking, and any other activities you might use it for. 

Whether you use it regularly or a few times a year, you should expect a good lifespan from it. Of course, it doesn’t always happen that way for a number of reasons.


Personally, I used to find that water would come through far quicker than I thought and so I would check the tent and buy a new one. That’s before I learned about waterproofing a tent. Cleaning and waterproofing your tent could save you a good chunk of money, and it’s a very easy as well as practical process. Take a look at our guide and see for yourself.

What You Will Need

  • Non-abrasive sponge
  • Dust cloth
  • Cold water
  • Non-detergent soap
  • Enzyme cleaner
  • Mineral oil
  • Wet wipes or alcohol scrub
  • Dry lubricant
  • Seam sealer
  • Polyurethane sealant

The Step by Step: Cleaning

#1 What Not to Do

Before we get into detail regarding the various cleaning methods you can employ for your tent, it’s important to discuss the things you should never do. You should never put your tent in the washing machine under any circumstances.

This is because it can stretch and tear the fabric, destroying the tent and making it completely useless. The same goes for the dryer due to the intense heat, except the dryer can cause melting to occur as well as tearing.

#2 A Basic Clean

Start of the cleaning process with a very basic technique. All you need is the non-abrasive sponge, cold water, and non-detergent soap. Mix this together and gently scrub the soiled areas by hand, being especially careful on areas that are coated as well as the floor and the fly door.

You should always avoid household detergents and cleaning product such as dishwashing soap, bleach, spot removers, and laundry detergents. The reason for this is that most household soaps are perfumed, and this odour attracts a variety of creatures – everything from insects to rats. You don’t want that on your next camping trip at all. They can also damage the waterproof coating of the tent.

#3 Mildew and Mould

If your tent is becoming discoloured and starting to smell a little musty, that is a sign that mould and mildew have started to grow on the material. You don’t need to throw it away, however.

All you need is an enzyme cleaner that will work to kill the mould. Just make sure you don’t scrub too hard or you will damage the material. Sometimes, mould and mildew will leave a permanent stain, just remember that the only thing you are trying to do is stop the growth and get rid of that musty stench.

#4 Pine Sap

Pine sap is unlikely to damage your tent, but it is both messy and very sticky. The best thing to do is let it dry out and then undertake some serious spot cleaning using mineral oil. If you use this, however, remember to rinse the tent as soon as possible once the job is done.

You can also use alcohol based products to remove the stain and, once again, if you use this method, make sure you rinse the tent thoroughly once you have finished. It’s important to keep the material intact as as waterproof as possible.

#5 Spray-On treatment

At this point, you can apply a little extra treatment if you wish. The most popular choice is a UV repellent spray that works to protect you from the sun’s rays. This can be really beneficial for summer camping, especially if you have made plans to visit a hot country where the sun is likely to be out for the vast majority of the day. The spray should also help to boost the water resistance.

#6 Tackling Zippers and Poles

Zippers and poles are often the bane of cleaning. All you really need is a dry dust cloth to brush off the excess mud, but be prepared to spend extra time on the zippers if there is a lot caked into each section.

If the areas are really tough, dampen the cloth in warm water and see if it helps to ease off the excess mud. It’s important to get between the zipper teeth, as this will help to reduce the overall wear on them.

Once this is done, invest in some dry lubricant for outdoor use and apply it to the zippers and the ends of each pole. This will help everything stay in top working condition as well as help with waterproofing. Ignore the hikers and campers who say they use wax – they forget that wax attracts a lot of dirt.

The Step by Step: Waterproofing

#1 Reseal the Seams

First, you need to make sure the tent is 100% dry. Often, this means leaving it out in the sun for 24 hours to make sure it is crisp and without any damp.

Once this is done, you can inspect the seams of the tent for damage. Most tents come with sealed seams to keep them waterproof, and it is important to inspect them regularly as a result.

If you have found an area where the seal has failed and the tape is coming away, you can get to work immediately. Peel the loose tape off very carefully and, in its place, put some seam sealer where the tape used to be on the outside of the fabric. You can also use the seam sealer to fix tiny holes in your tent if they appear.

#2 Making Sure You Pick the Right Product

Before you can fully waterproof your tent, you need to make sure you have the right product. While most tents are made from the same combination of polyurethane and/or polyester/nylon, there are some tents that are made from nylon infused with silicon.

These tents never need to be recoated, so you would be wasting your time on one of those. Check the material that the tent is made from, and ensure you purchase the correct waterproof coating for the job.

#3 Reapplying the Waterproof Coating

To Conclude

Maintaing your tent is key for a long and happy life with your tent. Whether you plan on camping a lot or a little, this guide can really help your tent to live that much longer and become a more durable form of shelter. Taking care of your tent is good for your camping trips, but it’s also great for your wallet.

What did you think of our tent cleaning and reproofing guide? Is there anything that you would have added? We love hearing from you, so let us know in the comments below.