How To Clean A Tent After Camping

The great outdoors is full of mud, dirt, twigs, and more. Thus, it’s no surprise when our tents get a bit grimy. Often this can be fixed with a broom and a bit of spot cleaning. But sometimes mold, mildew, and the dreaded stink emerge, and you just have to wash your tent.

If you want to know how to clean a tent, here are the eight steps:

  1. Clean your tent on a sunny day with no predicted rain
  2. Gather all the tent cleaning supplies you’ll require
  3. Pitch the tent and check it out for any repairs
  4. Sweep out the tent and give it a brush
  5. Spot clean any target areas
  6. Put the tent to soak
  7. Rinse the tent
  8. Dry the tent

1. Clean Your Tent On A Sunny Day With No Predicted Rain

Check the weather report and look out your window before you clean your tent. Ideally, you want a dry, sunny day with low humidity.

If you are washing your tent indoors, such as in an apartment, you still need to keep the indoor climate warm with low humidity. Thus, you might find it easier to do on a nice day, regardless.

2. Gather All The Tent Cleaning Supplies You’ll Require

Before cleaning the tent, gather all the supplies you’ll require. Excellent items to have on hand include:

  • A large tub (outdoor cleaning)
  • A bathtub (Indoor cleaning or large tents)
  • Footprint or tarp (may need additional towels if cleaning indoors)
  • Non-abrasive sponge or cloth
  • Broom and dustpan
  • Handheld vacuum (optional)
  • Dish soap (mild, fragrance-free), such as Dr. Bronners
  • Vinegar (optional)
  • Gear cleaners, such as Nikwax Tech Wash®
  • Mold and mildew cleaner, such as Concrobium Mold Stain Eraser

If you are planning to waterproof your tent while cleaning it, you’ll need additional products. Also, remember these are often different if your tent is canvas. This could add significant time to the job, so check the weather for the next few days to allow drying time between steps.

Lastly, never use bleach or abrasive cleaning products or implements. These materials could cause alter the color of the material or cause a hole in your tent.

3. Pitch The Tent And Check It Out For Any Repairs

Before doing any cleaning, you must pitch the tent and inspect it. Do this over a footprint, tarp, or drop cloth. If you are indoors, you must take extra care to protect your floors. Consider taping down the waterproof layer, which could be made of plastic garbage bags.

Once the tent is up, look carefully for any places that require repairs, as these should be done before you wash to prevent tearing. Also, keep a sharp eye for any spots of mold or areas with mildew. If waterproofing, note any seams that must be fixed and resealed.

Lastly, if your tent has become stinky, try to find the source of the odor. Pinpointing the cause of the smell(s) will ensure your cleaning job eliminates it.

4. Sweep Out The Tent And Give It Brush

Washing a tent is easier if you don’t have floating debris and muck hanging out in the water. Thus, sweep the inside of the tent and brush the walls, inside and out. Don’t forget the zippers. You can “brush” the grit out of them with an old toothbrush. 

If you have a handheld vacuum, it often helps, especially with the corners. But take care when using it on flaps not zipped up, as you don’t want the machine sucking up parts of your tent. Also, watch out for straps and any other loose parts.

5. Spot Clean Any Target Areas

Spot clean any areas of the tent that have stains, mold, or mildew. The easiest way to tackle this is using a soft, damp cloth, and mild detergent.

If you have any pretreatment for mold or mildew, this is an excellent time to use it. Just make sure it is bleach free. Some people have found success using vinegar or lemon juice in these areas.

If there is stubborn pine sap on the tent, mineral oil helps.

Most dingy tent poles can be cleaned with a wipe down with a damp cloth.

6. Put The Tent To Soak

The easiest place to soak a tent is outdoors in a tub, where spills and sloshing happen on the grass. However, you will struggle to find a big enough tub or container for large tents and probably have to use a bathtub.

People in apartments can use a utility sink if they have or bathtub. However, do not try to use a washing machine, even if the tent is small. It is bad for the tent and your machine.

Fill the tub or container with cold or lukewarm water and dishwashing liquid.

One popular tent cleaning recipe is:

  • 5-quarts hot water
  • 1-quart vinegar
  • ½ tsp mild dish soap

If you are using an enzyme cleaner, follow the directions carefully and use the minimum soak time to ensure your tent’s fabric isn’t harmed. Also, inspecting the polyurethane coating after using an enzyme cleaner is wise, as they can break it down. 

An alternative to enzyme cleaners is using baking soda. For this, you presoak the tent for two hours in water mixed with 4-cups of baking soda. Then you empty the water and proceed to put the tent to soak with liquid soap or the vinegar recipe.

7. Rinse The Tent

Rinsing a tent is typically a process of several plain water soaks. After draining your tub or container, ensure it is entirely devoid of any residue before refilling it with plain water and returning the tent to the container.

It is essential to make sure your tent is rid of all soap or other products before proceeding. Leaving chemical residue on the tent could cause damage later on.  

8. Pitch Your Tent And Allow It To Dry

After the tent is completely clean, it needs to be pitched to dry. Erecting a wet tent must be done with great care, so nothing is ripped. Thus, best to do this with at least one other person.

It is essential to make sure the tent is fully dry before taking it down and storing it. Putting away a damp tent will result in mildew, mold, and unsavory odors. In short, you’ll have undone all your hard work.

It is equally important for the tent to be fully dry before proceeding with any additional waterproofing, such as adding a new urethane coating. Spraying it with a water repellent also requires you to begin with a dry tent.

Author at Wilderness Redefined camping website

James has been escaping to the outdoors for as long as he can remember. This first started in family camping trips but soon turned into adventure camps and hiking through the Scottish Hebrides. Now he has turned towards trying to make camping more comfortable and accessible.