OUTDOOR BASICS

How to Clean a Tent: Treat Your Tent Right and It Will Protect You

How to clean your tent with hose
Mark Foster
Written by Mark Foster

A tent is a staple for many camping experiences, whether you’re roughing it out in the woods or just want to sleep under the stars in your backyard. However, all that outdoor activity and weather is going to result in a tent that’s not so clean.

Some people have no problem with this, but neglecting to keep your tent clean can result in it failing you eventually. Here are some tips on how to clean a tent and keep it new and ready for the next trip.

Caring for Your Tent Before Camping

Keeping your camping tent clean is a simple and necessary task. There are a few easy points to keep in mind, and they will help protect and preserve your tent. Always read the manual from the manufacturer when you buy a tent. Also, if you received the tent from someone else, you can find some instructions online. However, you should still examine the tent carefully and carry out necessary precautions before your first camping adventure with the tent.

Clean the tent before going on a camping trip

If your tent is muddy or dirty from a previous excursion, cleaning and drying will keep it in good shape for all other camping adventures to come. Remove mildew with a bleach/water solution of equal proportions. You can use a sponge that is non-abrasive with a cleanser or non-detergent soap and cold water.

Washing down a tent

Do not use any products that have perfumes in them, as they attract pests and vermin. Also, you shouldn’t remove the tent waterproofing. To keep it safe from mold and mildew, store it in a dry area for the moisture to be absorbed by the sun. Check all the seams as well as the tent materials to know when you need waterproofing or sealing.

Caring for the tent during camping

Pick a clear campsite with good drainage to prevent water from logging near the tent. Also, always have a ground cloth placed beneath the tent as this will prevent water from seeping from the ground into the tent floor. The ground covers need to be tucked securely under the tent’s edges, so water from the outside will not collect between the tent floor and cover.

Well tucked tent surrounded by water

Such condensation can cause mildew or mold to develop as well. Always keep the tent interior clean by storing your boots outside under the rainfly. It can also be stored in a bag outside. If your tent is the freestanding type, shake out the debris every morning.

Pack up the tent with care

It is wrong to pack up a wet tent. But if you have no other choice, make sure you unpack it immediately and set it up in a place so it can dry. Your tent has to be allowed to dry thoroughly to avoid growth of mold, mildew, or bad odors. After you refold the tent, avoid refolding with the same crease lines that were used before. This ensures that the material doesn’t become brittle over time.

Man packing up his tent

Store the tent in a dry place

Store your tent when it is completely dry. Moisture left on it will cause problems, and the tent will be ruined. Dry the tent in a building or a shady area to avoid sun damage. Don’t store tents in basements, damp areas, or hot rooms such as an attic.

Man carrying a tent

Tools for Tent Cleaning

Tent fabrics, like every other fabric, are easily defaced by basic stains which also include mildew. Mildew, a microbiological growth, is easily eliminated and its stain can be removed with chlorine. The problem here is that household bleach is very corrosive. It can damage the fabric by dry rotting the stitching and removing the plasticizer. What can you use to clean out mildew?

Calcium hypochlorite

A better solution to consider is calcium hypochlorite. Simply spray the chemical onto the fabric while it is dry and allow it to sit for at least 20 minutes and the fresh mildew stains will vanish. You can purchase calcium hypochlorite products in grocery stores.

Calcium hypochlorite

Ultraviolet light

Using ultraviolet light eliminates the mildew stains that calcium hypochlorite can’t remove. Using an ultraviolet light lamp, or carving lamp may also remove other stains as well. The carving lamp removes old leaf stains as well.

Other tools for tent cleaning include:

  • Warm water
  • Sponge
  • Washcloth
  • Kiddie pool
  • Scrub brush
  • Dustpan
  • Mild soap
  • Paper towel
  • Broom
  • Vacuum cleaner

How to Wash A Tent

Due to various environmental factors during a camping trip, you cannot totally avoid having dirt and mud in your tent. Following these steps, you can clean your tent safely:

  1. Remove all loose dirt in the tent: loose dirt here includes cones, pine needles, leaves and others. You must also make sure that it’s empty before you start cleaning. If your camping tent has also accumulated dust from your trip to the wild, you can clean it using your vacuum cleaner. Start by unfolding the tent and then vigorously shaking it as this will remove all the dust on the tent. Spread out the unfolded tent on a neat surface. Attach the brush attachment to a vacuum cleaner, and start to vacuum the tent thoroughly, paying attention to the dust-laden spots.
    If you do not have a vacuum cleaner nearby, use your broom with a dustpan instead.
  2. Proceed to put the tent into a tub or kiddies pool filled with warm water. Next, hose it down with some water. Also, you can use the same brush or damp cloth that you would use to wash your car.
  3. Wash the tent while it’s inside the tub. Remember that you cannot use detergent soaps or even laundry detergents in cleaning the tent. For a tent that has mildew and mud, you can clean it with a mix of salt and lemon juice. Other methods will be discussed below. There are some other cleaners for tent sold in stores that work without affecting the waterproof seams and can be used with hot water.
  4. After cleaning your tent, you can rinse it off with water. This process must be thorough. This can be quite tricky because some parts of the tent will be hard to rinse. Just make sure it’s clean, and no soapy water is retained during this step.
  5. Place your tent outside where there is a shade. The tent should not be placed directly under the sun as the sun rays can damage it.  Air drying it is a much better option. This can take some hours so ensure that it is totally dried out before taking it back inside for storage.
  6. Apply waterproofing: you should apply waterproofing on the tent’s floor, the rain fly, and the lower side walls.

waterproofing a tent

Cleaning a Tent With Mold and Mildew

If your tent is a canvas tent, or has some canvas sections, then you must have seen firsthand the curse of the mold!

It is terrible to look at, it spoils the tent appearance, devalues your tent and the worst part is that it can be hazardous to the health. The organism can cause respiratory issues, allergies, and asthma.

What causes mold to grow? The culprit behind the growth of mold is moisture. Moisture that is allowed to rest on surfaces or remains as dampness/wetness in fabrics can cause mold growth.

Dust, warm air, dirt and moisture when combined brings about the development of molds. Mold spores can spread in the air as it travels to other areas.

mold on tent

When mold is not treated, it can damage the tent’s waterproofing properties, cause nasty stains of your tent and rot it. It only takes a tiny damp patch for a mold to start growing and once it starts – you must act fast. Here are some ideas that you can try to get rid of this problem:

  • Cloves: pour 1/4 tsp of clove oil per liter into a spray bottle with water for cleaning any mold growth from hard surfaces of the tent. Lightly mist on and leave overnight. You can wipe the oil off in the morning.
  • Unionized salt: For softer items, blend 1 kilogram of unionized salt and pour it into a 9-liter pail of water. Paint this blend on the item and leave until the surface has a salt crust formation and then wipe it off using a soft brush.
  • White vinegar: try some tablespoons of white vinegar, bi-carb soda, and methylated spirits, with 2 teaspoons of glycerin and eucalyptus.

Vinegar soda and eucalyptus for cleaning

Sometimes, if the mold growth is left untreated for a long time, it may leave a stronger stain. It’s always safer to stop the mold from spreading. Here’s how to do that:

  • Prepare the tent for cleaning by getting rid of fabric fittings. This includes all the beddings, and curtains. Cover the areas with a towels or old sheets to protect them. You can use a tent cleaner that isn’t as harsh as bleach but has the same capabilities. Using a sponge with warm, soapy water, scrub the tent area thoroughly to make it as clean as you can. This should be done both inside and outside the tent.
  • Make sure that you take some safety precautions as you will be handling dangerous chemicals. Wear eyewear, gloves, and a face mask, and apply the chemical similar to bleach to the tent. With a scrubbing brush, clean the stained areas and let sit for about 5 minutes before wiping it off with a wet towel. Do this on both the exterior and interior sides of the tent. With a soapy sponge, clean the surface thoroughly – use a hose that has a moderate spray pressure for the outside of the tent. Note that you must clean off the chemical entirely by rinsing and allow it to dry.
  • Once the tent has dried properly, you’ll see a cleaner tent without mold stains. If you still spot any stains, you should repeat the second step again and make sure that it is rinsed and dried properly.
  • Apply a waterproofing sealant to the tent surface while following the directions on the product. When you use a wide brush, you’ll be able to apply it quickly. The waterproofing solution may look like a white paste. But after it dries, it blends into the tent just like wood glue. Make sure you even out the waterproofing coat and apply it on the seams, sides, as well as the stitching. Also, you should apply it on both sides of the tent and on the stitching near the zippers. Then let it dry and apply another coat the next day.
  • After a few days, test the tent waterproofing with a hose. During the test, you should notice that water beads and runs straight off to the bottom. Try again to soak the tent- check for any leakage that may be seeping through the tent, around the zippers, seams, or stitching. If you find such areas, note them and re-apply the sealant as needed when the tent is dry.

This cleaning method is recommended as a last resort and may only be necessary for stubborn stains. The reason is that using such harsh chemicals is not pleasant to use and can affect the quality of your tent if used too often.

wearing mask while cleaning tent

Using a waterproofing solution regularly, at least once a year, can help to minimize mold growth. Of course, ensuring that the tent is dry before folding it up helps as well. Keeping the tent clean will help reduce mold growth.

Some stores sell sprays for mold growth, and they also eliminate algae and lichen. You can check how safe they are for use before buying one. What should you avoid during tent cleaning?

Dos and Don’ts of Tent Cleaning

Cleaning your tent may seem easy, but there are some rules to follow to prevent any damage to the tent in the process.

Never use a washing machine to wash or dry your tent: A washing machine, especially the top-loader that has an agitator, is known to stretch and tear mesh, fabric, and seams. Dryers aren’t any better either. They can generate too much heat and can damage the tent material.

Basic cleaning is sufficient

Use cold water, a non-abrasive sponge, with a non-detergent soap. Scrub the dirty areas gently by hand. You should be extra gentle on the coated areas of the fly and floor.

tent cleaning with hose

Avoid all household cleaners like dish washing liquid, laundry presoaking products, and spot removers. A majority of household soaps have perfumes in them, and they attract rodents, insects, and larger creatures. Most of such soaps also impair your tent’s water repellent coating which was designed to make it last longer.

Remove what’s left of the mold and mildew

Musty odors and discoloration are signs that mold and mildew have started to grow. Use your enzyme cleaner to get rid of the mold. However, you shouldn’t over scrub because you could damage the fabric. Your main aim of cleaning is to eliminate odors and stop growth because mold and mildew leave a permanent stain.

Cleaning tent with sponge

Monitor time closely with submersion cleaners

If you leave the tent in a kiddie’s pool longer than the time it requires, you could risk exposing it to hydrolysis, where the water begins to break down the waterproof polyurethane coatings chemically.

Consider using a spray-on fabric solution. If you love being thorough, or you reside in an area with plenty of sunlight, you can make use of a spray-on solution to bolster the tent’s UV resistance while reviving water repellency.

Clean the poles and zippers

Brush off the grit and dirt before storing. Go an extra mile by using a dry lubricant application on the pole ends and zipper tracks. Search for a lubricant that’s formulated for outdoor equipment. Using wax may not be a good idea because it could hold onto dirt and the scented types attract wildlife and bugs.

Tent zippers

Conclusion

Cleaning your tent is imperative if you want it to protect you during your camping trip. Failure to clean it properly may make your trip unpleasant. You may have to sleep in a tent that has absorbed odors and dust from other trips. So why not spend the extra time keeping your tent clean so that you can enjoy using it as much as you can on your camping trip?

Man cleaning tent inside

We love to hear what you think, what are your thoughts, and contributions? Do you have another idea? Let us know!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Foster
Mark Foster

Mark Foster loves to push his limits when it comes to survival in the wilderness. He might go for a 30-days adventure without any food or equipment except for a survival kit and a knife. We should mention that his survival kit has 122 items in it, so he know what he is doing. Mark is working on his book to share with the world all his experience gained during those brave adventures.

  • Carl Anderson

    Thank you for this guide Mark. This is really helpful especially for those who are just newbies when it comes to caring for their tents. I am now curious about the ultraviolet light lamp. I will for sure check it out and buy one if I find more good reviews.

  • Jon Morgan

    I have always believed that if you want anything to last long, you should know how to take care of it. Most of the time, we intend to forget to clean our tents the right way so this article is really helpful. The step-by-step guide is really easy to follow.

  • Mark Foster

    Could not agree more, friend!

  • Mark Foster

    Those work great! Give it a try!

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