September 11th, 2020
What Treatments Should I Look For In a Canvas Tent? (Wall Tents, Bell Tents, Cabin Tents)
Essential Treatments to Ensure the Longevity of Your Canvas Tent
Canvas tents are extremely durable and can last decades but like any equipment or tool, they require care to ensure longevity. This is especially the case with wall tents that are designed to act as semi-permanent structures for an extended period of time outdoors.
There are a variety of treatments that can be administered to a cotton canvas tent fabric that will increase its durability and resistance to harsh weather conditions, like heavy rain or snowfall, or even flame from a stove.
Treating your canvas tent will not only protect it, but allow the tent to maintain its size. An untreated tent tends to shrink each time it gets wet, an average of 10% from its original size, and will easily be subject to mold growth if not completely dried before being stored.
Water Repellent Treatment
Cotton canvas has some natural water-resistant qualities but heavy downpours or frequent showers may eventually penetrate even the most tightly woven fabric. This is where waterproofing treatments come into play.
Before setting off with your canvas wall tent, bell tent or cabin tent on a trip for the first time, it’s good practice to season the tent. This is done by wetting the tent, usually by hosing it down completely, and letting it dry. Each time the cotton is soaked, the fibers expand and fill the holes between the weaves. This process creates a natural seal that makes the canvas water-resistant to light rain.
The double-fill army duck cotton canvas that is commonly used as the fabric of choice for wall tents today is much more leak-resistant than other types of cotton canvas, but this natural water-resistance does lessen with time as the tent is worn and stretched. The natural seal is also not adequate for heavy rains even in its prime condition as the fibers will still soak through until they eventually leak.
Whether your tent is used to or needs to endure frequent rains, a waterproofing treatment can help to keep you and your possessions dry. These treatments come as either a dry silicone or a paraffin treatment and can be administered to different degrees of resistance.
Although completely waterproofing a tent may initially seem logical, this option takes away the breathability of the cotton fabric and therefore isn’t always necessary, or should be explored as an option only when absolutely required. For most situations, a water-resistant or water repellent treatment should suffice.
Generally, there are three degrees of waterproofing. The lowest level is water-resistant fabric, which utilizes a tight weave resistant that’s enough for light rains as it will take some time before the fibers soak through.
The second degree of waterproofing is a water-repellent fabric, which is what we use at White Duck. This level of waterproofing is achieved with a breathable finish that gives the fabric an added layer of protection without completely sealing off the airflow. While not completely waterproof in the chance of a rainstorm or persistent showers, this level will repel the water, making it bead and drip off of the fabric.
The third and highest level of waterproofing is a completely waterproof seal. This treatment will keep all water out, but it creates a seal that will not allow for any breathability in the fabric. Also, Paraffin wax that’s used in the application of this finish adds significant weight to the tent fabric.
The Difference Between Waterproof, Water Resistant and Water Repellent
- Water resistant: the ability to resist the penetration of water to some degree, but not entirely.
- Water repellent: not easily penetrated by water, especially as a result of being treated with a surface coating.
- Waterproof: impervious to water; it doesn’t allow water to pass through.
Fire Retardant Treatment
The other type of treatment commonly used on wall tents is a fire retardant treatment. Cotton canvas tents are easily susceptible to burning, so it’s always a good idea to opt for a fire retardant fabric when it’s available. It’s worth noting that tents that offer a fire retardant treatment must meet the CPAI 84 fire retardant code.
Once a canvas tent is treated, it will only be flammable as long as there is a flame held to the canvas. As soon as the flame is removed, the fabric will cease to burn.
A fire retardant treatment will ideally come from the manufacturer. Personally applying a fire retardant treatment to a canvas tent risks plugging up the holes between the threads in the fabric, which will in turn block the breathability of the fabric.
Mold and Mildew Resistant Treatment
Mold and mildew are types of fungus that can quickly evolve in damp conditions, and cotton canvas tents are particularly susceptible to this. Cotton takes much longer to dry than synthetics like polyester and nylon, and not allowing a tent to completely dry can quickly bring about mold and mildew.
Mold and mildew can grow in any environment that is above freezing, so it isn’t uncommon and its development also usually isn’t the fault of any one person. However, there are measures that can be taken to help prevent the growth of these unwanted fungi on your canvas tent and there are certainly also things that can be done if, by chance, they do begin to formulate.
Fortunately, the canvas fabric can be treated to be mold and mildew resistant, and there are also cleaners available that assist in removing mold or mildew after they develop on the fabric.
UV Resistant Treatment
If your canvas tent is exposed to direct sunlight for an extended period of time, UV radiation can deteriorate the canvas fabric.
One way to prevent this is to take the necessary measures when setting up the tent. This could include setting the tent up in a shady area or installing a flysheet on the tent to protect the fabric.
It always helps, though, if the canvas fabric has been treated for UV resistance. This allows you to have a more stress-free experience out in nature, without having to worry too much about the effects of sunlight.
Our Proprietary Phoenix Finish
White Duck offers a proprietary Phoenix finish on all canvas tents, including the canvas wall tents, bell tents and cabin tents. This Phoenix finish is impregnated onto the surface of the fabric and the chemical concentrate sits between the cotton pores of the fabric, allowing the canvas to breathe while also remaining much lighter with more precise coverage than traditional wax treatments.
The finish entails the fabric being treated for water repellency and UV and mold & mildew resistance. On most tents, a fire retardant option is also available.
Written by Emma Cuisance
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