Whether you are camping in your backyard or in the wilderness, your tent is your home. Just like your home, you need to maintain it and keep it clean. Though all of us dread cleaning house, it is a necessity that we all must face.
When it comes to your tent, neglecting to clean will ultimately decrease the length of its life, forcing you to throw it away and purchase another one.
We are here to help you avoid this outcome by giving you some tips on how to clean a tent properly so that you can avoid damaging your home away from home.
Do Not Machine Wash Your Tent!
Although cutting corners on cleaning allows us more time to do things we actually enjoy, throwing your tent into the washing machine will not get you the expected result. A washing machine can rip the fabric to pieces and cause it to stretch beyond its limits.
When it comes down to it, as with most things, the best way to clean your tent is to roll up your sleeves and do it by hand. Before we get into how to wash your tent, here are some preliminary steps you can take to make your life easier:
- Remove any dirt, rocks, or other debris from the tent
- If you packed it up wet, make sure you set it up again as soon as you can in the sun so it can dry
- When the time comes for you to clean your tent, leave it set up or set it up again in a place like your backyard because it will be much easier to clean when assembled
If you do these three simple steps before you clean, it will reduce the work you will have to do later. Make it part of your takedown routine that way it will become second nature and the process will be completed that much faster.
Gather Your Tools And Begin Basic Cleaning
Once your tent is dry from any wet weather and is set up just as it would be if you were camping, you can now gather the tools you need to start the cleaning process. Below is a table that lists the right tools for the job as well as some of the things you should avoid using.
There is always a right and wrong tool for every job. We have listed the tools to avoid because they will either damage your tent or, in the case of the scented soaps, attract a visit from some unwanted wildlife guests on your next outing.
Tools You Need
- Non-abrasive Scrubbing Pad
- Soft Brush
- Cold Water
- Soap (Not Detergent)
Things You Should Avoid
- Hard Brushes
- Dishwashing Liquid
- Scented Soaps
- Presoak Products
Once that is complete, take the soft brush and get into every nook and cranny within the tent. You can also use the brush to help with any necessary stain removal. Apply this same process to the outside of the tent.
Dealing with Pine Sap
If you just came back from a wilderness outing, you might have quite a bit of pine sap on your tent. To deal with this issue specifically, you can create your own solution with mineral oil and a sponge. Once you have scrubbed away the sap, wash the areas with warm water.
Here is a list of some other household items that you can use if you do not have mineral oil handy:
- Nail polish remover
- Rubbing alcohol
- Safe adhesive remover
Before using anything on your tent, you should always test the product on a small, tucked away area that is not in direct line of sight. This is just to make sure that the product won’t damage your tent. Better to be safe than sorry!
Eliminating Mold and Mildew
To determine if you need to get rid of any mold or mildew, remember to always trust your nose. An unsavory smell usually is a sign that mold and mildew microorganisms have started growing and need to be removed. If it is a severe problem, then the growth will be noticeable.
Black mold can permanently damage the fabric and leave a stain. For this reason, it is important to not overlook this step.
To eliminate these pesky tent clingers, you can enlist your trusty soft brush again to zap these areas with a specialized cleaning solution like ReviveX Pro Cleaner. Here are the benefits of a specialized cleaning solution:
- It was designed to clean fabrics without damaging them
- There is less of a chance that residue will be left behind after cleaning
- They won’t reduce the effectiveness of the fabrics’ water repellency
In most cases, your warm water and soap will suffice. There are also other homemade methods, such as using white vinegar and water. You can also make a solution with one cup of salt, concentrated lemon juice, and a gallon of hot water.
If the mold persists after trying some of these other approaches, a cleaning solution will get the job done. Hit all of the affected areas with a gentle scrub—you don’t want to damage the fabric in the process.
Getting Rid of that Smell
After you have hit all of the affected areas, then, use your nose! If there are some lingering unsavory smells, you will probably need to soak the tent in an odor remover like MiraZyme. This cleaning solution uses activated microbes to gobble up any bacteria that is causing any bad odors.
Typically, when using a solution such as this, you soak the tent in a bathtub with the solution and water. Here are some of the benefits of using a solution MiraZyme:
- Duration of time spent soaking is greatly reduced
- It is biodegradable and produces no byproducts that are unfriendly to the environment
- One application rather than multiple to remove pesky odors
*Note: read the directions thoroughly on the bottle. If you leave your tent in the bathtub beyond the recommended time, the waterproof polyurethane coating will start to break down. If you do not wish to drop your cash on a solution, you can try the previously mentioned white vinegar and water method.
Keep in mind there are no real defined mixture ratios for this solution, but we would recommend you start with a half cup of vinegar to one cup of water. If you are really not feeling up to the extended cleaning process, you can simply air out your tent and use a bottle of Febreeze.
Though we do not recommend this cutting corner method, for the cause of the odor is the bacteria, and that is what you need to kill to permanently solve the problem.
Eliminating Another Kind of Odor
If after all of this cleaning your tent still smells, then you probably have a different problem. This is one that no amount cleaning solution can fix. If it smells like vomit or urine in your tent, it is probably due to the polyurethane coating.
What is happening is a chemical reaction where the urethane is being broken down. To solve this problem you will have to remove the old polyurethane coating and apply a new one. Here are the steps you need to take:
- Fill up your bathtub with warm water, adding a few drops of liquid soap
- Submerge your tent for 3 hours
- Remove the tent from the tub and begin scrubbing the polyurethane coating (located on the floor of the tent and on on the fly) with a mixture of isopropyl alcohol, water, and a little bit of soap (located on the floor of the tent and on on the fly)
- Apply new polyurethane coating using a tent sealant
- Let the new coat dry for a day
Other Things You Can Do For Maintenance
If you are already replacing the polyurethane coating, you might as well check your waterproof coating seams. If they are any seams in the tent that leak water, you can reseal them with a waterproof sealant. This doesn’t mean you should go crazy and reseal all of your seams.
Not every seam will need to be resealed. Just make note of any that will be exposed to rain or runoff. New tents typically have their seams sealed with factory applied tape seams, but it doesn’t hurt to make sure nothing is compromised.
On top of improving your tent’s waterproofing, you can also improve the UV and water repellency of your tent. Fabric that is exposed to high levels of UV rays often will eventually become dry and brittle like paper. This will make it more susceptible to tears and ripping, making your tent unusable.
And as we have already mentioned with water, wet tents are susceptible to mold, mildew, and with enough saturation, the deterioration of you polyurethane coating.
To improve your tent’s defense against these environmental elements, do this: just pick up some spray-on solar fabric treatment and apply it to the outside areas of your tent. Coupled with diligent cleaning, this can greatly extend the life of your tent.
Prepping Tent for Storage
Before you call it a day, we want to cover some key do’s and don’ts for storing. This can make or break all of your hard cleaning work. That is why we put this list together so that you can reduce your future workload and extend the life of your tent.
- Clean Out Your Tent Before Rolling It Up (You Can Turn Your Tent Inside Out)
- Make Sure Tent Is Completely Dry (Pack It Last, Leaving It In The Sun)
- Store It In A Cool Dry Place (Basements Are Great, Attics Not So Much)
- Check To Make Sure Poles And Stakes Will Not Damage Tent
- Store Tent In A Larger Bag If Necessary
- Store Tent In Bag In A Way That Makes It Easier For You Next Time To Deploy
- Roll Up Tent With Dirt (This Can Cause Abrasions and Holes In The Fabric)
- Storing A Wet Tent (Doesn’t Take Much Moisture To Cause Mold and Mildew)
- Store It In A Hot Place (Heat Can Damage Your Waterproof Treatment)
- Storing Poles And Stakes Where Their Ends Are Against The Tent
- Cram Tent Into The Bag That Came With The Tent Though It Is A Bit Small
- Shove Everything Into The Bag In A Disorganized Manner
Your Next Adventure
By not throwing your tent into the washing machine, you can avoid permanently damaging the fabric, causing you to go out and purchase another tent.
Whether you use home solutions or special fabric solutions, it is important to clean your tent with care.
The tent is your best friend when you are out in the wild, so treat accordingly. And remember, when in doubt, follow your nose when it comes to odor treatments. You will be the best judge to determine what sort of tent treatments you need to perform.
Finally, beware of the do’s and don’ts of storing. Overlooking the last step will undo all of your hard work. Now you can go crack that beer and kick back as you daydream about your next hiking or camping adventure.
For affordable, yet durable tents, see our reviews of the best camping tents to give you more options.