How to Clean a Camping Tent

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If you’re a serious camper, you’ll end up with a very dirty tent. There’s no worse feeling than getting your tent out and finding that mold is starting to grow on it.

If you’ve just returned from a camping trip, you should clean and dry your tent thoroughly before storing it. If you travel short distances frequently, give your tent a gentle cleaning once a season.

With my tips, you’ll learn the right way to clean your tent so it’s ready for your next adventure.

Check the weather before cleaning your tent

Your tent may be waterproof, so it will take a few days to recover from a good scrubbing. Check your local weather forecast and try to choose a sunny day.

Gather your supplies

In most cases, you can clean your tent using a bucket, sponge, hose, and some mild soap without strong detergents. Do not use bleach, or any other harsh chemicals unless you have mold in your tent.

Preparing your tent for cleaning

Walk outside, then unzip the tent door, and turn it over. Shake your tent in order to remove all loose debris.

Clean your tent

Fill your tub with cool to slightly warm water and add your tent cleaner product. Follow the instructions on the bottle to see how much cleaner to use. Unzip the door and turn the tent inside out. Immerse the tent and rainfly in the water and let them soak. Follow the instructions on the cleaner to see how long to let your tent soak.

All washing should be done by hand. Scrub soiled areas gently by hand, being extra gentle on the coated areas of the floor and the fly areas. Gently clean any particularly dirty areas using a cloth, or sponge, and a small amount of mild detergent.

The tent is covered with a waterproof protective coating. If you damage the waterproof protective coating, the tent will no longer be waterproof. Do not machine wash or machine dry your tent. Even on the gentlest cycle, a washing machine can stretch and damage the tent. A dryer can do the same thing and can generate enough heat to cause damage.

Avoid using household cleaners such as strong detergents, bleach, spot removers. Also avoid scented soaps, as they can attract insects, and make sure the soap you choose doesn’t damage the waterproof coating.

Sometimes the weather doesn’t cooperate and you have to pack up your tent while it’s still damp, leading to mold or mildew stains found when you unpack. If your tent has a musty, mildewy, or odorous smell, use an enzyme cleaner. Follow the enzyme cleaner instructions closely, especially regarding the time to soak your tent. Allowing your tent to soak longer than the specified time may risk hydrolysis, where the water begins to break down the waterproof coating.

If you have pine sap on your tent, topically clean the tent with mineral oil, but be careful not to over scrub. You can also try using an alcohol-based product such as hand sanitizer or wet paper towels. Once the sap has been removed, be sure to rinse thoroughly with water.

Rinse thoroughly

Empty the tub, and refill it with clean water. Shake the tent to rinse it. You may need to do this several times to get the soap off of your tent.

Rinse the tent thoroughly, then hang it up to dry. Your tent may take a long time to dry because moisture may be absorbed by its seams.

Clean the tent poles

You can use the same soapy warm water solution to rinse the tent poles. For dirty, dusty, sandy, or salty tent poles, take a rag and wipe them clean. Dry tent poles thoroughly as steel poles may be corroded and plastic poles may get spots on them.

Clean the zippers

Dirt and Sand can wear down plastic or metal teeth. If you don’t clean your zipper often enough, you’ll end up ruining your teeth and you’ll get stuck with a stuck zipper. Use a toothbrush to brush off any sand, dirt, mud, or saltwater residue caught in your zipper teeth.

Check for damage

When cleaning the tent, you can check for any damage, tears, scratches, and cuts. Make sure to purchase the correct product for your tent fabric and coating. Each type of material requires a coating and seam sealer specifically formulated for that fabric.

As long as the tent doesn’t tear or shred, you have nothing else to look for but waterproofing. However, the waterproofing and coating will come off over time and will need to be reapplied every few years.

Check the waterproofing quality of your tent carefully. Re-waterproofing your tent or rain cover is an easy way to extend the life of your tent. If the tent is no longer waterproof, renew the waterproofing coating. Most tent sealing products take 24 hours to dry completely, so make sure you have a designated space free of debris where the tent can be unrolled for a day to dry.

Seams are a vulnerable area, so check them regularly for damage. If the seam tape fails, you should gently remove the part of the tape that is peeling off. Normally, the tape will leave a residue on the inside of the seam, and you’d better apply a new seam sealant to the outside of the fabric. At the same time, you can also use seam sealant to repair small holes in the main tent fabric.

However, if the tent floor loses its water resistance, it is best to purchase a new tent.

Air dry your tent thoroughly

A neglected tent becomes brittle, sticky, or smelly. Damp fabrics can become moldy, giving the tent an odor and damaging the waterproof polyurethane coating. Over time, moisture can also begin to chemically break down the coating.

Air dry your tent thoroughly after travel and cleaning. Set it up indoors or outdoors in the shade. If you don’t have enough room for it, drape or hang it until it dries.

Take extra care when drying your tent. Avoid chain-link fences and bushes. Depending on where you live, you may be able to leave the flaps of your tent fully open, but you’ll usually want to keep it partially closed to keep dust and leaves from blowing into the tent and ruining all your hard work.

Check your tent every 6-12 hours. Your tent will be completely dry after three days or so.

You should avoid prolonged direct sunlight. UV exposure can affect water resistance.

You can also blow a fan on it to speed up its drying.

Storing your tent

Most people just stuff it into a tote bag and put it somewhere, which usually leads to moldy tents.

Don’t store your tent in a tote bag because it will wrinkle the tent and leave any moisture inside.

Store it loosely in a cool, dry place. You want the tent fabric to be able to relax and breathe. It’s best to store your tent loosely in a pillowcase or mesh bag.

Location is also important. Store your tent in a cool, dry place. Avoid humid or hot places, including garages, basements, attics, or car trunks.

If damp storage is your only option, place the dry tent in an airtight plastic box or another container.

If there is enough space, fully assemble the tent poles before storing them.

Final Words

You should clean and re-proof your tent every few months, and immediately after a dirty camping trip.

Dirt can harden and cause staining on your tent, so please clean your tent as soon as possible.

With regular care, your tent will last for years but don’t put off cleaning and maintenance.


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