Cleaning your tent is one of those things that you might think: “do I really have to do this?”
I mean, tents are made for the outdoors right?
Well, the good news is, tents don’t have to be washed that often. Unless of course, you go on particularly adventurous camping trips, or your gear got too up close and personal with nature.
And no one wants to set up camp, fiddle with those pesky tent poles and realize that their canvas is moldy and smells, well…. bad!
Even when you do want to clean your camping gear, you might wonder how on earth do I wash it? Don’t worry!
You’ll find everything you need to know about washing your tent, in this article. We’ll go through the do’s and don’ts when it comes to caring for it, and take you through washing the canvas to looking after those pesky little zippers.
You won’t need much: just a little soap, a little water, and a little elbow grease to ensure that your tent stays fresh and clean for longer.
Let’s get started!
How to Clean your Tent the Right Way
Prevention is a key component to tent care and can be easily done on any camping trip. Below are several things that will help you to prevent damage to your tent and keep you a happy camper.
Using Your Tent Correctly
Using your tent correctly helps to keep it durable and lowers the amount of washing you have to do afterwards. The first thing to do when setting up your tent is to make sure that it is on smooth, level ground. Most camping sites will have these anyway, but if you’re wild camping, just do the best you can!
Search the area and remove any small objects that could damage your tent from below, such as:
- Small rocks
- Pine cones
- Sticks, twigs, or fallen branches
You can also put a mat, ground cloth, or a waterproof canvas underneath your tent (usually called a footprint) to make sure that there is an extra layer of protection between your tent floor and the dirt underneath.
You also have to check your tent is in an area where there isn’t too much direct sunlight. Depending on how long you’re camping for, UV exposure can damage the outer material over time, leading to more than just general wear and tear.
You might be asking, but aren’t tents meant to be in the sun?
You would be right! However, UV rays in large amounts can cause damage to tent fabrics, just like they can to our skin.
If this is a new tent, or even if it’s an old one that has seen better days, when putting it up, take time so that you don’t strain the poles (if your tent has any). Tent poles may look sturdy, but they can snap, bend, or crack easily if under too much stress. When it comes to poles, slow and steady wins the race, and your tent will thank you for it in the long run.
Storing Your Tent Correctly
If you don’t use your tent regularly, this step is just as important, maybe even more so, than if you do
- You’ve got to make sure that your tent is completely dry before storing it. This will prevent the forming and buildup of mold and mildew.
- This can sometimes be a hassle if you’re packing your tent away in the pouring rain and it gets water logged. But don’t forget, you can always take it out again at home to make sure it is completely dry before finally storing it away. This may seem like extra work, but it will really help with keeping your tent clean, and free of moisture and any nasty odours.
- Choose an adequate storage area! The place you’re storing your tent needs to be as dry as the tent itself. Mold and mildew love to grow in damp conditions and are attracted to moisture. So, even if you’re tent is dry before storing, it is wise to check and see if the place you’re storing it in, could damage it as well.
- Position your tent in a cool, dry place away from any water with plenty of space to breathe.
- Don’t squeeze your tent in between anything: like old body boards and broken down bikes!
- Give your tent a little wiggle room, perhaps in a stuff sack (although some would argue that folding your tent and placing it in something a little more spacious would be better) so it can relax until your next camping trip.
- Zippers are frustrating little things at times. They always seem to be getting stuck when you really need to get in or out of your tent. No matter how frustrated you are though, you should never force one that’s stuck.
- Instead, a good trick to try is the wiggle. Hold onto the zipper track and gently pull the zipper up whilst wiggling it from side to side. Or, as an alternative, gently pull the zipper down whilst pulling the fabric away, until it becomes unstuck.
- Ideally, so your zips don’t rust, and are therefore less likely to get stuck, try to lubricate them when you can.
Tent seams are commonly overlooked when it comes to overall tent care. And I know what you’re thinking,
why would I have to clean my seams?
Well, they don’t need cleaning as such, but they do need to be looked after.
- Most tents come prepared in terms of waterproof coatings and sealant but you can never be too careful! Especially as your seams are one of the most vulnerable parts of your tent. You have to choose the correct sealant for your tent’s fabric, and take care to see that each seam sealer is spread out evenly when applying, to be the most effective.
- If you’re in possession of a rain fly, (an extra piece of gear for the outside of your tent) most have a waterproof coating already. However, it always helps to check that your tent’s coatings are still water-proof, and top-up when needed.
- Never leave your dog unattended within your tent. As their claws and teeth can rip the tent, especially the mesh areas.
- Take off your boots and shoes when you can, before you enter your tent, to keep dirt, grime, and sand from building up on the tent floor.
- Likewise, any other gear you bring in from the outside, try to leave at the door, or just on the inside of the tent.
- If you’re sleeping in the same tent and in the same sleeping bags for a long trip, be sure to check underneath them where you sleep, for signs of mold.
Use Gentle Cleaning Methods
Before you do anything, get all your cleaning supplies ready:
- A hose
- A big, soft sponge
- A soft scrub brush (for tougher dirt and stains)
- A bucket or a tub full of warm water
- Mild soap
How to Wash a Tent By Hand
Now, your soap should preferably be, a mild, fragrance-free soap and a non-detergent variety. Some people use dish soap or hand soap, but don’t use any household detergents or bleaches when trying to wash your tent.
1. Set up your tent and stake it down on a clean, level patch of earth. Search for and get rid of any debris. Preferably do this on a warm and sunny day.
2. Sweep any loose dirt or sand out of the tent.
3. Scrub down all the tent fabric with the soft sponge and mild soap, outside and inside, taking care not to scrub too hard. Take time to scrub in the corners as well!
4. Wash any dirt and grime that’s tougher to get out with the soft scrub brush, but again, take care not to scrub too hard or do any damage to the fabrics.
5. Hose down the tent inside and outside with water, until there is no more soap residue.
6. Whilst hosing down the tent you can also check your seams to see if they need re-sealing and the tent is waterproof.
7. Some people like to put the tent in a soap bath, in a bucket or tub to soak, before rinsing it off again (but this is entirely optional and depends on the size of your tent!).
8. Let your tent dry completely in the sun.
9. If you have a rain fly, wash as above but hang out to dry over a clothesline or a fence. Don’t be tempted to put this in a washing machine or a dryer!
If you want to wash your tent specifically due to mold and mildew build-up, one fun fact to try is to mix in either a splash of vinegar or tea tree oil to your warm water and mild soaps, and then wash, rinse, and dry as above.
This will help keep mold at bay.
Remember, no detergents!
Why You Should Never Machine Wash Tents
The spin cycle in washing machines can be too harsh on the fabric of a tent. They can stretch the fabric and microfiber cloth, or rip the seams or mesh.
Never dry your tent in a dryer either. The heat can do permanent and lasting damage to the tent fabric and any other gear.
Dry Your Tent the Right Way
The best way to dry your tent:
- Keep your tent set up and staked down if drying outside.
- If drying inside, make sure it’s a spacious, airy, and dry room.
- Check specific areas for moisture build-up, such as the corners, and the areas where the poles are placed.
- Wait for the water and any excess moisture to dry up. See that there is no water left on the fabric anywhere!
- Fold your tent up, as this allows for even stress distribution over the tent body, and put into a spacious covering.
- Store alongside your other gear in a cool, dry storage area.
Remember, when you get home after your trip, always check your tent and any other camping gear again to see if it’s dry, before storing away.
Also if the weather isn’t going your way when you try to dry your tent, you can always hang it up to dry inside. Always be careful when doing so, so no damage is done to the tent as it’s drying.
This also depends on how big your tent is though, so in most cases you’ll have to wait for that perfect sunny day!
All in all, as long as you continue with the above maintenance, there’s nothing stopping you from having a long and happy life with your tent!
1. Can you wash a tent in the washing machine?
As a rule of thumb, never wash your tent in a washing machine. As stated above, the mesh and fabric of a tent is delicate, and machine washing cycles can be too harsh for the microfiber cloth.
Also, never dry your tent in a mechanical dryer! The intense heat can damage it. It’s best to let it air dry, on a sunny day, over a longer period of time, so that there is no moisture left whatsoever. Then it won’t go mouldy, and start to smell.
2. What is the best way to clean a tent?
Hand washing with water is the best way to clean a tent.
It may seem like a hassle, but it allows for less damage to be caused to the fabric of the tent during the cleaning process.
Again, never put your tent in a washing machine!
Hand washing takes more time but is the best thing!
If you want more specifics on how to hand wash, just look above to our guide for everything you need.
3 What is the best way to store my tent?
Always store your tent in a cool, dry place. A garage is normally best, as long as the tent is away from any leaks or damp.
Try to fold instead of rolling or stuffing as well.
For more information on how to store your tent, check out our guide above!