How to Clean a Tent: Tips on Thorough Cleaning

Home » How to Clean a Tent: Tips on Thorough Cleaning


It is inevitable to end up with a dirty tent after a couple of days of camping. Although camping is quite a fun activity, expect to end up with a tent with all types of plant matter, dirt, mud, and grime over the time spent camping, especially if it started raining. With time, you may begin to notice a bad smell or ugly stains on such an item so that you would start thinking about how to return your tent a nice look.

Do you know how to clean a tent? You can choose to use a hose and quickly spray water on it. However, if you’ve invested some good money in your camping equipment, it would be advisable to a more thorough approach. Especially if you are used to traveling with a tent for two or a large family.

I’m a regular hiker who loves to travel, and I know how tiring it can be to clear a tent. After years of hiking, I’ve mastered the art of washing such pieces of equipment to give them an even longer life. I’ve created this quick guide to help you with this task. Keep reading to learn how to make your tent sparkling clean with little effort.

6 Ways to Clean Your Tent Properly

man sitting near the tent

If you camp regularly, your tent will most likely get dirty now and then. Besides, while you dust off and unpack such items during summer, you may notice that your tent has developed mildew smells of bad odors from being stored away for too long inside your home during winter. This guide will take you through various ways to clean your tent.

The tips below should help you with tent odors, as well as some other common problems associated with the equipment. Below, I have listed the six widespread techniques on how to wash a tent to guide you through the proper cleaning process. Although there are various ways of disinfecting and deodorizing a tent, you can freely go for one of the methods described below and get fantastic results.

Read through my recommendations if you want your equipment to look factory-fresh. Also, make sure to check the initial instructions regarding the cleaning process provided by the manufacturer. This way, you won’t damage your tent while washing it.

How to Clean Sand Out of Tent? Brush Your Tent

The first thing that you need to do is to brush your tent’s interior to get rid of any bugs, food, sand, rocks, dirt, or mud particles. Besides, you should also empty the pockets of your equipment if the tent has any. Make sure to brush the exterior of the item to get rid of the twigs, leaves, dew, or remaining water.

You need to remove everything that may tear or rub the floor of your tent, including poles and stakes. Ensure that there is nothing left inside. Then, unfold the tent while sweeping the underside to get rid of any rocks, grit, or sand. This way, you will get rid of all the dirt particles.

Quick Scrubbing to Get Rid of the Grime and Dirt

The easiest way to clean your tent from grime and dirt is by scrubbing it gently. Mix cold water and non-smelling dish soap for applying it on the dirty spots using a non-abrasive sponge. Before washing the tent, make sure to remove all the accessories, stakes, and pole support.

Once you’ve cleaned up the tent, hang it somewhere and let it air-dry. Don’t unfold and store it before it dries out completely. I advise using unscented products for cleaning to prevent attracting bugs while camping next time.

How to Clean a Tent with Mold? Warm Washing

Mold grows fast on wet fabrics. If you spot mold on your tent, fill either a kids’ pool or a bath with lukewarm water and odorless detergent. It’s advisable to use a kids’ pool to keep the smell out of your house. Unzip the entire tent and soak it into the water for roughly ten minutes.

After the time is up, drain the dirty water. Fill your pool with clean water for rinsing the tent and drain it again. Repeat this procedure until you get rid of all the soap residue. Some home remedies that work on the mold include mixtures of vinegar or lemon juice with water or lemon juice and salt with water.

It is essential to read the instructions before starting to clean the tent. If the homemade solutions don’t eradicate the mold, then you will need a special cleaner to mix with water. There are tons of such products on the market that work great, with each one being made with different components. Therefore, make sure that the cleaner you purchase won’t affect your tent’s material or how it repels water.

How to Clean a Tent with Sap? Use Talc

The sap is a resin from coniferous trees that has a good smell. However, it tends to spread all around because of its sticky nature. If not dealt with timely, the sap will become even stickier, making your tent hard to clean afterward.

There are several ways of dealing with the sap. You can sprinkle your tree with talc or use household substances to clean it, such as a scrubbing polish remover or alcohol. Still, make sure to test the solution on a small part of your tent first to ensure that the components don’t react with the material.

How to Clean a Tent That Smells? Air It Out and Make a Bath to Kill Odors

person looks at the sunset

Your tent will most likely have some odors after use. The first thing you need to do is air it out before you go for soap and sponges. Then, make sure to hang the item in a well-ventilated area.

You may also use a clothesline or hang the material over the backs of four seats, or something identical. That way, the air will move freely through the material. Let it sit and air-dry for 48 to 72 hours. Most times, the odors will go away with the wind.

Other than washing your tent by hand and airing it out, for severe cases, you may need a special enzyme cleaner to eliminate odors. It works by killing odor-causing mildew, algae, mold, bacteria, among others, through a unique combination of microbes and enzymes. However, I recommend you to check if the chemicals found in the cleaner can’t erode the material of your tent. Such a product should also be environmentally-friendly and safe.

Also, make sure always to put on gloves while using such cleaners. A basic one works by diluting 0.5 ounces of the concentrated liquid to a bucket of water. You can either use this diluted solution during the soaking stage while hand-washing the tent or simply spray it on the material.

How to Dry a Tent

An ideal place to dry your tent is your garage. To dry it, create a makeshift clothesline and hang the item there. You can fasten the process by operating a dehumidifier in your garage. However, do not put the tent close to the heater or make use of any air dryer since it will cause the same issues as a tumble dryer.

Alternatively, you can air-dry your equipment outside in a shaded spot. Make sure that it takes as much time as needed to dry completely. Otherwise, any moisture left will result in bad odors and new cleaning problems, forcing you to repeat the entire washing process again.

Frequently Asked Questions on Tent Cleaning

There are a lot of commonly asked questions when it comes to tent cleaning. People often wonder where the stink in tents comes from, the process of deodorizing tents, how to prevent gross smells, etc. This section will cover some of the most frequently asked questions regarding tent cleaning.

What Causes the Stink?

Before cleaning a tent, it is crucial to figure out why the problem arises, what the various contaminants are, their scent, etc. Let’s take a look at the most common causes of stinking and the best way to clean a tent with each of them:

  • Grime and dirt

Most times, you’ll visually notice these two. They could cause a foul smell in the tent. However, even though these contaminants may not necessarily be the key source of the foul odor, it is crucial to get rid of them to prevent your material from wearing. Scrub and spot-clean the dirty areas and check my tips on this cause above.

  • Mold and mildew

These fungi can be quite severe if not handled properly and timely. If your tent has any of these contaminants, it will have a stale and stuffy smell. Hand-washing in warm water with proper cleaners will help, and you can find more tips in the corresponding section above.

  • The decomposition of polyurethane

The polyurethane layer on most nylon smelling tents normally breaks down after a couple of years. Ultraviolet light could decompose the polymer. So, it can give the equipment an unpleasant stink. In this case, you can hand-wash the tent with some scented solutions.

How to Deodorize Tents

tent in the forest

In many cases, after cleaning the tent, the smell of such things as mildew and mold may still be there. Thus, odor elimination works best for deodorizing your equipment. Most of the eliminators are an all-bacterial mix of microbes. After blending them with water, the microbes will activate and start to consume any odor-generating bacteria in the material of your tent.

So, to remove all the smells and stains from your item, put enough water in a bucket to submerge it. For really stubborn odors, put in one ounce of the solution for every 128 ounces of water. If mild stinks, add only half an ounce and mix it well.

Make sure to unzip the tent and open the flaps before soaking it into the solution for roughly ten minutes. Such products work by saturating your tent with microbes so that they destroy the bacteria generating odors. Don’t rinse the equipment after washing as it could eliminate the microbes. Also, do not apply any heat since it could cancel out the effect. So, just soak your tent in the solution, remove it, and then let the item air-dry. You will notice the changed smell only after the equipment dries out entirely.

How to Prevent Tent Odors

You must keep your tent in the proper place to prevent any further odors. Here are a few helpful recommendations regarding the storage ideas:

  • Let your tent breathe during storage, meaning don’t cover it with some tape.
  • Never store a tent when it is still wet or damp.
  • Each time you get back home from a trip, make sure to air-dry your equipment.

What Post-Clean Treatments Can You Use?

Once you’re done cleaning and drying your tent for a couple of days, you can now store it in your closet or garage. Still, before you call it quits, make use of these additional post-clean methods to heighten the quality and life expectancy of your equipment.

  • Seam sealing

You can either use a brush or a spray tan, based on your sealant, to cover all the sewing stitches of your tent. However, note that most sealants can be particular to various kinds of fabric. So, always make sure to read the instructions before the application of any solution.

  • Keeping the tent waterproof/UV Protection

Other than the seams, it is vital to keep your tent waterproof. You can find some suitable coating products for your item. By applying such solutions layer by layer, you will allow your tent to resist water and prevent UV light from ruining the material.

  • Bug treatment

It is common for bugs to invade your tent when stored for a while. So, you need to treat the equipment with an appropriate solution after cleaning it. If you apply the anti-bug treatment on the material of your tent, it will repel all insects. Even though such options last roughly six weeks, it will come in handy on your next trip. Still, make sure to wear the necessary protection and read the recommendations on the application carefully.

How to clean bird poop off a tent?

The easiest way to clean bird poop off a tent is to use a garden hose and spray the affected area. If the bird poop is dried on, you may need to use a soft bristle brush to remove it.

How to clean a mildewed tent?

Use a mildew-resistant tent cleaner and a soft brush to remove the mildew.

How to clean a moldy camping tent?

If your camping tent is moldy, you can clean it with a mixture of one part bleach to four parts water. Apply the mixture to the moldy areas with a brush and then rinse with clean water.

How to clean a canvas tent?

Canvas tents can be cleaned with a variety of methods, depending on the type of stain. For example, dirt and mud can be brushed off with a stiff brush. Grease and oil can be removed with a solution of dish soap and water.

How to clean a smelly tent?

If your tent smells bad, you can try airing it out in the sun for a few hours. If that doesn’t work, you can try using a mildly abrasive cleaning agent like baking soda or vinegar.

Final Tips on How to Maintain Your Tent Effectively

It may seem time-consuming to clean and maintain your tent, but the efforts are worth it. You need to put all the measures in place if you want to prolong the lifespan of your equipment. If airing it out does not work against odors left inside, you can hand-wash the material or soak the item in the warm water with the suitable cleaner.

At least one of the mentioned techniques should work for your equipment. Once the tent gets completely dry, make sure to seal seams, spray anti-bug and waterproof products, and store the tool in a dry and cold place. Doing all these steps will not only keep your tent clean and help you to get rid of the stink, but it will also give your tent a longer life.

Have you ever cleaned a tent before? What techniques work for you? Do you have any hacks or products that work incredibly well for your tent? Do you have any questions or comments on the topic? Leave them in the comment section below, and I’ll be happy to answer them.

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