A tent is highly needed for any camping experience, and when outside the tent is affected by the weather and nature from every side. This is why you need to know how to clean a tent, and I’m showing you the easy way to do it, with a step-by-step tutorial.
Neglecting to keep your tent clean can result in it failing to do what it was made for, protecting you from the envirorment. Here’s a step-by-step tutorial on how to clean a tent and keep it new and ready for the next trip.
First, we’ll start with what you’ll need for it, to make sure you got the tools before starting to clean it.
Tools for Tent Cleaning
Tent fabrics, like every other fabric, are easily damaged 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, burning through it and removing the plastic properties that makes the material waterproof.
Here’s what you can use to clean your tent of mildew and other bad factors.
One of the solution to consider instead of chlorine, is calcium hypochlorite. You can purchase calcium hypochlorite products in grocery stores.
Simply spray the chemical onto the fabric while it is. Then allow it to sit for at least 20 minutes and the fresh mildew stains will vanish.
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, like old leaf stains.
Regular tools for tent cleaning
- Warm water
- Kiddie pool
- Scrub brush
- Mild soap
- Paper towel
- Vacuum cleaner
How to Clean A Tent Easily
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:
Step 1 – Preping the Tent
1. Remove all loose dirt in the tent: loose dirt here includes cones, pine needles, leaves, and others.
2. 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.
3. Start by unfolding the tent and then vigorously shaking it as this will remove all the dust on the tent.
4. Spread out the unfolded tent on a neat surface.
5. Attach the brush attachment to a vacuum cleaner, and start to vacuum the tent thoroughly, paying attention to the dust-laden spots.
6. If you do not have a vacuum cleaner nearby, use your broom with a dustpan instead.
Step 2 – Washing the Tent
1. Proceed to put the tent into a tub or kiddies’ pool filled with warm water.
2. Next, hose it down with some water.
3. You can use the same brush or damp cloth that you would use to wash your car.
4. Wash the tent while it’s inside the tub.You cannot use detergent soaps or even laundry detergents in cleaning the tent.
5. 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 tents sold in stores that work without affecting the waterproof seams and can be used with hot water.
Step 3 – Rinsing
1. After cleaning your tent, you can rinse it off with water. This process must be thorough.
2. Some parts of the tent will be hard to rinse, make sure it’s clean, and no soapy water is retained during this step.
Step 4 – Drying
1. Place your tent outside where there is shade.
2. The tent should not be placed directly under the sun as the sun’s rays can damage it.
3. Air drying the tent is a much better option.
4. This can take some hours so ensure that it is totally dried out before taking it back inside for storage.
Step 5 – Finishing up
Apply the waterproofing:
- on the tent’s floor
- on the rain fly
- on the lower side walls
Cleaning a Tent from Mold and Mildew
If your tent is a canvas tent or has some canvas sections, then you must have seen firsthand the curse of what mold can do to your tent.
It spoils the tent’s appearance, devalues your tent and the worst part is that it can be hazardous to your 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 sit for too long on the fabric’s tent, or packing your tent away while still damp can cause mold growth.
Dust, warm air, dirt, and moisture when combined can develop mold. Mold spores can spread in the air as it travels to other areas.
When mold is not treated, it can damage the tent’s waterproofing properties, cause nasty stains on 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. It will clean any mold growth from the hard surfaces of the tent.
Lightly mist it 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.
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. I’ll tell you the steps you need to follow to stop mold from spreading properly.
Step 1 – Preping the moldy tent
1. Prepare the tent for cleaning by getting rid of fabric fittings. This includes all the bedding, and curtains.
2. Cover the areas with towels or old sheets to protect them.
3. You can use a tent cleaner that isn’t as harsh as bleach but has the same capabilities.
4. 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.
Step 2 – Cleaning the moldy tent
1. Make sure that you take some safety precautions as you will be handling dangerous chemicals.
2. Wear eyewear, gloves, and a face mask, and apply the chemicals similar to bleach to the tent.
3. With a scrubbing brush, clean the stained areas and let them sit for about 5 minutes before wiping them off with a wet towel.
4. 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 moderate spray pressure for the outside of the tent.
Note: you must clean off the chemical entirely by rinsing and allowing it to dry.
Step 3 – Drying the tent
You need to allow it to dry, preferably out, and not in direct sunlight. 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.
Step 4 – Finishing up
1. Apply a waterproofing sealant to the tent surface while following the directions on the product.
The waterproofing solution may look like a white paste. But after it dries, it blends into the tent just like wood glue.
2. When you use a wide brush, you’ll be able to apply it quickly.
3. Make sure you even out the waterproofing coat and apply it on the seams, sides, as well as stitching.
4. You should apply it on both sides of the tent and on the stitching near the zippers.
5. Let it dry and apply another coat the next day.
Step 5 – Quality check
After a few days, test the tent waterproofing with a hose. During the test, you should notice that water beads run 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.
Note: 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.
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.
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.
Do basic cleaning
Use cold water, a non-abrasive sponge, with non-detergent soap. Scrub the dirty areas gently by hand. You should be extra gentle on the coated areas of the fly and floor.
Remove 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.
Your main aim of cleaning is to eliminate odors and stop growth because mold and mildew leave a permanent stain.
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.
You shouldn’t over scrub because you could damage the fabric.
Don’t use a washing machine
A washing machine, especially the top-loader that has an agitator, is known to stretch and tear mesh, fabric, and seams.
Don’t use a dryer
They can generate too much heat and can damage the tent material.
Don’t use household cleaners
Dish washing liquid, laundry presoaking products, and spot removers are not suited for cleaning your tent.
A majority of household soaps have perfumes in them, and they attract rodents, insects, and larger creatures.
Most soaps also impair your tent’s water-repellent coating which was designed to make it last longer.
Don’t leave tent unattended
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.
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 the 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.
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.
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. For easy-to-follow instructions on how to build your own tent footprint, follow the link to our useful article.
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 the 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.
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.
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.
Not only that, but mold can go to other items if not treated or dealt with, if it does, and your sleeping bag is affected, read about how to clean your sleeping bag here.
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?
See our article on how to choose the best family tents for more information.
If you too had trouble with cleaning your tent, tell us how did cleaning go this time. Or if you have your own methods, I’d love to hear them in the comments bellow.
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.