by Nancy Rapa
Taking care of that little 1/8” layer of fabric separating you from the rest of the world may mean the difference between a happy or miserable camping trip. Don’t let your spirits (and belongings) be dampened by the next rainstorm! Keeping your camper’s exterior fabric in tiptop shape is a SNAP when you follow these easy steps:
Determine the type of fabric that your pop up has.
There are many different materials used in the industry today, such as cotton, acrylic, polyester, vinyl or laminated products, that all require different methods of care. Check your owner’s manual to determine the particular maintenance procedure for your tenting.
Keep it clean and dry.
Mold and mildew are your pop up fabric’s #1 enemies. They thrive on dirt, moisture and decreased airflow. Prevention is KEY, because once it starts, it’s difficult to control. ALWAYS store your pop up DRY. If packing up in the rain, open up at home as soon as possible. Before storage, remove any damp items or food from the interior. Check to make sure all seals and caulking are intact. Never store your camper covered with a tarp (unless it is tied up like a shelter) because it will impede airflow. Keep the tenting clean by lightly sweeping off loose dirt with a soft brush, and washing with water and a sponge to remove any bird droppings, campfire soot, leaves, etc. If necessary, use non-lanolin laundry soap flakes for stubborn stains. Never use detergents or bleach (unless your owner’s manual states otherwise) which could ruin the water repellency and strip the color. While camping, be careful to keep bushes and vines away, since acid from some branches could harm the fabric. Remember to avoid getting hair sprays or bug sprays on the fabric, as they can also impair repellency and cause staining.
Keep your pop up rodent free.
Seal off entry points with steel or bronze wool. (Bronze wool, available at marine supply stores, is more expensive, but it won’t rust.) If the wool won’t stay in, use clear mailing tape, which is sticky and water-resistant, to hold it in place. You may need to crawl under your camper to find any openings, such as around plumbing pipes. In addition to shredding your tenting and screens, mice can gnaw through electric wires and hoses. Some people say that putting deterrents such as mothballs, aromatic cedar blocks, and dryer sheets inside help. Most importantly, make sure to remove all food and paper nesting material. Give your pop up a thorough vacuuming after every trip.
Care for your awning
The secret to a long canopy life, like other materials, is keeping it clean and storing it dry. While camping in the rain, pitch your awning to one side to prevent water from pooling on the fabric, causing damage or irreversible fabric stretching. Always roll it up if heavy or prolonged wind or rain is expected, or if you will be leaving it unattended. (Damage by weather isn’t covered by most warranties.) A general rule of thumb: If you are comfortable sitting outdoors dining or reading the paper, then it is probably safe to have your awning up. The concern with wind is the up-lifting effect rather than the downward force; therefore the greater the pitch, the more wind resistant the unit is. CAUTION: make sure that when lowering or raising your awning, it is extended high enough to clear the entry door! For ease of operation, rub candle wax on all sliding surfaces, and make sure the bracket screws attaching it to the roof are tight.
Repair fabric problems as soon as they start
Despite your most caring efforts, mice may get by, holes may occur, and rain may leak through. Don’t despair! There are companies specializing in pop up fabric repair and replacement, and products to help you do simple repairs yourself. Since sewing can sometimes weaken fabric further, there are patches and cements specifically formulated for canvas, vinyl, plastic and screen. When it’s time to restore your fabric’s repellency, use ONLY products recommended by your pop up manufacturer. Never use products that will change your canvas’s color or consistency. (Canvas waterproofing products sold at home improvement stores are NOT made for pop ups!)
Know your replacement options
While looking for professional assistance in repair or replacement, keep in mind that membership in the Industrial Fabrics Association International is a plus. (IFAI is the worldwide trade association for the industrial-fabrics industry.) If you are replacing your pop up’s fabric completely, decide whether you want it to be replaced with the original type of fabric or something different. Bear in mind that some companies will custom make the new tent, and others will order an original (when available) from your pop up’s manufacturer or from another company who does the actual construction. In general, a full tent replacement may cost approximately $700 to $900. Replacement of a tent section can cost up to $400, and a screen replacement can cost about $100 to $200. Small repairs will cost much less. You also have the option to buy do-it-yourself patch kits which, in many cases, will only cost a few dollars. It is wise to shop around, explore websites and speak with company representatives before making your decisions. Your pop up’s fabric is an important investment!
For more information on tenting care, products, repair and replacement from a great company, log on to Canvas Replacements by Camper and Recreation, Inc. at www.canvasreplacements.com/index.htm or call 1-800-232-2079.