How to Care for a Tent

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How to Care for a Tent

A tent is an investment to begin with, and a pride and joy as it becomes associated with great holiday experiences. 

Tents are a popular category on eBay, and this guide is about making your purchase last in optimum condition. That means taking steps to guard against leaking, tearing, mildew, discolouration or pole damage. 

To be effective the action has to be well informed and the products used should be fit for purpose.  Best practice means simply devoting a little extra attention to the tent at key points in the camping cycle:

  1. After purchase
  2. Before setting out on a trip
  3. Staying at the campsite
  4. Packing up
  5. After returning home.  

After purchase

As soon as possible waterproof all seams with a seam sealer recommended by the manufacturer. A sample tube may well come with the tent.This applies particularly to used tents, but even if a new tent says it is waterproof and that all the seals have been treated and sealed, it’s still worth taking this precaution. Even a premium four-season tent can leak when it rains.

Practice setting up your tent.  Don’t wait to arrive at a campsite when it’s getting dark or raining to figure out how the poles work. Make the mistakes at home. Improper setup can cause tents to sag, break poles, cut guy lines and rip tents.  Learn how to erect it. If the tent is made of untreated polycotton, leave it standing to weather it. Getting repeatedly wet or dry allows the cotton fibres to swell naturally and close up any tiny holes that would otherwise leak.

Before Setting Out

Here is a check list of items to take along which will help keep the tent in good, intact condition and solve any tent care emergencies that might crop up.

Ground cloth.  

Sometimes called a footprint or groundsheet protector, this can be a sheet of low cost builder’s plastic sheeting or tarpaulin to spread under the tent when pitching it or putting it away. It keeps the main tent fabric off the grass where it could pick up grass or mud stains. If the ground is particularly poor, you can leave it underneath the groundsheet during the holiday to prevent any stone or root from piercing the floor of the proper groundsheet. Small sheets of the same plastic can be used around the doors and underneath muddy boots, backpacks and soggy clothing.

Gaffer/duct tape

This handy stuff can be used for a number of field repairs.  Duct tape can patch a small hole on a tent or puncture in a groundsheet.  It can hold a zip closed if one breaks.  A splintered fibreglass pole can be mended by wrapping the splintered section.  A pole with a broken connecting cord can also be taped together.  If backpacking, carry six to twelve feet of duct tape for these and other field repairs.

Spare pole  

The most common damage and subsequent repair to a modern tent is a broken or bent pole. It is always handy to have a spare. Some manufacturers supply an extra section of pole with their tents, or they can be bought. If you are buying a used spare pole, double-check to be sure that it matches in size and fit.

Sewing kit 

Split seams or guy line anchors can come lose as a result of tripping over a line or putting just a little too much stress on the seams of a tent. A small sewing kit that includes some strong thread will enable you to deal with most simple repairs of this type. Special camping repair kits are available.

Seam sealer  

Seals can sometimes spring a leak but are easy to repair with proprietary seam sealer. Don’t try to seal seams until the tent is completely dry. Paint the sealer on to the seam and give it time to dry – a day or two is best so do the job well before a weekend away.

Tent patches  

Self-adhesive tent patches are available in assorted fabrics and colours from the manufacturer and most tents will contain a little piece of the tent’s fabric for more permanent patching. The secret of a neat repair is to make sure that the area round the tear or hole is clean and dry. Then get somebody inside the tent to hold a solid flat object (a chopping board or book both work well) against the fabric so there is something firm to push against to get your patch to stick flat and firm without creases or bubbles.  Finally, give the patch and the area around it a good spray of re-proofer to keep your tent waterproof for the rest of your holiday.

At the campsite

  • Pitching Pitch the tent so all the panels are tight but not overstressed. Flapping will damage a tent panel and stress will pull at the seams. Incorrectly placed pegs can aggravate this and can pull out, creating yet more damage. Do not pitch under trees that may shed limbs and sap. Ensure that there are no sharp stones or twigs that might pierce the groundsheet.
  • Zips should be treated with respect. Don’t tread on them and do wash any mud or grit off as soon as possible. If a zip starts sticking, try not to force it. There are special lubricants on the market to free it up, or use beeswax.
  • Fabric Try not to touch the inside of your tent.  The oils on the skin are slightly corrosive by nature and can affect the waterproofing of the tent. Detergents are designed to allow water to penetrate grease and muck so that it can be washed away. If detergent gets on to a tent it will do what it is designed to do and let water in. Don’t even let children blow bubbles round the tent (if they ‘pop’ on the fabric there could be a damp patch later). Avoid drying wet towels on the side of the tent in case some detergent has been left from the towel’s last wash.
  • Ventilation On a cold night it is tempting to close up all of the windows and flaps of a tent tight but this can cause another problem. One person asleep can sweat and breathe out about a cup of fluid. Four people can release almost a quart. When the inside of the tent becomes warmer than the outside air, this moisture can start to condense on the inside of tent. It could then linger and cause mildew when the tent is packed away.  Make sure you have some ventilation points open to help reduce condensation.

Packing up

  • Cleaning Before packing away the tent it is important to ensure that it is scrupulously clean. Sweep away inner debris and dirt. Ensure all food crumbs, stones and any other items are removed. Clean the tent poles, zips and any thicker areas by using a dry cloth. This should be enough to remove any built-on debris or caked on-mud, without causing the metal in the zips or the poles to rust or erode.
  • Washing Ensure that any stains or spills are taken off the tent. Use a technical tent wash mixed with water to clean the tent. Do not use a detergent, which can strip the protective qualities from a tent and make it fade quicker. Tackle the bulk of the tent with a thick sponge and pay attention to poles and footprints which can also pick up debris.
  • Airing Let the tent fully air hours before departure from the campsite. Hopefully this can be done on a hot or warm day to get the quickest and best results. Even if the tent hasn’t been rained on, it is beneficial to thoroughly clean and dry it. Open up any compartments or windows and the flysheet in order to allow fresh air to circulate and allow condensation to evaporate.
  • Checking Make sure everything has been accounted for, including poles and pegs.  Pegs left around can damage campsite mowers. Poles left on the ground can be damaged by the car on departure. Bent pegs can be straightened with a hammer before putting them back in their bag.
  • Packing The inner should then be packed away bone dry so that mould does not form.

What if it’s raining? 

  • Shake off as much water as possible and wipe excess off with a clean dry cloth or a towel, but not one that has been washed in detergent because this can damage the tent's waterproof coating.
  • If there is room in the car, drape the tent over the other luggage in the boot or perhaps over an empty back seat. 
  • If the tent has to be packed away damp unpack it and start the drying process immediately on arriving home. 
  • Do not put the job off - leaving a damp tent in its bag for just a few days has probably finished off more tents through the development of mildew than anything else. 
  • Hang the tent up to dry somewhere airy - outside if possible or inside if there is room. Heaters can melt artificial fibres. When you are sure the tent is bone dry, it will keep much better if it is stored lightly folded in the airing cupboard, rather than tightly packed in its bag.

Back at home

End of season A good inspection should reveal any stress points that need to be worked on. Amongst the things to check out should be zips, peg and guy points detaching from the fabric, rubber peg points perishing, guy lines fraying, seams leaking and tears to be repaired. Check that the zips run freely – use a zip lubricant or rub with candle wax to ease any jamming teeth.  Check poles for splits and rub down ferrule burrs with a small file. Check the connecting cord or springs. Do not use oil or grease but rub down with a silicone polish to protect the poles from rust – it also helps them to run smoothly through a pole sleeve.


Always use a proprietary tent cleaner, never a detergent as these will strip off the waterproof finish. To remove stubborn marks like birdlime or fatty cooking stains, spray with a tent stain remover. A citrus-based product will break down the acid and fats in these stains. Rub over the treated area with a sponge then rinse thoroughly. If there is mildew don’t use bleach to remove spore marks as this will also remove the fabric colour. A weak solution of a sterilising fluid such as Milton can be used. Ensure that the treated area is allowed plenty of time to dry before packing the tent away.


This not only keeps water out but also helps prevent the formation of mildew and lengthens the tent’s useable life. Do this outside or in a well-ventilated area and make sure the fabric is clean. Water based products can be applied to wet fabrics but take around 12 hours to dry. Solvent-based products dry fast but can only be used on dry fabrics. Some products contain UV inhibitors that slow down the degradation of the fabric by sunlight.  Cotton fabrics are more porous than synthetics so absorb more liquid when waterproofing, using more litres per square metre.

Some top brands to look out for







No matter which brand you go for, your camping experience will be none the less enjoyable.

How to buy a Tent on eBay

Now that you've worked out which tent you want, find it quickly on eBay. While you shop, don't forget tent accessories. To start shopping, go to the Sports and Leisure category. Click the Sporting Goods portal and click camping.


The Categories list on the left side of each page will help you narrow down your listings by item type. You'll find links for Lights, Lanterns & Torches, Other Camping, Cables & Hookups, Sleeping Mats & Pads, Sleeping Bags, Cooking Supplies, Rucksacks & Bags and Tables & Chairs. As you refine your search you'll be able to narrow down your choice by subcategory.

Product Finder

Use the Tent Finder to quickly narrow down item listings by type of club, brand, model, condition (new or used), and shaft material.

Keyword search

Search eBay listing titles for specific words. For example, if you want to find new tents, type the keywords "tents new" (without quotation marks) into the Search box. Click "Search title and description" to expand your results. Visit eBay's Search Tips page for more tips on searching with keywords. If you can't find exactly what you want, try browsing eBay Stores or tell the eBay Community what you’re looking for by creating a post on Want It Now, or save a search on My eBay and eBay will email you when a matching item becomes available.

Buy a tent with Confidence

Make sure that you know exactly what you’re buying and understand how eBay and PayPal protect you.

Know your item

  • Read the details in the item listing carefully.
  • Remember to add delivery costs to your final price. If you’re buying a high value item, check that the seller will insure it until it is delivered to you.
  • If you want more information, click the “Ask seller a question” button on the seller’s profile or the “Ask a question” link at the bottom of the item listing page.
  • Always complete your transaction on eBay (with a bid, Buy it Now or Best Offer) otherwise you will not be covered by eBay Buyer Protection.
  • Never pay for your eBay item using an instant cash wire transfer service like Western Union or MoneyGram. These are not safe ways of paying someone you do not know.

Know your seller

Research your seller so that you feel safe and positive about every transaction.
  • What is the seller’s Feedback rating?
  • How many transactions have they completed?
  • How many positive responses do they have?
  • What do buyers say in their Feedback? 
  • Are they positive about the seller?
Most top eBay sellers operate like retail shops and have a returns policy.
  • Do they offer a money-back guarantee? 
  • What are their terms and conditions?


Buyer protection

In the very unlikely event that you do not receive your item or it is not as described, eBay Buyer Protection your purchase price plus original delivery cost.


The tent is home when away - where people will sleep, socialise, and eat. Keeping it clean and dry is essential if it is to be put to use next season and the seasons after. Mould can easily form on a tent that has moisture retained in it, either from poor storage or from a rushed drying process. To avoid stains and moulding, the tent should be looked after as much as possible before, during and after a camping trip. That is how your investment in an existing tent or one acquired through eBay will progressively pay off - year after memorable year.


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