How to Clean Camping Tents

1. Basics for Cleaning a Tent

Camping tent

Tips and tricks for keeping your camping tent clean will reward you with countless years of use on your adventures with the smallest amount of care and attention. Your tent will keep you warm, out of the rain and sun, store your stuff, cooler, and sleeping bags.

The instructions and tips in this article will give you ideas for the best maintenance for your camping tent.

  • Never ever store your tent wet—it will grow mildew, mold, bacteria, and stink.
  • Always be careful with zippers and Velcro®, if used.
  • Clean your tent, fly, poles, and any other accessories often.
  • When you use cleaners and water repellents, read the directions and adhere to that.

You will have success for a clean and fresh tent, and after cleaning with liquids, allow it to air dry.

2. Shake Out Your Tent

Shake Out Your Tent

Shake your tent when it has been taken down to remove ground dirt, leaves, twigs, and small gravel before putting it in your stuff bag or other carrying bag. Poles will hold up a free-standing tent that will help you.

When breaking down the poles or shock corded poles, push them and don’t pull. You don’t want to put stress on the elastic cord if the other poles get bogged down or tangled. Start in the middle taking the poles down for even tension along the cord. Do this until your poles are entirely folded.

3. Moisture and Bag Stuffing

Moisture and Bag StuffingAll tents can collect condensation, usually under the rainfly and floor. Any moisture will cause serious damage to your beloved tent. Ventilation will not stop it. Be sure your tent is dry before packing up. If you do have to take it with you wet, let it relax loosely rolled up and not folded. If you do have mold or mildew, that musky stench, here’s what you can do.

A sponge with plain soap and water will probably not remove it. Try using a sponge with:

  1. MiraZyme

    1/2-cup Lysol® unscented (bees and bugs will think it’s a flower if scented) and add it to 1-gallon of warm water or

  2. Add to 1-gallon of warm water 1/2-ounce of MiraZyme Odor Eliminator. You can read more about its abilities here. It is a good product for gear with no bleach to remove odors usually associated with mold, mildew, bacteria, and algae or

  3. A tablespoon or 2 of bleach will help also in a separate gallon of water.

The above 3 methods use 1-gallon of water each. Do not mix the chemicals all together in a 1-gallon bucket for the 3 different methods.  Each method stands alone.

Put on your rubber gloves, old work clothes, and go at it with a sponge and soft brush. Rinse well with the garden hose and put the tent up in shade to air dry.

After the tent is dry, mix 1 cup salt, 1 cup lemon juice in a gallon of hot water and scrub with a sponge and brush. This will remove any mold spots and get rid of the musky smell. If you have more stain, repeat the procedure above. It is time consuming, but worth it rather than buying a new tent. Again, let the tent air dry in the shade and pack it up for storage or your next trip. Sometimes you cannot remove the black spots mold leaves behind, but the spores and mold will be gone and your tent will smell fresh.

The best prevention—never store your tent wet.

Cleaning tents

4. Cleaners for Tents and Gear

Nickwax cleanerSpray-on cleaners are available for removing dirt, odor, tree sap, bird droppings, and stains when there is no mold involved. Some protect the water repellent finish of your tent as well and there are water repellent sprays available as well. Nickwax is a good product for waterproofing here.

To kill mold, you can use an enzyme cleaner. Don’t over scrub and rinse well then air dry.

Never put your tent in a washer. A bathtub might work depending on its size or a watering hog trough. Don’t use scented removers, laundry detergent, spot removers, or presoaking supplies.

5. Other Maintenance Tips

  • Tree Sap—Pine sap will not wreck your tent. Isopropyl alcohol, hand sanitizer wipes, mineral oil, and unscented powder will all loosen it up. Do not over scrub the area and rinse well once the sap is gone. You can also buy pine resin removers.
  • UV Resistance—Use a spray-on solar treatment if you are camping in an area with a lot of sun that will also recover the water repellency of the fabric.
  • Zipper Lubricant—Clean any dirt and grime from your tent zippers and poles and put on a dry lubricant. Do not use wax because dirt will stick to it and if fragrant, attract wildlife, bugs, and stinging insects.

Zipper Lubricant

Waterproof your tent seams, apply seam sealer, reseal leaking seams with seam tape to the outside of the fabric because it leaves a sticky deposit.

Final Thoughts

We hope the information here will help you keep your tents clean and fresh for many years to come.

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