How to clean and waterproof your Westy canvas tent to keep you warm, dry, and comfortable!
Westfalia Canvas Tent Overview
The canvas tent walls are an integral part of the Volkswagen Westfalia Camper’s popup roof system, keeping out wind, rain, snow, and even bugs. Every part of a three-decades-old camper van will benefit from frequent care and maintenance, but the tent canvas is perhaps the softest and most fragile component. Rain can soak the fibers and allow water to intrude into your cozy abode. Worse, if left untended, this same moisture can rot holes in the canvas fabric, requiring patches or an expensive replacement.
But with a little proper care, you can keep your original Westy canvas supple, dry, and working well for many more years.
The Westfalia Camper tent is made of a medium-weight cotton canvas, which is not inherently waterproof, but which instead relies on the swelling of the natural fibers to create a water-resistant barrier when wetted. The canvas should be periodically cleaned and then treated with a silicone water-repellent product like Kiwi Camp Dry Heavy Duty Water Repellent. This forms a moisture-resistant layer which repels rain but which also allows interior moisture to escape. Such treatments eventually wear out due to simple use, UV from sunlight, dirt, etc.. If using your Camper regularly, you should re-treat your tent every 1-2 years.
NOTE: Always test any product on an unobtrusive part of your tent before proceeding. The following is for the stock original Westfalia canvas tent. Aftermarket replacement tents may require their own cleaning and treating products; see the instructions from the supplier.
Parts & Supplies
- Short ladder or step stool
- Garden hose
- Wash bucket
- Brushes: soft-bristle, long-handled; small firm hand-held
- Plastic sheeting, magnets or spring clamps
- Household clothes iron
Washing the Westfalia Popup Roof Canvas
- On a warm, dry day, park your van somewhere out of direct sunlight and raise the popup roof. Close the front and/or side tent windows. Use a garden hose to gently wet the entire canvas tent.
- Allow the tent canvas fibers to absorb the water for a few minutes. Meanwhile, mix up about a gallon of water with Woolite Extra Delicates Care gentle liquid detergent. Use a soft long-handled brush to apply the sudsy Woolite to one wall of the canvas tent. Soak a few minutes to allow the detergent to work, then rinse thoroughly with the garden hose.
- If stubborn dirty spots or stains remain, use a stiffer handheld brush to apply Woolite full strength to the stains and gently work it into the fabric. Work the brush in a circular pattern over and around the stain to ‘feather’ the detergent into surrounding areas, to avoid leaving an obvious brighter clean spot. Let the detergent work for five minutes, then rinse well with the hose. Repeat this for all four sides of the canvas, rinsing well.
NOTE: to remove especially stubborn stains, use OxiClean Laundry Stain Remover to pre-treat these problem areas.
- If needed, the tent interior can be washed similarly, but using the soft brush for applying both the wash water and rinse water; this may require two rinses to thoroughly remove all traces of detergent. Use large towels to protect the interior from excess water.
- Allow the tent to completely air-dry, perhaps even overnight. If possible, open the tent’s window(s) to help dry the canvas.
Repairing the Canvas
Now would be a good opportunity to repair any punctures, tears, or other damage to the canvas or window screen.
- Once thoroughly dry, trim the loose edges of any holes or tears. Cut iron-on fabric-repair patches at least an inch larger than the hole, and round the patch corners to prevent peeling. Follow the directions to apply the patches to the canvas tent exterior, using a household clothing iron.
- For a firm bond, have a helper stand inside the tent and press a small wooden board wrapped in a towel against the back of the repair, while you firmly iron the patch in place.
- As above, treat your Westfalia tent on a warm, dry, calm day out of direct sunlight.
- Most suitable canvas waterproof treatments contain silicone, which will leave a slippery mess on the rest of your van. So, cover your paint and other bodywork with plastic sheeting held in place with magnets or spring clamps. I use an old vinyl shower curtain.
- Follow the directions on the can of Camp Dry or similar silicone canvas treatment, to spray the entire exterior surface of the tent from 7 to 10 inches away with a light, even coat. Work on one wall of the tent at a time, then proceed to the next. Camp Dry suggests applying a second coat after four hours for maximum protection, and I usually use horizontal strokes for the first cost, and vertical strokes for the second.
- Avoid thoroughly soaking the canvas with water repellent, but be sure to fully treat the seams and bottom edges of the tent.
- Allow the treatment to completely dry (24-48 hours) before closing the Westfalia roof. You may experience lingering odors from the waterproof treatment on your next few camping trips, but these will fade with time.
The detergent will have stripped the protective wax from your bodywork, so give your van a good washing and waxing now, along with a fiberglass wax for the popup roof; apply an anti-UV protectant to all the rubber seals.
With proper care, your Westfalia popup canvas should not require frequent washings as outlined above, but will benefit from a simple rinsing with a garden hose after especially dusty or dirty camping trips. The waterproof treatment can be reapplied every one to two years for maximum protection, and will keep you and your family dry and comfy!