How to Clean Your Tent and Get Rid of Mold or Bad Odors

There is something immensely satisfying about pitching a tent in the great outdoors for camping. Tents are extremely versatile and lightweight, yet still keep us protected from the elements. They can last for a long time too, but only with proper care and cleaning. 

Follow this guide on how to clean a tent so you can enjoy it for as many years—and outdoor adventures—as possible. 

General Tent Cleaning Tips

You should clean your tent after long camping trips of several days or more. But if you just use your tent for occasional short camping trips, it needs to be cleaned every few months. 

Moisture, dirt, and grime present the biggest challenges in keeping your tent in the best shape, so it’s important to tackle those when caring for and cleaning your tent. Before looking at special tent cleaning situations, keep the following general tips in mind to keep your tent clean: 

  • Shake out or vacuum up dirt that makes it into your tent. It’s good to do this every time you use your tent, but at the very least, make sure it’s done before you store it for winter.
  • Do not pack away and store a wet or damp tent. If it cannot air dry completely at your camping site, then set up the tent after you return home to allow it to dry. 
  • It’s usually easier to clean tents when they are pitched and taut.
  • Hand wash outer fabrics. Wipe the tent down with a solution of lukewarm water and mild soap, like liquid hand soap (avoid detergents or soaps with fragrances, which may attract insects). Then rinse completely.
  • Clean the tent poles with a soft, dry cloth. This is an essential step after oceanside camping trips to remove salt spray and protect against corrosion.
  • Do not scrub the underside of the tent fly. This can damage or remove the polyurethane waterproof coating applied to the underside of most tent flies.
  • If you’ve been camping in a spot with sand/dirt, clean zippers by quickly dipping them in water and then dry them off. Without cleaning, the zipper sliders will wear out and eventually the teeth will become inoperable.
  • Do not machine wash or dry tents. The washing machine agitator and dryer temperatures can cause damage to the fabric, special coatings, and seam tape.

How to Clean a Tent with Mold

Damp or wet tents are perfect environments for mold and mildew, so it’s quite possible that you’ll find these unwelcome guests setting up their own camps on your tent at some point. Mold and mildew grow quickly on wet fabrics, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that your tent is a loss. 

How to clean a tent with mold or mildew depends on how much mold/mildew there is. Sometimes hot and soapy water is all you need; other times may require more drastic measures. Using a specialized cleaner like Revivex Pro Cleaner or an enzyme cleaner like MiraZyme takes out the guesswork and still protects your tent fabric.

  1. Using a soft brush, remove the mold and mildew from the tent material.
  2. Wash the affected area with a specialized cleaner, following the cleaner’s directions. For a DIY mold cleaner, use a solution of 1/2 cup Lysol to a gallon of hot water or one quart vinegar and ½ teaspoon soap to five quarts of hot water. 
  3. Rinse. 
  4. Allow the tent to dry completely.

If the mold/mildew has stained your tent, you can bleach out the stain:

  • Wash or soak the affected area:
    • For most fabrics, a non-chlorine bleach will work.
    • For colored fabrics, use a solution of 1 cup of lemon juice and 1 cup of salt to a gallon of hot water.
    • For color safe fabrics, use a solution of 2 tablespoons bleach to a quart of water.
  • Allow the bleached area to dry thoroughly.

How to Clean a Tent that Smells

Once the tent is clean, mold and mildew odors may still be present. An odor eliminator such as Revivex or Mirazyme is your best bet for how to clean a tent that smells. Follow the instructions to avoid damaging the tent’s waterproof coating. Allow the tent plenty of time to dry, as it may take a while for the odor eliminators to fully work.  

Another source of bad tent smells takes a little more work. Many tents are treated with a polyurethane coating on the tent floor and the underside of the tent fly to make them waterproof. When PU coatings break down, there is often a foul odor similar to vomit or urine. In order to deal with that stink, you will need to remove the polyurethane coating, then apply a new one. 

Keeping your tent clean, dry, and stored properly can keep bad smells away. 

How to Clean a Canvas Tent

For general cleaning of canvas tents, simply hose the tent down with water and wipe with a cloth. Soaps and detergents can damage the water-repellant treatment of the canvas. Then let it dry completely out of direct sunlight.

It’s a little more complicated if you need to know how to clean a canvas tent that has mold. Unfortunately, once mold gets into the fibers of the canvas it is almost impossible to remove it completely. However, you can prevent it from spreading.

  1. Spray the affected area with distilled white vinegar to kill the mold. Let it dry. 
  2. Scrub the area lightly with a soft brush using a mixture of 1 cup of lemon juice and 1 cup of salt to a gallon of hot water. NOTE: Avoid using detergent soaps or bleach, which is harsh on canvas and challenging to rinse out. Let dry.
  3. Spray the clean, dry canvas with a canvas treatment, like Dry Guy.

Keep Your Tent Clean with Proper Storage

Don’t let all your hard work keeping your tent clean go to waste by storing it in a way that lets back in the dirt or moisture. Improperly stored tents may require you to clean them all over again before you can use them, and shortens their lifespan. 

The garage is an ideal location for tent storage: dry and out of the elements. But tents and other camping gear can be bulky and awkward to store. Garage Smart’s Universal Lifter is the easiest way to store your tent in your garage using the extra space overhead. Adjustable straps allow you to fit your tent exactly, then just raise it out of the way with the touch of your smartphone. 

garage storage

Garage Smart believes you shouldn’t have to sacrifice convenience to properly store your gear. Find out how our full line of products can make your life easier today.