Waterproofing Canvas Tents: The Ultimate Guide

 

Waterproofing Canvas Tents - Cover Image

There is something special about sleeping in a proper cotton canvas tent, but that special feeling is hard to explain. It’s just... comfortable. Perhaps it’s the smell. Or maybe it’s the fact it just feels like living breathing organic material. Alternatives like polyester just don’t have that same feel.

Whatever it is, it works.

For many of us, it represents real camping. It takes us back to our childhoods. Good wholesome memories enjoying the great outdoors, which we were lucky to have.

In addition to its feel and ability to invoke memories of the good old days, it is simply effective. For a country like Australia, where hard wearing protection from the elements is essential, cotton canvas is the perfect option.

However there is one key factor in the success or failure of canvas - you need to keep it ALIVE! And there is one sure as rain way to keep it alive. You need to season it. Seasoning canvas is an absolute must. There is no other way to achieve full canvas tent waterproofing.

Seasoning and Waterproofing Canvas

Seasoning and waterproofing canvas is a secret that many have forgotten.

People normally have two trains of thought about what seasoning and waterproofing canvas means. The first group of people say you have to wet it, while the second group say you need to spray it with sealing chemicals.

Well the truth is, group one is half right, and group two are completely wrong!

In this article, we explain the true secret of seasoning and waterproofing canvas. This is completely different to treating canvas!

Trayon Canvas Seasoning and Waterproofing Tips

We have been giving our customers the rundown on how to keep canvas alive and well for decades. We explain this during the handover of every one of our slide on campers, which all come with canvas components. We only use Australian made cotton canvas. Australian made canvas is the perfect match for our Australian made campers.

In fact, we’ve been using the same canvas set up on our slide on campers since 1994! That's the same brand, thickness configuration, sewing, measurements and methods. Why? Because they work. They work so well there is no point in changing.

For this reason, Trayon is uniquely positioned to advise on how best to go about seasoning and waterproofing canvas. This Method can be easily extended to undertake any canvas tent waterproofing. Heed this advice and you are well on the way to finding the full benefits of camping!

Australian Canvas - why is it the best in the world?

When we talk canvas, there’s canvas, and then there is canvas!

There’s the cheap stuff, and then there is proper Australian made cotton canvas. There is no doubt that Aussie canvas is seen today as the best canvas worldwide.

Why?

Because, in Australia, we are exposed to some of the harshest conditions in the world. Climate, terrain, animals, you name it. They are severe and extreme. And that is exactly the reason why Australian cotton canvas is so good! It has to be good, or it wouldn’t survive.

Sun and moisture in particular pose a great threat to canvas health. The UV rays streaming down from the heavens are extremely damaging to unmaintained canvas. Moisture has grave impacts when a canvas tent is folded up for storage while wet.

On top of all that, there is the acidity associated with things like bird droppings, bat droppings (aka guano), tree sap, and cicada urine. These biological agents break down the waterproofing products in canvas.

Trayon’s Front Line Canvas Protection

Waterproofing Canvas Tents - Watering

Trayon have a number of strategies to combat all of these threats to canvas health. The front line of protection is our removable camper fly. It reflects solar absorbents through silver material which has reflective properties. It stops moisture from entering the majority of the canvas, ensuring it gets packed up nice and dry, and importantly, it acts as a shield against biological agents.

The reason this is so important is because once biological agents have been splattered on cotton canvas, there is only one way to get them out - hot water and a soft brush! You simply can’t add cleaning chemicals to cotton canvas, it can do more damage than good.

The Trayon fly is synthetic polyester, so even if it gets covered in biological agents, you can just lay it out and scrub with a broom and dishwasher detergent. You can't do that with cotton canvas.

The fly only takes 10 seconds to add to your Trayon set up, and your canvas components are 100% protected from the elements. Then, when ready to pack up camp you don’t have to wait for canvas to dry out. Once you remove the fly from the camper, you can roll it up seperately.

The Canvas Competition

In recent years there has been an influx of cheaper canvas, which has done two things. One, it has ruined the concept of canvas and caused people to steer clear from anything with canvas. Two, local canvas manufacturers have started trying to compete directly with cheaper canvas, by creating their own cheaper canvas products.

There are however a few which have maintained their world ranking canvas reputation. Perhaps the best known is Bradmills, and it is no surprise that it is the canvas supplier Trayon use. High canvas quality = Bradmills.

Bradmills Canvas

Bradmills have been making high quality Australian canvas materials for over 50 years!

Their canvas is made in Melbourne, sown in Maryborough by the Trayon seamstress, and then delivered to the Trayon headquarters. It’s been the same way since 1994! So we can testify that you really you get what you pay for.

Bradmills canvas is tailor made to cope with Australian conditions, and we don’t say that lightly!

They do offer a Bradmills waterproofing canvas chemical treatment, but they do not recommend this unless the canvas is more than 5 years old or it is seeping water. However, if you season the canvas properly, using the method we are about to explain, you will never need to do this.

What Does Seasoning and Waterproofing Canvas Mean?

Seasoning is a perpetual maintenance requirement for canvas. It dramatically extends canvas life span, and puts water resistance through the roof!

Seasoning and waterproofing canvas is all about conditioning it through the use of natural elements. It works because canvas is made from a natural product (cotton), which means it reacts to natural elements. For example, heat, cold, wet and dry. These elements make canvas react in different ways:

  • Heat - it will relax, expand and go soft
  • Cold - it will go stiff, hard and shrink
  • Wet - it will expand
  • Dry - it pull tight

A combination of one or two of the above will make it do something different again.If you know what these elements do to canvas, you can make the canvas do whatever you want!

You can then use this to change the structure of the cotton fibres to close all gaps and make it completely waterproof.

How Often Should You Season Canvas?

Many people season canvas just once and expect it to live forever. In reality, it is an ongoing maintenance requirement which should be done once straight after you buy it, at your earliest convenience, and then once every 12 months after that, regardless of use during that time. This is the only way to ensure full long term canvas tent waterproofing.

Some canvases need seasoning once a year, while in other situations you may need to do it again after the first time, two or three months later. It really depends on where you’re taking the camper. For example, some people live in the desert while others on the coast. The conditions will affect how often the canvas needs to be seasoned (heat cold wet dry, remember?).

If you don't season it at least once a year - the canvas will likely start to pull tight to one corner. To combat the risks of this, Trayon has press studs on our flip down weather skirt around the perimeter of the camper. Press studs ensure the canvas is attached to the right part of the camper every time. As opposed to bungee straps which can move, or velcro which will not attach the same way each time, or will completely rip off.

How do you tell if canvas needs seasoning?

A sure sign that a Trayon slide on camper needs seasoning is when it pulls tight around each corner. If any two press studs on each corner are struggling to be pressed in, then the canvas probably needs seasoning.

How to season Australian Canvas?

Here is the procedure that will preserve Aussie canvas for a looooong time. This seasoning procedure wont work on cheaper canvas, and it wont work on ripstop canvas at all, where a completely different process is required.

The seasoning key - the elements - heat, cold, wet dry.

This is an old army trick which very few people in the public know.

Seasoning and Waterproofing Canvas Step 1 - Preparation

 

zip up windows

At 7 or 8 AM on a day that is predicted to be nice and hot and sunny with 0% chance of rain, open your slide on camper or tent (remove the camper fly if is attached). This will expose the canvas to the nice warm sun.

Zip up wall windows, and securely close any doors or other openings.

You need to make sure the canvas is as tightly stretched out as possible. If you are seasoning a Trayon slide on camper, this can be achieved by pushing the two center peak adjustments poles up as hard as you can go. Then, make sure all press studs in, the bed/awning is level and you're ready to go!

Waterproofing Canvas Tents - Center PolesWaterproofing Canvas Tents - Press stud and stretching

 

Seasoning and Waterproofing Canvas Step 2 - The First Soak

 

This bit is simple - soak the canvas to the bone! This first time you turn the hose on the canvas, it will be like water beading off a duck's back. This is due to the waterproofing agents. But now it is time to teach it a lesson. Soak every square inch, until it is so heavily waterlogged it can’t absorb another drop. Then walk away and make a cuppa.

Seasoning and Waterproofing Canvas Step 3 - Canvas Bake

Let the sun dry out the canvas, and then heat it up. You want the canvas completely baked. After a cup of tea and a movie, the canvas should be hot to the touch, and at this point it is ready for the next seasoning step.

Seasoning and Waterproofing Canvas Step 4 - The Second Soak

 

Once the canvas is baked and piping hot, re-stretch and tighten everything, to ensure the canvas is as stretched out and tight as possible. When seasoning a Trayon slide on camper, push the centre posts up even further than before - you’ll get 5 or 10 more mm than previously.

Go back outside, close windows, flaps and doors, and soak it a second time!

This stage is like shock treatment. The canvas is hot pliable and relaxed, and then shocked by cold wet water. This completes the range of elements to - heat cold wet dry!

The second soak will see the canvas soak up as much water as possible. Its threads will swell out, closing all gaps between individual cotton threads and seams. It will try and pull tight, but because you have secured it properly and slightly streched it,the canvaspulls tight against itself and completely seals everything.

Then, just when you thought it was all over, leave it to completely dry and heat up once again!!

Seasoning and Waterproofing Canvas Step 5 - The Last Soak

Waterproofing Canvas Tents - Let it dry

We always recommend a third soak. It’s even in our Trayon owners manual!

After the final soak at around 3 PM, leave the canvas to dry for a final time. Around 6PM, fold the camper or tent up, and it’s good to go for another 12 months!

If you do that and don't apply any treatment chemicals, that canvas will last a looooong time, and will create new memories of real camping for all involved!

Seasoning and Waterproofing Canvas - Further Information

If you require further information about how or when to season canvas, and how best to do so with a Trayon slide on camper, give us a call or swing us an email at the Trayon headquarters.

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