A tent requires a little care and attention in order for it to continue to shelter and protect you on your adventures. They will degrade over time, so a little preventative maintenance now will ensure it’s properly sheltering you later.

Whether a tent is made of canvas or synthetic fabric, it needs cleaning and maintenance.

Of course, you can quickly spray out your tent with a hose, but every once in a while, you will need to give your tent a thorough cleaning.

Here’s a quick guide on how to clean a tent so you’ll be ready to go whenever you hear the call of nature.

Why Taking Care of Your Tent Is Important

Almost every camper knows the importance of taking care of the tent.

But many don’t bother to clean or store it properly.

Here are the benefits of taking care of your tent:

  • Longer Lifespan – Even cleaning your tent once in a while can significantly increase the lifespan of your tent.
  • Increased Enjoyment – A clean tent will give you pleasant vibes. A dirty, smelly tent can simply make camping miserable.
  • No Unwanted Animal Friends – If you have food and drink spills all over the inside and/or outside of your tent, the food odors can attract animals and insects.
  • Ensure Weatherproofing – Regularly cleaning, inspecting, and repairing your tent will help ensure that it’s waterproof – when you need it to be waterproof.

When Should You Wash Your Tent

As a rule of thumb, you should wash your tent after every camping trip or every six months, even if you don’t use it.

Here are some clear signs it’s time to give your tent a wash down:

  • Visually Dirty – A little bit of dust here and there is not a problem. If you see significant dirt build up over time or after camping, you need to wash your tent.
  • Ocean Camping – The salty air can corrode zippers and tent poles. You should clean your tent every time you return from beach camping.
  • Smoke Exposure – When your tent is exposed to prolonged campfire smoke, the smoke will coat your tent in a layer of microparticles. If you don’t clean off these particles, it could damage your tent in the long run.
  • Prolonged Exposure to UV Rays – If you let a dirty tent frequently sit in the sun, the dirt will bake into the fabric making it almost impossible to clean.

How To Clean Your Tent at Home in 6 Steps

It will always be easier to give your tent a thorough scrub down at home where you have the freedom of space and time at your disposal.

Here are the six basic steps to clean your tent:

  1. Read Instruction Manual – All new tents come with an instruction manual. Read it thoroughly and figure out how to clean your specific tent, what washing substances to use, and what not to use.
  2. Gather Your Cleaning Equipment – You’ll need a hose, detergents, a bucket, and a non-abrasive sponge or rag. You can also use tent specific cleaning solutions to remove tough stains.
  3. Remove All Loose Debris – While camping, your tent is going to collect sticks, dirt, leaves and other debris. Be sure to sweep out or shake out all the loose bits.
  4. Find a Flat and Smooth Surface – Tile floors, tarps, and grass are the best tent cleaning surfaces. Avoid abrasive surfaces, such as concrete or asphalt.
  5. Get It Wet – Spread your tent over the smooth floor to thoroughly rinse the inside and outside of the tent.
  6. Hand-Wash Thoroughly – Once it’s wet, use a cleaning detergent and a sponge to clean it thoroughly. For more stubborn stains, you can soak your tent in cold or lukewarm water and apply a tent specific spot remover.
  7. Make Sure It’s Bone Dry – Once you’re done cleaning, dry it out in the sun and make sure it’s completely dry before storing. Avoid storage in hot, humid areas, like an outdoor garage. Instead, opt for somewhere dry and cool, like a hallway closet or basement.

How To Keep Your Tent Clean While Camping

Spot cleaning any mud or dirt from your tent and fly is the best way to keep your tent clean while in the wilderness.

You will do a thorough cleaning at home, but there are some minor things you can do to keep your tent clean while camping.

Doing so will make the cleaning process easier and faster at home.

  • Clean As You Go – Sweep all sticks, dirt, and leaves every day or at least every other day. Doing so will keep the floor clean and protected from scratches.
  • Opt For a No-Shoe Policy – Don’t allow campers to enter your tent wearing shoes, including you. In case you need to keep your shoes inside due to bad weather or creepy crawlies, have a designated spot for shoe storage.
  • No Food Inside – Avoid eating food inside your tent at any cost unless it’s raining or snowing. It will prevent spills and unwanted lingering smells.
  • Keep Water Nearby – Having water close by provides quick access to clean your clothes, shoes, and gear before climbing into your tent.
  • Use a Groundsheet – A groundsheet, or tarp, helps protect the outer floor of the tent from possible wear and tears. It also makes the cleaning process easy while packing down.

5 Ways To Remove Mold From a Tent

Depending on how much the mold is ingrained into the tent fabric, you may be able to remove mold with just hot and soapy water.

Here are five solutions to remove mold and mildew from your tent.

  • Hot Water & Soap – Though this is one of the old-fashioned ways of cleaning a tent, it is still one of the most preferred cleaning methods. Just be sure to use non-detergent soap. Mix hot water and the soap to form a foam. Use a sponge or a soft bristle brush to scrub stubborn mold and mildew. Once done, rinse your tent with clean water and let air dry.
  • Vinegar & Water – It not only eliminates bad smells but vinegar also kills mold. Just mix a cup of white vinegar with a gallon of warm water in a bucket. Use water and sponge to brush off mold and mildew. Rinse with clean water and let air dry when done.
  • Lemon Juice & Salt – If you don’t have vinegar, a cup of lemon juice and a cup of salt is also a good option. Just mix a gallon of hot water with the lemon juice and salt and with a sponge, scrub the mold. Then rinse and let air dry.
  • Tea Tree Oil & Warm Water – Cleaning your tent with tea tree oil will get rid of not only mold and mildew, but also bad smells. Just add two teaspoons of tea tree oil to a spray bottle and fill with water. Spray the affected areas and use a soft sponge, cloth, or brush to scrub the mold off. Then rinse with warm water and let air dry.
  • Vinegar & Lemon – Squeeze one full lemon and add a quarter cup of vinegar into warm water. Mix them properly in a spray bottle and use it on the affected areas. Allow the solution to sit before you start to scrub gently, and finally, allow the tent to dry fully.

How to Remove Tree Sap From a Tent

Whatever you do, do NOT try and pick or scratch the sap off the tent.

This will weaken the fabric leaving it susceptible to tears.

Instead, put mineral oil on a sponge or rag and gently scrub the sap off. Then rinse the area with water and let it air dry.

If this doesn’t work, there are mild chemicals you can use. Just be careful as these can weaken the fabric if not used correctly.

How To Remove Bad Smells From a Tent

Tents can get smelly and most of the time you won’t know where the smell is coming from.

Follow these tips to prevent and remove bad odors:

Prevent Bad Smells Before They Start – Bad smells don’t just happen out of thin air. Something causes it.

After each camping trip, do the following to prevent smells:

  • Clean out any debris inside the tent.
  • Give your tent a thorough inspection. Look for any problems that could lead to unpleasant smells.
  • Make sure your tent is completely dry before packing and storing it away.

Determine Why Is Your Tent Smelly – There are lots of factors that trigger a smelly tent. You should find the source of the smell before you wash your tent. Without knowing the source, you might find it hard to eradicate that smell effectively. Your body sweat, bacteria, mold, and mildew are some of the prime suspects for smelly tents.

It Smells Like Rotten Egg and Vomit – Tents that are experiencing a breakdown of polyethylene in the material will smell like vomit. Mix warm water and mild detergent in a bucket and submerge your tent for at least an hour. Then, scrub the polyethylene coating surface gently.

Use Tent Air-Freshener – In the middle of your trip, your tent might start to smell. In this situation, you can’t just dismantle your tent and start washing. Instead, use a tent air freshener to keep things pleasant until you get home.

For the casual camper, standard cleaning and ensuring that you never pack your tent while it is damp or dirty is all that is needed to avoid mold.

It depends on the materials of the tent and how well you care for it. Tents made from high quality materials that are also well cared for can last a lifetime. Whereas, low quality tents may only last a few years.

No, delicate tent materials are no match for the awesome power of an agitator (or most household cleaners). Instead, follow the manufacturer cleaning instructions or hand wash your tent.

Things Last Longer When You Take Care Of Them

Knowing how to clean a tent and maintain it will go a long way in protecting it for years to come.

So the next time you head out on a camping trip, keep these cleaning tips in mind.

Treat your tent well, and it will reward you with many years of good sleep, clean air, and fun times.