By Mike Barth and John Kardos
Q: What do I need to know about tent fabric?
A: Some small consumer tents and short-term-use tents utilize woven PE or polyethylene. Virtually all multiple-use and large tents are constructed of PVC (vinyl). Vinyl is either laminated using adhesive to the top and bottom of polyester mesh or is coated on both sides of the polyester mesh. The result is a strong reinforced product that can be used for a variety of tent and structural applications. Additional product variations can be applied through different reinforcing scrim construction, colors and surface embosses. Read on for answers to common questions about tent fabric:
1. How do I weigh price vs. value when purchasing fabric? While a low-cost fabric may seem economically attractive, keep product consistency in mind. Lower quality fabrics may fail prematurely due to mildew, color fading and lack of quality control. Questionable suppliers may ship rolls short of the specified roll size. Ensure that you purchase from a reputable supplier.
2. What is the difference between blackout and translucent fabric? Blackout fabric prevents all sunlight from transmitting through the fabric, while translucent fabric allows a certain amount of light to pass through. Translucent fabrics are typically lower in cost; however, imperfection in construction is quite visible. Blockout fabrics are more forgiving with regard to construction, but pinholes are noticeable and can be generated as the fabric becomes worn through repeated use.
3. What certification is required for my fabric? Be aware of the requirements for the fire marshal in the community where you will construct the tent. Certification can be met only when the product is produced, not after the fact.
4. What weight fabric should I choose? This depends on your application. Is the structure semipermanent or will it be put up and taken down frequently? Is it a pole tent or a clearspan structure? Typically, larger structures require heavier fabrics. Heavier fabrics make the tent more durable, but the added weight makes them more difficult to install.
5. Should my fabric be mildew resistant? The vinyl surface film should contain a biocide that inhibits mildew growth. In addition, the structural yarn should not wick moisture into the fabric. This moisture can mildew inside that fabric and will not be able to be cleaned.
6. How should fabric be maintained and repaired? Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for care and cleaning. Sponge, mop or brush cleaning is the least aggressive. Bleach is never recommended. When mixed with other chemicals, bleach produces deadly fumes. In addition, bleach can cause rot stitching. A key to maintaining fabric is to not put it away wet. Minor tears can be repaired by applying a vinyl patch using commercial vinyl cement, according to manufacturer’s instructions. Pinholes can be repaired with vinyl patch, which can be color matched and is dabbed on the hole to close it.
7. How much UV protection should fabric have? This depends on the geographic area where the structure is used. Hot, sunny climates receive the most amount of UV exposure, so structures in these regions require additional UV stabilization for long life span.
8. What is the estimated life span of tent fabric? If well maintained with a properly engineered structure, fabric under normal conditions should last five to 10 years.