Why is My Tent Sticky & How to Actually Fix it?

I will always remember that day I took my tent out of the basement, after a whole year no one used it. As I’ve tested it back home, I noticed something was different – it was hard to spread it since the folded parts were stuck to each other. At first, I wasn’t paying significant attention to it – I thought it’s a natural behavior after a prolonged storage period. Yet, when I was camping, I noticed the tent does not repel water as it used to be. Some parts got soaked with water, so my gear was full of damp in the mornings. So why is my tent sticky and what does it have to do with water resistance?

That incidence got me to research the topic a little deeper.

Tents tend to be sticky because they are stored wet or too tight. Wet packing would end up with a sticky, mold covered canvas, while compact storage would prevent off-gassing. 

If the water resistance was compromised, there are good chances the polyurethane coating got worn out. In this article, I will describe each scenario deeply, and present you several methods to re-waterproof your tent.

Stored Wet

One reason for your tent to be sticky after a long period of storage is when it was packed wet.

Just as we finish camping, the easiest thing to do is just throw everything away to the closest, packed up messily until our next adventure.

We very often don’t take extra time to ensure our equipment is dry and adequately packed. When packed in a wet condition, damp which covers your tent simply got nowhere to evaporate. 

That might also cause the bad smell, caused by mold, which you’ve probably noticed.

If that description matches your situation, the right approach would be cleaning it up as soon as possible.

Spread your tent completely, or perhaps even pitch it up, to make sure you don’t miss a spot. Take a soft sponge and use non-detergent soap to clean it up.

An in-depth guide could be found in the link given previously.

Stored Too Tight

When packed up tightly, tents may develop that stickiness which might ruin them completely.

That is mainly due to the Outgassing/Offgassing phenomenon. If you are not familiar with the term, I highly suggest you keep on reading. Outgassing is the process in which gas molecules evaporate from different kind of materials. 

One typical example is the smell of a new car.

You are probably familiar with that particular smell characteristic for almost every new car, even when made by entirely different manufacturers.

That smell is mainly due to gas particles of different kind of chemicals used in the car making process. Since car manufacturers often use the same chemicals, the smell of new cars is also similar.

When tents are stored too tight, chemicals which were used to make them, plasticizers in particular, just got nowhere to evaporate. 

Not only your tent would be sticky, that might also be bad for your health. When you are done using your tent, you should make sure to store it properly.

Do not use the compact sac in which the tent was when you first bought it – use a meshed sack or fold it loosely into a plastic bag instead.

The Fly’s Waterproofing Degradation

Researching the stickiness topic across the internet brought me to the conclusion that the degradation of the PU coating is the most common reason for the phenomenon. 

If your tent is quite old and was stored for an extended period, there is a good chance that might be the reason for it being sticky.

To understand that issue, we must first realize what PU coating is. Polyurethane is merely a synthetic material which can be found in different forms – in our case liquid.

In the process of tents producing, manufacturers encountered with a problem – they wanted to improve the tent’s water resistance. However, they also wished to maintain its ventilation.

To do so, they came up with the Polyurethane idea – by only applying a thin layer of that material, they turned the fabric impressively water resistant and breathable. 

Nevertheless, that coating doesn’t last forever. There are means, though, to ensure it lasts longer – by storing it appropriately as mentioned above, for example.

Yet, if the tent is too old, the natural degradation process comes into play. There is no way to avoid that; however, there are ways to go around it – they will be explained later on.

How to Fix a Sticky Tent?

I remember when I first had to deal with my sticky tent – I was utterly frustrated since I felt my money just got to waste.

I was looking for a way to fix this and found some suggestions from people who experienced the same issue.

Nevertheless, I will mention now that the following suggested solutions are not going to fix the waterproof issue, in a case the PU coating got ruined. 

Instead, I will focus on the stickiness issue solely now, and deal with the compromised water resistance later on.

The primary approach from this angle is using different kinds of powders. One that I will personally recommend is baby powder since it is cheap and quite safe regarding health. 

Take a decent amount of powder and apply it evenly across the outer section of your tent.

I wouldn’t spread it internally, though, since it could cause annoying irritations when inhaled regularly.

Other suggestions I’ve encountered were using Lithium powder or Graphite, although I am not 100% certain they are considered safe when inhaled – I’ve found baby powder to be most gentle and neutral on that matter. 

Yet, the powder approach is mainly suitable in a case the stickiness caused by PU coating degradation.

If you’ve stored your tent while still wet and the situation is mainly due to mold – cleaning it up thoroughly would be the most appropriate approach.

How Can I Restore It’s Water Resistance?

By now we have discussed how to fix the tent’s stickiness solely.

However, as I’ve already mentioned – this will not improve its waterproofness at all, in a case the Polyurethane layer was compromised.

To restore the desired water resistance, you should first make sure the PU coating was eradicated – that would also be explained later on. 

Then, you may take several steps to regain it. Before applying any of the following products, you should first make sure that you clean up your tent entirely and provide it enough time to dry – dirt traces or damp would profoundly interrupt the recoating process.

Tent Sure

When it comes to waterproofing your tent, one commonly used product is Tent Sure, which can be bought cheaply from Amazon (also sold under the name Gear Aid Seam Grip + TF Tent Fabric Sealant). 

The material will dry up to a non-visible layer which will also maintain your tent flexibility. When it comes to floor sealing Tent Sure may be beneficial, however, evidently not enough.

If you wish to seal your floor completely, you should also use a couple of seams.

When it comes to where correctly to apply it – manufacturer’s recommendations indicate that you should do it on the inside of your tent – that would just work better.

While this one is mainly used for waterproofing tents, you may also use it to different kinds of products.

If your backpack or jacket suffers from several leaks – give the Tent Sure a chance, you might be surprised how effective that is.

Nikwax

Another typical product on the field of waterproofing is Nikwax.

What I like about this one is that it improves water repel while maintaining breathability, which is so important when it comes to tents. 

If your tent does not breathe appropriately, you may find yourself suffering from condensation. I can’t remember how many times my sleeping bag got damp from that exact reason.

In opposed to Tent Sure, the Nikwax should be sprayed on the outside of your tent. 

When spraying it, you should also make sure to do it evenly, leaving no area untouched or otherwise – over scattered.

Leave it to dry for a couple of minutes, to let the new coating layer to stick in. Then just wipe off the excess spots and watch the magic happens.

I’ve also researched a few consumers questions about this particular product. I’ve found that there are two main versions for this one – the spray and the washing machine type.

When comparing between the two, reviews showed the spray type is much more preferred, beneficial and easy to use.

How to Pile Off The Current Coat?

First, it is important to realize that removing the remaining of the Polyurethane is a long and challenging process. 

When you find your tent in a sticky condition, suspected due to Polyurethane degradation, it is almost sure that only part of the coating got worn out, while the rest still remains.

If you wish to regain that water resistance, you may try using the products mentioned above as it is – perhaps that is all that necessary.

Nevertheless, if you wish to be more thorough, you should first remove the PU remainings completely.

I will say now that I’ve never personally tried this; however, forums searching brought the same technique a few times.

First, you should soak the entire tent in a hot ammonia/water solution (about a quart of 10% ammonia in about 3 gallons of hot water for about 10 min). 

While wearing protective gloves, merely brush the nylon until the solution starts to turn milky gradually.

You should also consider that this process might remove your tent’s color/logo; however, its general quality shouldn’t be compromised.

Then, take off the tent and soak it in clean, cold water so the ammonia will be washed off. Leave and there for a couple a minutes before taking it out to dry.

If you feel the ammonia is still there, you might as well repeat the washing process several times.

Then, use Tent Sure or Nikwax to reproof your tent, since now it is entirely non-water-resistant.

Should I Buy a New One?

Frankly, that is a hard question, since the issue might be very subjective. If I had to choose – getting a new tent wouldn’t be the first step I would take. 

That is because a tent is an expensive purchase, and I wouldn’t like to give up on it so quickly.

Although, it also depends on the tent’s age. In a case the tent is old and served you or your family a decent amount of campings, I would probably go with a new one. If you are looking for a large tent for your family, you might find my article on that matter useful.

If the PU coating got ruined, I think you should first try fixing it with Nikwax or Tent Sure, since they are much cheaper and could be found easily.

If that didn’t work, buying a new tent would be an inevitable choice. The coating removal process might not suit everyone as well.

Honestly, brushing my tent in an ammonia container isn’t something I see myself doing – I would save the trouble and buy a new one.

Yet, I can’t general my own opinion on each and one of you – that is why I’ve chosen to present each reasonable method I could find.

Conclusions

There are 3 main reasons for your tent stickiness.

First, it might be the case when stored in a wet condition. This way water got nowhere to evaporate, ending with the sticky feeling and perhaps even mold. If that is the case, you should clean it up thoroughly and ventilate it outside to dry.

Another reason is tightly packing – maybe by using the original sack in which the tent came with. When stored too tight, gas cannot evaporate from plasticizers, ending up with gradual deterioration. When you pack it up next time, make sure to use a meshed sack, or try folding it loosely.

When the PU coating degrades, you will notice your tent does not repel water as it used to be. Some products improve fabrics water resistance, such as Nikwax or Tent Sure. However, it is recommended to remove the PU remainings beforehand.

I hope my article answered your questions. If it hasn’t, let me know all about it by leaving a comment below!

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