How To Clean a Camping Tent?

Your camping tent protects you from the tyranny of a rough weather and from lurking animals near your camping spot. It is basically a safe home in which you can lie peacefully and take rest during a strenuous trekking spree. That is why you need to make sure that your camping gear is in top form. During the trek your camping tent will obviously be put under a lot of external environmental impact. There may be an occasional wear and tear apart from the usual dirt and mud being splattered all over your precious tent. Taking good care of your camping gear will ensure that you do not have to invest in a new camping gear for many years.

How to keep your camping tent spotlessly clean while camping?

There is a lot of information floating around on the net about cleaning your own tent after you have used it during a trek. However, not all the information available is bound to be correct. Hence it is always better to check with your tent supplier to know the original care instructions of your camping tent. According to the general instructions given with a branded tent, you need to use a vegetable oil based cleanser for the outsides of your tent. To scrub away any tree sap from the exteriors, carry a slab of margarine along (you can use it for your bonfire barbecue as well). If you have a tent that has a water-resistant poly urethane coating then you will probably have a much easier time keeping your camping tent clean and spot-free. A polyurethane coat not only saves your tent from too much of mud spots, it also saves you hours of time.

Tree sap

Steps to follow after you are back home

Your tent may have served you well while you were out exploring the wilderness but once you are back home, it is time for you to return the favor and clean up your tent well. The entire procedure of cleaning and drying your tent can be done within an hour or so if you have a little help. Involve your children or spouse so that you have some company and the cleaning experience is as fun as the trekking was.

Water hose

Keep the following steps in mind when you are about to clean up your tent and store it away after the trek:

  • Empty out the tent of any dry dirt particles like twigs, cones and the odd beetle. These have a tendency of crawling into corners and staying there till the next time you take out the tent.
  • Once your tent is cleaned out, hose down the mud splattered parts and use a soft sponge and a mild cleanser to wash off any stubborn stains.
  • Use only the advised cleanser for your tent to avoid damaging the poly urethane coating. A simple mixture of warm water and lemon also works great as a cleanser.
  • Rinse your tent completely using a water hose. Make sure all the cleanser has been washed away from every nook and corner.
  • Apply the water-proofing coats or waxes while the tent is still damp.
  • Dry the wet tent in shade and avoid the sun as much as possible.

Things you absolutely need to avoid

Can you wash a tent in a washing machine?

Washing your camping tent using a washing machine is a strict no-no. No matter how expensive and high-end your machine, your camping tent is not something that can be washed with detergent inside a washing machine. If you do not have enough time to clean up your tent the old-fashioned way, you can assign the task to someone else for a pay. However, stuffing your tent into a washing machine will damage both your tent and the machine.

No washing machine

Can you put your tent in the dryer?

As with the washing machine, your tent cannot be dried in a machine dryer. Although the idea of drying up your camping tent in a dryer sounds quite tempting, it would be a big mistake to pack your tent into a dryer machine as this will not only damage the dryer but also probably damage your tent permanently.

Tent cleaning products in the market

The tent cleaning products that are available in the market right now are of superior quality and can remove almost all kinds of stains from the outer surface of your camping tent. Your tent might be sensitive to certain chemicals present in some of these chemical cleaning solutions and it is better to check the fine print before buying one for your tent. There are loads of options available on Amazon and you can check the different chemical compositions and check-lists of these products before you buy a particular one. Brands like Teeco and MiraZyme are effective against mildew while Nikwax is highly recommended if you want to reproof your camping tent before the next trip. There are many other products in the market and these are also quite easily available on sites that specialize in camping gear.


However, you should definitely read up on the types of stains that a particular solution is best suited for before you think of buying it. Keeping two to three varieties of solutions and cleansers always help you to clean every kind of stain that your tent can accumulate during the trek. You need to have a clear idea about what kind of chemicals can be applied to your tent’s exterior and what you should be steering clear of. That way you will never end up spoiling your beloved tent during a clean-up session.

Cleaning a tent that smells

Quite often, your tent will start smelling musty when you have used it for a number of frequent trekking expeditions. A smelly tent is never a welcome thing when you are preparing for an exciting new trek. Therefore, you should make sure that your camping tent does not come out smelling like mold out of the cupboard. Although this can be difficult to achieve since camping tents are quite susceptible to molds and mildew as well, it is not impossible to keep your tent smelling good over a long period of time. Only thing that you require to achieve this feat is the know-how. So how do you clean up a camping tent that is smelling musty and has made you sneeze ten times in a row?

Bad smell

There are a number of great products in the market that have the capacity to remove musty smells in a jiffy. Brands like MiraZyme and other have been developed especially keeping in mind the musty smells that can be caused by mildew growth on your damp tent material. Therefore, it is better to use a well reputed brand for your camping gear when trying to remove smells of mold growth. The following points will help you clean your smelly tent in no time:

  • The tent should never be stored away while still in the damp condition. Even a tiny amount of moisture will lead to mold and mildew growth in the hidden corners that are also quite difficult to reach.
  • Use anti-mold solution in your cleansing mixture while hosing your camping tent down. Rinse the solution well before putting the tent out for drying.
  • Zip-lock your tent and place it in a relatively cooler place. Warm and humid storage areas can cause the growth of mildew and mold on the surface of your tent.
  • After you take out a musty smelling tent from your storage, keep it for a few hours in an airy and shaded area.

How to clean a tent with mold?

Camping is the best experience of a child’s life. When you have children who are vulnerable to asthma attacks and have allergy to dust and pollen, you should be super cautious about mold growths on your tent. Follow the above points carefully to avoid any kind of allergies arising from dust and mildew.


The first step towards cleaning out a moldy tent is to recognize the signs of mold and mildew growth.

  • Damage inspection: The first sign of a mold attack on your precious camping gear is the appearance of a whitish layer on the outer surface. The whitish layer is actually a colony of mold or mildew which breeds in moist and humid conditions. Unlike pollen and other types of dust, a mildew layer is a living, growing colony which needs to be tackled accordingly. So, the most important thing to remember while cleaning mildew from your tent is that you need to kill the invisible spores as well as the visible mold. The spores are the mold ‘babies’ which later become fully developed mold.
  • Cleaning procedure: There are a few easy steps that you can follow to completely rid your camping gear from the clutches of a mold colony or a mildew attack. You will need the following essentials before you set out to clean up the ugly white layer from your tent:
  • Lemon water
  • Tent cleaning solution (detergent free)
  • Salt
  • Soft sponge

Once you have got all the basic ingredients, the rest is easy. All you need to do is:

  • Thoroughly clean out your tent using the tent cleaner solution and the sponge. Scrubbing the tent will help kill off the tiny spores on the outer surface of your tent.
  • Prepare a warm bath for your tent in a huge tub. Mix around 1 oz. cleaner solution with 15 to 20 gallons of water. Do not dilute more than this or else the bath won’t help much.
  • Dip your tent in this bath and swirl it around with hands. Allow it to soak for a few hours.
  • After you take it out, use the salt and lime solution to gently scrub off any stubborn mildew stains from the fabric of your tent. Keep in mind that the ratio of salt, lime water and normal water should be 1:1:1.
  • Hang out your tent in a shaded and airy place and allow it to dry completely before storing it away in a clean and moisture-free storage unit.

Mold and mildew attacks can also damage the water-proof coating of your camping tent. To repair the damaged areas, buy a water-proof sealant from the market (you can easily get tent sealants online). After cleaning the tent up, apply this sealant in the damaged areas and allow your camping tent to dry completely before you store it. The sealant will smoothen up the damaged coat and make the outer surface water-proof again.

After wash care of your tent

Trekking can take its toll on your tent’s fabric in the long run. After you have gone for a number of treks, you will probably find occasional holes and splits in the seams of your camping tent. The seams of the tent are generally sewn and joined with tough sealants that are permanent. However, over time even the toughest of sealants can break down due to environmental damage to your camping gear. Applying a seam sealer is the best solution to this problem. Unless you want to invest in a brand new tent, you can use the seam sealers to sufficiently repair the damages done to your tent. Seam sealers like Aquaseal and Silnet are extremely effective and will seal the seams of your tent in such a way that it appears as good as new. There are three easy steps to apply the seam sealants to your tent:

  • Preparing your tent: The first step is to prepare your tent for the application of the sealant. Follow the general cleaning procedures as described above (use only detergent-free solution and soft sponge for scrubbing). Make sure you dry out the tent fabric completely before starting to apply the sealant.
  • Apply the seam sealant: The sealant should be bought only after checking if it is compatible with your tent’s fabric. Some sealants can cause more damage than good. So, buy your sealant carefully. You should also buy two sizes of applicator brush so that you can tackle both the larger surfaces and the corners of your tent well. The sealant should be applied only when the tent is thoroughly dried in the shade. Use a masking tape to cover the edges of the seams so that your sealant does not spread across the surface. Apply the sealant wherever required and make sure you do not get any sealant into the zippers of your tent.
  • Cure and test: The last and final step is to cure the applied sealant by drying out the tent in the shade for a few hours. After your sealant has cured completely, it is time to test the effectiveness of your handiwork. Put up your tent and turn on the sprinkler over it (the backyard should be good for this). Check for any leaks or unsealed portions. If necessary, dry and repeat the procedure.

Once your tent is cleaned, repaired and dried thoroughly in the shade, zip-lock it and store it away for the next time you want to break out into the wild. Camping trips are a great way to bond with your family and involving your entire family in the lengthy cleaning process will also take some of the stress away from your shoulders. Divide the tasks evenly among your family members and make it as much fun as possible during the weekends. And always remind your kids that a worthy hiker cleans his own tent!