Washing a tent is about as much fun as hiking in the rain with a 60-pound pack on your back while wearing head-to-toe denim. Thus, people are tempted to stuff it in a washing machine. But asking, “Can you wash a tent in a washing machine?” is very different from asking, “Should I?”
You can wash a tent in a washing machine, but it isn’t recommended. Instead, a tent should be hand washed. If you decide to machine wash, use a front loader, no spin, and avoid harsh detergents, bleach, spot removers, scented products, fabric softener, and pre-soak treatments.
Throwing a tent in a washing machine is the equivalent of playing Russian Roulette. Some people have successfully got away with it, but it is a dangerous game to play with one of the most expensive pieces of equipment in your camping gear stash. So, do you feel lucky? Or would you prefer to play it safe?
Related: Looking for a tent upgrade? Find out what the best 10 person tents are.
The Safest Way To Wash A Tent In A Washing Machine
The safest way to wash a tent in a washing machine is to avoid using it in the first place. Even if it doesn’t rip your tent, it still:
- Weakens the fabric
- Strains the seams
- Reduces the waterproofing
- Reduces or strips the seams of their seals
- Ruin the mesh panels
- May void the warranty
Nonetheless, if the advised methods of how to clean a tent full of mold and mildew doesn’t appeal, there are ways to reduce the risk of machine washing a tent.
1. Pick A Sunny Day To Wash Your Tent
Pick a sunny day to wash your tent, regardless if you are using a washing machine or doing it by hand. While your washing machine works fine despite the weather, the drying part is almost always weather dependent.
2. Put Your Tent In A Top-Loader Washing Machine
Never put your tent in a top-loading washing machine, even HE models. Agitators and impellers create too much friction, risking rips or snarl-ups that ruin the tent.
Instead, you need to find a front-loading wash machine big enough for your tent. How hard of a task this will be depends on the size of the tent.
3. Don’t Pretreat Tent Stains, But Do Spot Clean
Pretreating stain removal products and tents are not good bedfellows. They can weaken the fabric leading to a tear in the washing machine. However, you should shake and sweep out a tent before washing it.
In addition, you can spot-clean a tent using diluted lemon juice or vinegar. You could also buy a product such as Gear Aid’s Revivex Pro Cleaner.
4. Secure Tent Zippers Before Putting It In The Machine
Like any clothing, zippers should be secured before stuffing a tent in a washing machine. It protects the teeth. In addition, Velcro fasteners should be secured, so they don’t catch on other parts of the tent during the wash. Then put it in the machine.
5. Wash The Tent, And Only The Tent
The only item in your washing machine should be the tent. Do not add anything else to the load, even in the unlikely event there is extra space. The more items in there, the greater the friction and the higher the risk of the tent being harmed.
6. Use Tent Friendly Cleaners Like Lemon Juice And Vinegar
Most products used to wash clothes or dishes are inappropriate for cleaning a tent. They are too harsh and will weaken the fabric, in addition to ruining the waterproofing and seam sealant. Also, bear in mind (pun intended) most are scented, which will lead to your tent attracting bugs, vermin, and animals.
Mild, natural cleaners such as lemon and vinegar are an option, especially if you are trying to clean a smelly tent.
If you prefer to purchase a product, some tent-approved cleaners are:
- Mrs. Meyer’s All-Purpose Cleaner
- Gear Aid
- Nikwax Tent & Gear Solarwash
- Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Liquid Soap
7. Tents Need A Gentle And Cold Cycle
Your tent must be washed on cold in the machine and on a gentle cycle for delicate or wool. The more vigorous the cycle, the more likely the tent will stretch, rip, or develop weakened areas.
8. Do Not Spin Tents In A Washing Machine
Do not spin tents in a washing machine. It puts incredible strain on the tent; even if it doesn’t rip, it will cause unseen damage.
9. Remove The Tent Carefully From The Front Loader
Remove the tent carefully from the front loader. Soaked tents are more likely to rip, stretch, or tear, so they must be babied.
10. Set Up The Tent To Dry
The best way to dry your tent is to set it up in the yard. If you do not have access to a yard, you may want to question your life choices. Alternatively, pitch it indoors or gently drape it over a bathtub, chairs, or drying racks.
Failure to fully dry a tent before putting it away is a guaranteed method of owning a tent full of mildew and mold. In short, you might as well have never washed it.
11. Examine Tent For Damage
After the tent is set up, you can take stock of any damage. Do not try to sew, patch, or otherwise address the damage until the tent is fully dry. However, it allows you time to source any products you may need to repair the problems, such as purchasing a new tent.
12. Fix Any Damage To The Tent
Once the tent has dried, you may need to repair some damage. For example, if you need to repair a zipper, we have the instructions here. Mesh is tedious to fix, but SeamGrip will provide the best results. SeamGrip is also necessary for any areas you’ve had to make stitch repairs.
13. Waterproof The Tent, Tent Floor, And Seal The Seams
Waterproofing and resealing a tent is usually necessary for any tent at some point during its lifetime. However, the necessity is hastened if a tent is washed in a washing machine. The extra friction rubs the coating off in places, increasing the risk of leaks.
Fortunately, we’ve had complete instructions to help:
14. Allow The Tent To Fully Dry Before Storing
The tent must fully dry after being waterproofed and sealed. Hopefully, the sunny spell continues in your neck of the woods. But, again, putting it away damp results in a mildew and moldy tent.
Once the tent is dry, you can put it away for storage or throw it away, depending on how well the process has gone.
Do Tents Need To Be Washed?
How often a tent needs to be washed is up for constant debate. On the team, “wash it every time” is the argument that tree sap, grit, and bird poo are not good for the fabric. However, on the team, “avoid washing it” is the argument that washing a tent reduces its lifespan.
Like most debates, the truth is somewhere in the middle. For instance, storing a dirty tent can cause mold and mildew, which harms the tent fabric. In addition, some tree sap is corrosive and flammable, which is why it is so bad for car paint.
Washing does cause wear and tear. Cleaning your clothes is the biggest reason they wear out. Even if you wash your tent by hand, as is recommended, you are still causing wear, and soggy tents are more likely to tear.
Thus, the best way to care for your tent after it a camping trip is to do the following:
- Pitch the tent on a sunny day
- Examine it for any damage or repairs and fix it if required
- Gently sweep and dust the tent inside and out
- Spot clean any areas with tree sap, bird poo, or other worrisome goo
- Gently clean zippers so they are grit free
- Allow it to air dry
Can Tent Odor Be Reduced Without Washing It?
If you are concerned about odor but don’t want to wash your tent, you could place a bowl of baking soda inside it while it is standing in your yard. It takes a few days for the baking soda to absorb smells. Once done, toss out the baking soda and put away your tent (provided it is dry).
Alternatively (and this is much more work but more effective), sprinkle baking soda all over the tent floor. Allow it to absorb odor in the dry tent for 24-72 hours. Lastly, sweep it up or use a hand-held vacuum to suck it away.
However, don’t confuse baking soda with a deodorizer. Baking soda absorbs odor; deodorizers only mask it and add chemicals to your tent that may not be good for the material.
Lastly, while the baking soda trick is excellent for absorbing body odor-type smells, it can’t remove mildew or mold. If that is the source of your tent stink, it must be washed to kill the problem.
Can I Clean My Tent By Spraying It Off?
Using a garden hose to spray a tent is an excellent method to check the waterproofing is still doing its job. It allows you to look for leaks while removing dust, grit, tree sap, and bird poo.
However, it isn’t advised you use a hard spray. So put that power washer away, and maybe forgo the hardest settings. Instead, simply putting your thumb over the end of the hose is sufficient to allow for a mild spray. Or use a regular sprayer on a light setting.
Remember to allow the tent to dry fully before storing it. Mildew and mold are not good for a tent’s fabric. Plus, it creates an unsavory aroma.
Tents are expensive. Thus, it is best to avoid washing it in a washing machine unless you are willing to risk buying a replacement tent. If you use a washing machine, avoid top loaders, spin cycles, and harsh detergents. In addition, remember that using a washing machine almost guarantees you’ll have to waterproof it again, which gobbles a lot of time and energy.
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