How to Clean a Tent

How to clean a Tent

Ah, camping. A chance to unplug from the rest of the word, de-stress, and reconnect with nature. There's nothing like a good, old-fashioned camping trip!

This family-fun activity isn't for everyone, but if you're reading this article then it's likely you're a fan of this outdoor activity. Either that or you were forced into it by a friend or family member and desperately seeking ways to clean your tent before you store it in the attic for the next 10 years.

Whichever it is, we're going to give you the lowdown on how to wash a tent correctly to prevent further damage. From simple debris removal to deep-cleaning methods, you'll know exactly how to ensure your tent is spotless and camping-ready. After all, if you've bought one of the best inflatable tents, you're going to want it to last!

5 Best Ways to Clean a Tent After Camping

Wondering how to clean a tent thoroughly? We've compiled a list of 5 best practices for cleaning a tent and keeping it in tip-top condition. Let's get started! 

1. Avoiding Mildew and Mould

This is one of the most common (and most annoying) problems when it comes to thinking about tent cleaning. Mould and mildew can render a tent completely unusable. If it's not a terrible case of mold or mildew it might just look a little grubby and smell terrible, but it can be easily fixed.

If you're in a rush to leave a campsite, or you've been unlucky enough to camp in the rain and simply don't want to spend time making sure you tent is completely dry, then you run the risk of folding it away while it's still damp. This can cause problems when left for an extended period of time, like causing the fabric to rot or form holes.

It's always best to take your tent down and pack it away once you've let it dry completely. Of course, it's not always so simple. Perhaps you're packing your tent up in a heavy downpour, or leaving early morning while there's still dew coating the outside.

You should try to avoid taking your tent down when it's not dry to avoid problems further down the line. So what are the best practices for avoiding mold and mildew?

First, try to shake off as much water as you can. After, you should wipe what more moisture you can off with a dry cloth or a towel. If there's room in the car you can even try to drape the tent over the luggage you have in the boot or backseat. This will allow it to dry on the journey.

If you really have no other option but to pack the tent away while it's damp, then be sure to unpack it as soon as you get home. Don't leave it to fester for hours, days, or weeks. Once you've cleaned it you should hang it up somewhere that plenty of air can get to it, whether it's outside or inside. Another tip to take note of is that storing your clean, dry tent in the airing cupboard is a great idea that allows it to breathe, rather than packing it back tightly in its stuff sack.

Wondering how to clean tent odors, mildew, and mold? Enzyme cleaners, such as MiraZyme, work really well. You simply have to soak the tent in water and the enzyme cleaner. Be sure that you don't leave it soaking too long as this can break down the waterproof polyurethane coatings that keep the tent waterproof. 

2. Rips, Tears, and Other Repairs

When it comes to cleaning a tent you'll often notice smalls rips and tears that you hadn't noticed before. Smalls tears, punctures, and rips in a tent's fabric or groundsheet are common occurrences and can be temporarily fixed with gaffer tape. There are also a number of self-adhesive patches produced by the manufacturer that come in various shapes and colors. Often more expensive tents come with small patches of matching fabric that can be used for longer-lasting patching.

Something you should know before attempting to repair your tent with a self-adhesive patch or tape is that the area around the hole should be clean and dry. After, try to place something behind the hole to ensure that when you tape it, the area is flat and there are no creases. Finally, you'll need to re-proof (see our next tip below!) over the repair to keep it waterproof.

Have you ever experienced a split seam or loose guy line anchor while camping? This is a common issue as it's easy to trip over a line or put a little too much pressure on the tent so and rip a seam. It's a good idea to carry a small sewing kit with you along with some strong thread so that you can easily deal with simple repairs like this immediately. Always remember to seal the seams (when they're dry) so that your tent remains waterproof.

Another common problem you'll face is a broken or bent pole. This can be incredibly frustrating, but luckily isn't too difficult a problem to solve. Often manufacturers will supply an extra pole with their tents. If this isn't the case then you'll need to visit a camping retailer and asking them to help you find the correct type and size for your tent. 

3. Re-Proofing your Tent 

Tents can start leaking after years of usage, it's normal. It doesn't mean that you have to buy a new one just yet. There is a much simpler (and cheaper!) solution. There are plenty of brands selling reproofing materials at most decent camping or outdoor stores. These come with a full set easy to follow instructions that'll have your tent back to the full waterproof condition before you know it!

Remember that detergents can negatively affect the water-resistance of your tent. Detergents allow water to penetrate grease and dirt so that it can easily be washed away -- that's why they work so well on dirty dishes! However, this can reduce the water-resistance of a tent. For this reason, try to keep strong detergents away from your tent and even avoid drying wet towels on the side of the tent as the stubborn detergent can remain afterward. 

4. Spot Clean

When you're packing down your tent, you should spot clean it to tackle any obvious dirt and grime. To avoid unnecessary mud and grime entering the tent, make it a rule to have no shoes inside! This will make your life much easier when it comes to spot cleaning.

Let's take a look at how to spot clean a tent - it's simple:

First, you'll need to empty and shake off any loose dirt from the tent inside and outside. Once you've done this take a good look to see if you spot any mud or dirt on the tent or the tent fly. Use a soft brush sponge and water to gently scrub off minimal dirt. If there's dried dirt you can use a soft cleaning brush (like the one that comes with a dustpan) to remove stubborn dried lumps.

As we mentioned before, don’t be tempted to use household soap and detergent! They're usually too harsh to use on your tent and will work to remove the waterproof layer, resulting in damage to your tent. 

5. Deep Tent Cleaning

The words "deep cleaning" are enough to instill fear in anyone. Nobody likes to deep clean, but sometimes it must be done for the good of mankind (okay, the good of the people who will use the tent in the future).

So the question remains, how do you deep clean a tent?

It's simple, really. After your relaxing camping trip, once you've emptied and spot cleaned the tent, you'll need to soap up the whole thing! If you've got a small tent you can simply immerse it in a full bathtub. However, if it's bigger you can work in sections, and then rinse it with a hose.

Don’t use a pressure washer. This can cause damage to the seams of your tent with too much pressure. Also ensure that the soap residue is completely washed off before packing your tent away, as this can leave a film on the fabric that'll be unpleasant the next time you go to use it.

Cleaning the poles is simple. Use a soft, dry cloth and simply dip the zippers in warm water before drying them off.

As we mentioned before, it's crucial to make sure your tent is bone dry before you put it away to avoid mold or mildew forming on the tent.

When to do a deep cleaning

There are some specific circumstances that'll require you to deep clean your tent immediately. 

Mold, mildew, or foul smells

There are plenty of solutions for cleaning tents that have mold or mildew on them or have begun to smell bad. As we mentioned above, enzyme cleaners are a great product to use on your tent to get rid of unwanted mold and mildew. If you'd prefer to avoid using chemical enzyme cleaners, there are several natural methods. Mixing vinegar, mild soap, and hot water together and using a soft bristle brush is a cheap and easy cleaning solution. Sunshine can also help to reduce mold and mildew, so it's a good idea to set it up for cleaning outside. 

Pine sap

Pine sap is another annoying substance to find when cleaning a tent. It might be stubborn to remove, but with the right technique, it can be done in no time. To get rid of pine sap try soaking a sponge in mineral oil and scrubbing the affected spots. After, rinse it with hot water and make sure to completely dry before putting it away. 

Jamming zippers

Try to wash the zips on your tent often, and avoid using dish soap and other detergents. After all, there's nothing more annoying than a jammed zip when you really need to get up in the middle of the night! If the zip is jammed, there are several specially formulated lubricants on the market that can help to un-stick it. 

Interested in a tent that's easy to clean? Check out our Capri 500xl review.

After deep cleaning

Once you've finished deep cleaning your tent, hang it up to dry. You can hang it outside to speed up the process, but try to avoid hanging it in direct sunlight. The sun's UV rays can weaken the fabric of the tent and make it more susceptible to tearing and leaking. Also, try to hang your tent in an open space far from bushes and branches to avoid snagging and unnecessary rips. We've said it before and we'll say it again: make sure the tent is dry before you store it! A damp tent will attract mold and it probably won't smell too good the next time you open it! 

Supplies for Cleaning Your Tent

Supplies for Cleaning your Tent

If you're researching how to clean a tent and coming up with a list of supplies to buy, you're about to be pleasantly surprised! Cleaning a tent doesn't require much at all. What's more, every item on this list is affordable! All you'll need is:

  • Some mild dish soap (remember what we said about harsh detergents?)
  • Soft, non-abrasive sponges
  • A specialist outdoor gear cleaner like Nikwax Tech Wash (rights reserved)
  • Bathtub or large bucket


What is the best way to clean a tent?

As mentioned above the best way involves spot cleaning and then deep cleaning. You should remove any mold, mildew, and tough dirt, and repair any rips or tears before storing the tent to increase its lifespan. Regular cleaning also means that you're less likely to encounter unexpected problems on your next camping trip.

If you follow the 5 tips we've listed above (and check out some related articles) about how to clean a tent properly then you'll have fewer problems and keep your tent in good condition to use in years to come. 

Can a tent be washed?

Cleaning a tent

Once you get home after a camping trip you'll probably be tempted to simply stuff the dirty tent into the washing machine. Don't do it! Putting the tent in the machine like the rest of your laundry will likely damage it. Washing a tent requires gentle care. Machine washing can shred the tent fabric and cause more harm than good. A much better solution is to soak the tent in warm water in the tub and avoid using harsh soap that can break down the waterproof outer layer. 

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