How to Clean a Tent (And Other Tent Care Tips!)

How to Clean a Tent (And Other Tent Care Tips!)

Taking good care of your tent will greatly improve its life.

Although this includes many things, including proper storage and regular maintenance, the most important factor is keeping the store clean.

Fortunately, cleaning the tent (both in the field and at home) is not that difficult.

Today, we’ll break down exactly how to clean your tent, as well as some other tent care basics.

Field Store Care

Camp preparation

Follow these tips when setting up campers to improve the life of your tent:

  • Debris Removal – After you have found a flat, level place to pitch your tent, remove any large debris such as branches, pinecones, and rocks from under where you are going to pitch your tent.
  • Use a ground cloth – an extra layer under your tent will work wonders to keep it in top condition. Use a ground cloth, such as a tent tread or tarp, under your tent.
  • Look for shade – UV rays, especially at peak times of the day and for several days in a row, can do serious damage to the fabric of your tent. So pitch your tent in the shade if possible (this also helps keep your tent cool).

Following these basic tips for setting up your tent will help you keep your tent clean.

using your store

The cleanliness of the tents is just as important as the correct use of the tent while camping as the proper preparation of the tent:

  • Bring a broom – If you are going camping in a car, a miniature broom and shovels are very helpful in keeping your tent clean, especially if you are camping with kids or a dog.
  • No food inside – do not bring food or drinks (other than water) inside your tent! Not only does this prevent spillage and keeps the tent clean, it’s also essential to avoid wildlife encounters.
  • Take off your shoes – Always leave your shoes outside the store to prevent them from getting dirty. This is one of the main reasons why I prefer the tent with a large vestibule and full coverage.

Personally, I like to quickly clean the tent for one minute every morning. I’ll shake the sleeping bags, do a quick wipe and clean up any spills (although I already said no food!). A quick camp cleaning really helps make cleaning your tent at home easier.

packing your tent

Finally, when it comes to tent care in the field, it is essential that you take a few minutes to properly pack your tent:

  • Dispose of – Open the tent doors and get rid of large debris before disassembling the tent and putting it away.
  • Let It Dry If Possible – If your tent is wet, it is best to let it dry before returning it to your car. If it keeps raining or you have to go, at least try spreading it out in your car to make it easier to dry before you go home.
  • Roll Instead of Folding – You will probably do a good job of folding a tent, but roll it up is an easy way to prevent damage and improve the life of your tent.

Once you get home, take your tent out of your utility bag or storage bag. I talk more about store-appropriate storage below.

How to clean your store

Cleaning the tent may seem daunting, but it is actually very easy.

But as long as you use and store your tent properly, including cleaning up debris after each use, you’re not likely to need to wash it at all.

In fact, I rarely have to wash a tent. Instead, all it takes is a quick cleanup after a particularly dirty camping trip. Chances are if your tent needs a full wash, you haven’t been using it, or you are likely to store it properly.

I’ve had my current tent for five years and haven’t washed it yet. Sweeping and wiping them quickly, and most importantly letting them dry completely before putting them away was all I had to do to keep them in near mint condition, even though I go camping regularly in all weathers.

With that in mind, here’s exactly how to clean a tent in several different scenarios.

How to clean a dirty camping tent

First things first, let your tent air dry until completely dry.

Once you’re done, open the doors and windows and get rid of the remaining trash.

Usually, even if your tent is muddy from a rainy camping trip, most dirt and grime will be removed once it dries up.

At this point, I like to clean my tent with a non-abrasive sponge. Use cold water and non-detergent soap.

Clean your tent by hand and gently scrub the soiled areas until they are clean.

Pine sap and other sticky stains are a bit more complicated. But a good mineral oil or something like hand sanitizer should do the trick. Remember to rinse the tent when you are done.

For a heavily soiled tent, you can use a large bucket, bathtub, or sink to wash everything the same way (scrub by hand with a soft sponge, cold water, and non-detergent soap).

I have even tried washing a tent with the hose and it works fine. Just remember to use the softest setting possible if you are using a nozzle or wand.

And no matter which method you use, be sure to let your tent dry completely after cleaning!

How to clean a smelly tent

As mentioned many times, proper storage of your tent (ie letting it dry completely) is the number one way to combat bad odors.

But, if the smell starts in your tent, it is quite possible to clean it to remove the smell.

The most important thing is to always avoid using the washing machine. You’ll never want to wash a tent in the washing machine, as there is a high chance of damaging delicate fabrics.

Use the same method described above on how to clean a dirty tent.

But instead of cleaning your tent in place, go through the entire handwashing process. Use a bucket, bathtub, or sink to completely submerge the tent in cold water.

Add a non-detergent soap (make sure it’s fragrance-free as well). Gently scrub and shake the tent by hand.

An alternative DIY solution is to mix vinegar and lemon juice into the water. Soap can sometimes leave a residue. Vinegar and lemon juice do not carry these risks.

Make sure to rinse the tent well after washing. This will often require several additional clean water baths to complete.

Clean both the rain cover and the body of the tent, as both can have an unpleasant odor.

Remember that even if you are using a non-abrasive sponge, you should scrub it gently. Too much friction can damage the waterproofing layer of the tent.

Here’s more information on how to clean a smelly tent.

How to clean mold or mildew from the tent

Mold and mildew are sure signs that your tent has not been properly stored.

A damp or even slightly damp tent stored in a bag of things for a long time without drying will almost certainly cause mildew, mildew or odors.

Like the carp washing method you used on your own above, your best bet is to mix vinegar and a small amount of lemon juice in a spray bottle.

Wash the tent well first, let it dry completely again, then spray it with the vinegar and lemon juice mixture.

Let the tent sit and air dry again. Once it dries completely, mold and mildew should be gone. Even better, lemon and vinegar act as a natural disinfectant.

Of course, you can also buy mold and mildew stain remover online, but I’ve found that using vinegar and lemon juice is a much more effective method, not to mention much cheaper.

How to save your store

In my opinion, proper pantry storage is much more important than shop cleanliness.

In fact, storing your tent the right way actually prevents odors, mold, and mildew, which greatly reduces the chances of you needing to wash your tent well.

Here’s what you need to know about tent storage:

  • Air Dry – Always and always let your tent air dry completely before putting it away.
  • Untight Storage – The stuff sack is great for camping, but not very good for storage. Leave your tent unpacked and spread out if possible. If space is an issue, a standard tent storage bag (not a compression bag) is ideal.
  • Cool, Dry Place – A cool, dry place is the best place to store your tent. Avoid storing your tent in a damp area.

I just want to repeat again: ALWAYS let your tent dry completely before putting it away! This is the first thing you can do to increase the life of the tent.

Other Tent Care and Repair Tips

Once my tent is completely dry after a trip, I take a few minutes to check it for damage before putting it away.

Here are some tent care, maintenance and repair tips to keep in mind:

  • Patch Tears – Patch any tears with the Tent Repair Kit ASAP. Both repair tape and mesh patch kits are available.
  • Re-seal seams – Use a liquid sealant to re-seal leaky tent seams. You can also re-glue the seams, but this is more difficult. Make sure you get the correct type of sealant for your shop fabric (silicone and polyurethane sealants are available).
  • Tent Poles Repair – A pole repair cap (similar to a splint) is the best way to repair a tent pole. Simply place the sleeve on the tent pole and attach it with some masking tape. It’s not pretty, but it works!
  • Reapply the waterproofing – Take a moment to check the waterproofing in your tent. If it starts to fail (flakes visibly), it’s time to reapply a thin coat of paintable polyurethane. Some tent manufacturers also offer alternative rainflies (which would probably be a better option if one was available).
  • Follow the instructions – always check the manufacturer’s instructions before making repairs or cleaning your tent.

Although I’ve never gone this route (I always do DIY tent repairs), there are professional tent repair services available.

Many outdoor retailers, both chain stores and convenience stores, offer repairs. For example, REI repair services can help you fix a tent.

But in my opinion, unless your tent is expensive or specialized, it is generally best to invest in a new tent if you cannot repair the damage yourself.

Our guides to the best camping tents, best winter camping tents, and best family camping tents will help you choose a great alternative to a tent.

Why is it important to take care of your tent

The benefits of tent care seem obvious, but many people don’t care for or store their tent properly, so it’s important to reiterate why you should.

  • Extended Life – Even basic tent care and cleaning will significantly extend the life of your tent.
  • Increases the fun – A dirty, filthy and smelly tent can make tent camping miserable.
  • Keep Animals Away – Food spills and other store smells can attract animals. You don’t particularly want this when camping in bear country!
  • Waterproofing Guarantee: Regular cleaning, inspection and repair of your tent will help ensure waterproofing when you need it.

Fortunately, as we’ve shown you in this guide, basic tent maintenance is very quick and easy.

Learn more about cleaning camping equipment

A tent is just one item from your camping or backpacking checklist.

But it’s important to clean and maintain every piece of camping gear, not just your tent.

Stay tuned for more camping gear cleaning guides, including how to clean your sleeping bag.

And as always, let us know in the comments below if you have any other questions!

Happy camping!

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