Camp Westfalia

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Cleaning and Waterproofing your Westfalia Canvas Tent

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Water-Repellent Treatment

  1. As above, treat your Westfalia tent on a warm, dry, calm day out of direct sunlight.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Avoid thoroughly soaking the canvas with water repellent, but be sure to fully treat the seams and bottom edges of the tent.
  5. 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!

What do you think? Leave a question or comment below, and use the social links to share with friends!

Replacing the Westfalia Tent Window Screen

How to replace the torn or tattered window screen in your Volkswagen Westfalia Camper popup tent

After many miles and many years of camping, the insect screen in the popup tent window of your campervan can turn old and brittle. It will eventually start splitting and crumbling apart, allowing pesky bugs into your cozy abode.

Fortunately, for a few dollar’s worth of materials and a bit of time, you can easily replace your old screen with a new one, without special tools or the need to completely remove the tent from the van.

First, you’ll carefully remove the shreds of your tattered old screen, pin a complete section of new screen into the window ‘frame’, then stitch it all into place before trimming the edges.

This can all be done while standing in the van with the top popped, though it may be helpful to do some bits while sitting in the overhead luggage rack.

NOTE: if your old screen is merely torn in a few spots and worth salvaging, you can use a curved sewing needle to ‘suture’ the wounds closed. Use a synthetic thread the same color as your screen to stitch first horizontally then vertically, to ‘weave’ new thread over the tear.

Materials & Tools

Step 1: Remove the old screen

Westfalia-tent-replacement-screen-trim-edges2Raise your popup roof and unzip/open the canvas window to expose the window screen. Roll and tie or clip the canvas window flap out of the way. If working from the interior, unzip the screen and allow it to hang down into the van where you can easily work on it.

Use the scissors to carefully cut the old screening material from the ‘frame’ which fastens it to the zipper, trimming as close to the edge as possible. Carefully do the same along the bottom edge. It may help to start by roughly cutting the entire center section of screen out, then finish by trimming out to the edges.

Once removed, close the screen zipper again.

Step 2: Attach bottom edge of new screen

Cut a section of new screen from the roll, about 42W x 26H”. Use a marker to mark the centers of the top and bottom edges of the screen, to help with alignment during the installation.

Lay the new screen into the window opening, allowing it to hang down into the van. Standing on a short stool or step ladder, peer outside and align the bottom edge of the screen with the bottom edge of the exterior lower seam, for a clean, factory appearance. Pin it firmly into place for stitching.

In general, on this project I simply used the needle to draw the new thread through the existing factory stitches, to avoid adding new needle holes and to utilize the original stitches as a guide for a straight line.

Start by first stitching a simple vertical back stitch at one end of the seam, to reinforce the end of your stitch, then begin stitching along the bottom seam. I used a simple running & basting stitch, with shorter stitches on the inside and double-length stitches on the exterior to help fasten the screen to the canvas. About every tenth stitch, double back on your stitch, then continue, to strengthen the stitch and prevent unraveling.

Continue along the entire bottom edge like this, ensuring the screen remains straight and aligned with the factory seam, then end the stitch using another bar tack.

Step 3: Continue attaching entire screen

The next step is most easily done from outside the van, while sitting in the rooftop luggage rack, though one can improvise and work from the interior.

Grasping the top-center of the canvas window frame, pull the canvas downward, then pull the new screen upward to meet it and draw it taut. Tuck the screen up under the exterior flap which covers the zipper, then back out to the front; use several pins or binder clips to fasten the new screen into the opening.

Working your way from the center to the left or right, repeat, clipping or pinning all the way around the ‘frame’, ensuring as you go that the screen remains taut and smooth.

Once in place, unpin/unclip the upper-right (passenger-side) corner of the screen to allow you to reach through to the outside in order to make your return stitches. You can now continue stitching from outside or from back inside the van.

Starting in the lower-left (driver-side) corner of the window frame, begin stitching the screen to the zipper tape of the window ‘frame’. Again, start with a bar tack reinforcement, then begin a running stitch upward, reaching out through the open corner of the window to grab the needle and run it back through the tape and inside.

You’ll want to keep your stitches as close to the inner edge of the zipper tape as possible, in order to avoid the final trimmed edge of the screen interfering/snagging with the zipper pull later.

When you reach the top-center of the window frame, re-pin/clip the upper-right (passenger-side) section of the screen to the frame and draw it taut. Now that the left/driver’s half of the screen is firmly stitched into place you can unzip the lower-left (drivers-side) portion to allow exterior access for stitching. Continue stitching the rest of the way around the window frame to the lower-right (passenger-side) corner, ending with a final bar tack.

Step 4: Trim excess screen, finish

Once stitched into place, you can remove all pins/clips and re-zip the entire screen to check for tautness.

If all looks well, trim the excess screen to prevent the trimmed edge from interfering with the zipper pull. This is best done from outside, but can also be done from the interior by simply unzipping the entire screen and allowing it to hang down into the van.

In the lower corners where the screen transitions from beneath the zipper flap to the exterior bottom seam, I trimmed the screen at 45-degree angles for a neat appearance.

Test the zipper a few times to make sure it does not snag on the edges of the new screen. Now would also be a good opportunity to clean and lubricate both tent zippers.

This simple repair handily replaces your tattered old Westfalia insect screen, and helps keep your van tent working well for many more years of camping!

Have any questions, tips, or suggestions? Post ’em below, and use the buttons to share with your friends!

Westfalia Pop-Up Roof Refurbishment

Westfalia RoofWestfalia Camper Roof Overview

Of all the clever German engineering features employed in the Volkswagen Westfalia Camper, the distinctive raised fiberglass roof is perhaps one of its most ingenious. Providing over eight feet of standing headroom, the poptop allows for the comfortable changing of clothes, cooking and other kitchen tasks, and reveals the two-person upper sleeping bunk. The canvas sides and screened front window of the pop-top roof aid in ventilation, and it provides a dry, safe refuge from the elements.

How to clean and waterproof your canvas tent to keep you warm, dry, and comfortable!

Many a time have we pulled into a lakeside rest stop or a wayside during a pouring rainstorm, and quickly popped the top to prepare a hot meal while the rain pelts the roof, all while staying dry and cozy—not an easy option for those touring by pop-up travel trailer or tent. After lunch, the whole thing easily retracts to rack up more road miles.


If the devious previous owner of your Westy was anything like mine, your Westfalia Camper fiberglass pop-up roof is dingy, dirty, and sun-faded, with leaky seals that allow rain to get in and start rotting your canvas. Fortunately, it is a fairly simple matter to spiff it up again, and even to replace rusty hardware and frayed seals.

Depending on the general condition of your own pop-up, you may or may not need to perform the full refurbishment I outline here, so read ahead to determine whether you indeed require all the parts, tools, and other materials listed. The following procedures involving washing/waxing, spray treatments, etc. are best done out of direct sunlight, to ensure even and uniform drying.

NOTE: the condition of my Westfalia popup roof warranted only a good cleaning and polishing, followed by new seals and hardware. For a good tutorial on a full restoration & repainting, see this topic on The Samba:

Replacement Westfalia Roof Parts

Here at Camp Westfalia, we are often asked about replacement fiberglass Westfalia roofs and luggage racks.

Used Roofs

One option is to purchase a used Westy roof, and I see them come up on the Samba Classified Ads surprisingly frequently. Like a new roof, shipping costs may be prohibitive, but you may find one near your location. And even with shipping, it may still be a more cost-effective option than an expensive professional repair/rebuilding of your original roof.

1980-1991 Vanagon Westfalia roofs and roof parts may be found here.

1968-1979 Bay Window Bus Westfalia roofs and roof parts may be found here.

You can also set up a custom alert, to receive an email when someone posts a used roof for sale.

New Roofs

A kind reader, Frank from the Netherlands, has kindly provided two vendors offering reproduction Westfalia popup roofs:

Space Roof
Located in the UK, Space Roof offers a DIY kit with “the look, feel and dimensions of the original Westfalia roof, but it is easier to raise and lower as we use external gas struts and scissor hinges. Will fit any T25 produced from 1980 onwards.”
Shippable to North America and elsewhere.

Reprowesty in the Netherlands offers “A completely new lifting roof of very high quality.” It is unclear where they will ship, so please contact this vendor for more details.


  • Complete set of Rubber Pop-Up Seals: replaces camper pop-up edge seal, luggage rack edge seal, and flat seal on leading edge of popup roof. Also available individually.
  • Stainless Steel Hardware: mounting bolts & nuts for hinged pop-up roof and luggage rack, and footman loops (tiedown cleats) for luggage rack. My original hardware was rusted and poorly repainted, so I opted to replace it entirely with stainless steel. Suitable SAE (1/4-20 x 3/4″) or metric roof mounting bolts may possibly be found at your local hardware store, while the luggage rack mounting bolts and tiedown cleats are available from VW-specific online vendors; mine came from GoWesty; optional
  • Rubber washers, 1″ (25 mm) in diameter with 1/4″ (6 mm) holes (qty: 6), for luggage rack mounting bolts; optional
  • Screen repair patch kit, or a 6×6″ (150×150 mm) sheet of aluminum or stainless steel window screen. Alternatively, screened garden hose washers (qty: 5), for protecting luggage rack drain holes; optional
  • Thick, gel-type cyanoacrylate “superglue” adhesive
  • “Westfalia” decal(s), available from online vendors, vary by year; optional


How to replace your torn or tattered window tent screen

  • As with most Vanagon repair and maintenance procedures, the Bentley and other manuals will be indispensible.
  • Household pressure/power washer will be helpful for blasting off old crud
  • Electric dual-action or orbital polisher. There is something like 1/500th of an acre of fiberglass on the Vanagon Westy pop-up roof, so power tools will help conserve elbow grease
  • Phillips & Slotted Screwdrivers
  • Assorted Combination wrenches
  • Rubber Mallet, wood block, sidecutters, and knife; for replacing rubber edge seals
  • Old credit card or hotel room key for use as a burnishing tool for applying decals
  • Assorted sandpaper


Meguiars Marine_RV Fiberglass Restoration System

  • Quick Fix Gelcoat Patch, for filling in small nicks and cracks in the fiberglass roof; optional.
  • Fiberglass Wash, Polish, and Wax: Meguiar’s Fiberglass Restoration System kit includes Boat & RV Wash, Oxidation Remover & Polish, and Pure Wax. These do a great job of cleaning and restoring the popup roof’s original luster and sealing it from future deterioration.

Now that we’ve collected all the necessary stuff, let’s get scrubbin’ …

Refurbishing the Westfalia Luggage Rack

Vanagon Westfalia Luggage Rack

    1. Referring to Page 75.8 of the Bentley Workshop Manual, carefully remove the screws holding the rear edge of the interior headliner of the passenger cab, then the four exterior bolts affixing the factory luggage rack to the vehicle. Also remove the four screws on the sides and front of the luggage rack. Be sure to keep track of all the bolts, nuts, and the rubber washers which provide a weather seal and prevent chafing of the Vanagon’s paint. If the rubber washers appear deteriorated or unduly squished, replace them. The entire luggage rack can now be lifted from the roof.

    1. If your Westy spends much of its time loafing under campground trees, you will likely discover a surprising amount of rotted leaves, pine needles, seed husks, and other detritus lurking beneath your luggage rack. I found a veritable terrarium thriving under my luggage rack, and it took a couple trips to the compost bin to get it all out. There’s a preventative solution for this which we’ll get to later, but for now give the Vanagon roof a good washing and hand-waxing to protect the paint. With any luck, this is the first and last time it will see the light of day since leaving the Westfalia workshops.


    1. Place the luggage rack on a workbench or a pair of sawhorses for easier working. If your footman loops are badly rusted, drill out their rivets and remove them; if the rubber edge seal is deteriorated, remove it. Pressure-wash the whole works, and remove stubborn rust stains with very fine abrasive pads and Lime-Away, CLR, or similar product. Inspect for surface cracks or nicks; repair these with Gelcoat Patch.
    2. If replacing the front or side “Westfalia” decals, carefully measure or photograph the locations of the originals. Gently scrape the decals off with a putty knife or razor blade, using acetone to loosen them.
    3. If your fiberglass gelcoat is very dirty or is badly oxidized, clean it now, but do not polish or wax it yet, as your new decals will not adhere to a waxed surface. Once cleaned and de-oxidized, use alcohol or acetone to strip any residual fiberglass cleaner from the areas in which you intend to place the decals. When dry, apply the decals and burnish down with an old credit card.
      NOTE: For those concerned with authenticity, Westfalia-Werkes placed the large “Westfalia” decal on the rear of all Vanagon Westies, and evidently began putting the additional “Westfalia” decal on the front of the vans sometime during the 1985 model year. As far as I know, the small ‘prancing horse’ Westfalia decals were never used on the Vanagons, and were applied only to the pre-1980 Busses.

Vanagon Westfalia Luggage Rack Seal

    1. Follow the package directions of the Meguiar’s or similar fiberglass products to polish and wax the luggage rack, being especially careful not to damage the new decals.
    2. Install the new footman loops and carefully hammer on the new edge seal. This is not intended to be a watertight seal, but only to protect the edge of the fiberglass and prevent it from chafing the paint from the steel Vanagon roof. If your new seal has a round ‘bulb’ portion, either remove it from the edge seal or be sure to cut a couple sections of it away on the corners of the luggage rack after installing, to allow rain water to properly drain.


    1. Starting at one end, press the new seal onto the edge of the fiberglass and work your way around to the other end, tapping the seal firmly into place with a rubber mallet. Trim the excess.
      NOTE: Both the luggage rack seals and the main roof edge seals tend to shrink and shorten over the years, leaving small gaps at the ends where they abut the wide upper seal. To compensate for this, you may consider trimming both edge seals about .5″ (12 mm) too long, and distributing the slack along their lengths near the ends so that as they shrink, no gap will form.


    1. To prevent leaves and other debris from collecting beneath your luggage rack, you can add small screens to the five drain holes. Cut the aluminum or stainless steel window screen into sections of about 1.5 x 1.5″ (35 x 35 mm). Turn the luggage rack upside down and use sandpaper to roughen the surface immediately surrounding the underside of each drain hole, then clean with acetone or alcohol. Glue the screens over the holes with the gel superglue, being careful the glue doesn’t plug the drain holes. Use sections of waxed paper and small weights to hold the screens in place while the glue sets.
      Because the mesh on these screens is so fine, they sometimes plug-up with debris before all the water has drained out; if necessary, periodically blast them with a garden hose or gently clean them with an old toothbrush to keep the water flowing through.

Vanagon Westfalia Luggage Rack Mounts

  1. Loosely re-install the luggage rack, being sure to replace the rubber washers on the roof brackets and bolts. Wiggle the whole thing around a bit to settle it properly, then give all the bolts a final tightening. It is probably a good idea to check them again after you’ve driven 20 miles or so at highway speeds.


Refurbishing the Westfalia Popup Roof

  1. As on the luggage rack, if the old seals on the main popup roof are deteriorated, remove them. If the interior metal clips molded into the edge seal have lost their grip and the seal is loose, try slipping a section of it off and re-crimping the clip with pliers, then reinstall. Pressure wash the entire roof to remove old grime and mold.
  2. If the large “Westfalia” decals are in good condition and you intend to save them, be careful to avoid damaging them with the pressure washer or scrub brushes. If replacing, remove the old decals using the pressure washer or a citrus-based cleanser and a mild abrasive pad. Deoxidize the gelcoat on the entire popup roof, rinse, then replace the decal. Polish and wax the entire popup roof.
  3. Replace the rubber seals, starting with the upper leading edge seal, followed by the main popup roof edge seal.
    NOTE: See note regarding seal shrinkage Step 6 above.
  4. If your roof mounting hardware is rusted, consider replacing with stainless steel hardware. It’s perhaps best to replace only one or two bolts at a time to avoid any major alignment issues along the way. This is also a good opportunity to clean the pivot points on the two rear hinge mechanisms; clean with WD-40 and lubricate with light oil or a silicone spray lubricant. Do the same for the front latch mechanism.

Vanagon-Westfalia-sunsetPeriodically applying a fresh polish and wax will preserve the essential oils in the fiberglass gelcoat and prevent oxidation, and also help dirt and grime easily rinse off. New stainless steel hardware will avoid rust stains, and new rubber seals assure that your tent canvas will remain dry and intact. In fact, now may be a good time to wash and seal your popup canvas.

With ongoing care, your Westfalia popup will continue to serve as the proverbial roof over your head while camping and roadtripping for many years to come.

What do you think? Leave a question or comment below, and use the social links to share with friends!