How to Clean a Tent After Camping

Updated Jun 29, 2023

Cleaning a tent is essential for maintaining its durability and prolonging its lifespan. Start by removing loose dirt and debris, then spot clean any stains using a gentle soap or specialized tent cleaner. Thoroughly rinse and dry the tent before storing it properly, ensuring it’s ready for your next outdoor adventure.

how to clean a tent after camping

A clean tent is essential for a comfortable tent camping experience. Whether you are dealing with dirt, mold, or unpleasant smells, knowing how to clean a tent properly ensures its longevity and keeps it fresh for your next adventure.

We’ll cover everything you need to know, including how to clean a tent after camping, how to freshen-up a tent that smells, and how to sanitize a tent that has mold. We’ll also answer the common question: can you wash a tent in the washer?

Assessing the Situation: Types of Cleaning Required

Before diving into the cleaning process, you must identify the specific issues that need to be addressed. The type of cleaning required will depend on various factors such as the extent of dirt, presence of mold or mildew, and any unpleasant odors. Here are the main types of cleaning required for tents:

Basic Cleaning

This type of cleaning is necessary after every camping trip, regardless of whether your tent appears dirty or not. Basic cleaning involves removing dirt, dust, and debris from the tent’s surface and ensuring it is properly dried before storage.

Deep Cleaning

Deep cleaning is required when there is a significant amount of dirt, grime, or stains on the tent’s fabric. This type of cleaning involves using specialized cleaners and techniques to remove the dirt and restore the tent’s appearance.

Mold and Mildew Removal

Mold and mildew can be a serious issue for tents, especially if they have been stored in damp conditions. If you notice any mold or mildew on your tent, you will need to follow specific steps to remove it safely and effectively.

Odor Removal

Unpleasant smells can be caused by various factors, such as mold, mildew, or bacteria. If your tent has an unpleasant odor, you will need to use specialized products and techniques to eliminate the smell and keep your tent fresh.

Gathering the Necessary Supplies

Before you begin cleaning your tent, gather all the necessary supplies. Here’s a list of items you’ll need:

  • Cold or lukewarm water
  • Mild, fragrance-free dish soap or specialized tent cleaner (like this Nikwax one)
  • Non-abrasive sponge, damp cloth, or soft brush
  • Bathtub or large container
  • Drying rack, clothesline, or a clean, flat surface for air drying
  • A shaded outdoor spot that gives you enough space to move around and lay out your tent

Keep in mind that some specialty cleaners may require additional items or specific application techniques. Always read the product instructions carefully and follow them accordingly.

How to Clean a Tent After Camping: Basic Cleaning Steps

Performing basic cleaning after every camping trip is essential for maintaining your tent’s appearance and functionality. Follow these steps to clean your tent after camping:

Shake Out the Tent

First, shake out the tent to remove any initial large pieces dirt or debris. This is an essential step, as it helps prevent dirt and debris from becoming embedded in the fabric during the cleaning process. It also clears out the larger pieces, so you can better focus on removing the smaller ones.

Brush off Dirt and Debris

Brush off any loose dirt, dust, or debris from the tent’s surface. You can use a soft-bristled brush or a clean cloth to do this. Be sure to pay attention to the tent poles, seams, corners, zippers, and tent doors where dirt can accumulate.

Spot Clean Dirty Areas

Before immersing the entire tent in water, spot clean any particularly dirty tent areas with a mild dish soap and water solution. Use a non-abrasive sponge or cloth to gently scrub the fabric, being careful not to damage it. This is especially effective on the parts of the tent exposed to the ground, like the tent floor and footprint.

Immerse the Tent in Water (If Needed)

If the initial spot cleaning steps above aren’t enough for the tent’s needs, fill a bathtub or large container with cold or lukewarm water and add a small amount of mild, fragrance-free dish soap or specialized tent cleaner. Submerge it in water to get the tent wet through and gently agitate it to remove any remaining dirt and grime.

Rinse and Dry

Rinse the tent thoroughly with clean water to remove any soap residue. It is essential to ensure that all soap is removed, as any remaining residue can attract dirt and grime in the future. Allow the tent to air dry completely on a drying rack, clothesline, or clean, flat surface before storing it. If you need to re-apply waterproofing, now would be the time.

How to Clean a Tent That Smells: Dealing with Unpleasant Odors

If your tent has developed an unpleasant odor, it is crucial to address the issue promptly. Unpleasant smells can be caused by various factors, such as mold, mildew, or bacteria. Follow these steps to eliminate odors from your tent:

Identify the Cause of the Odor

Determine the source of the smell, which could be mold, mildew, bacteria, or trapped moisture. Identifying the cause will help you choose the best cleaning method and products to use.

Use a Cleaner

Specialized leaners are an effective solution for eliminating odors caused by mold, mildew, and bacteria. These cleaners break down the organic matter that causes the odor, leaving your tent smelling fresh. We like this Odor Eliminator by Gear Aid. Follow the product instructions for soaking and rinsing your tent.

Pro tip: you an also use this odor eliminator on your sleeping bags, active wear, and anything else that has a little stink to it.

Apply Vinegar and Lemon Juice Solution

A natural alternative to enzyme cleaners is a vinegar and lemon juice solution. This mixture can effectively kill bacteria and remove tent odors. Soak your tent in a bathtub filled with warm water, vinegar, and lemon juice for 1-3 hours, then rinse thoroughly and allow it to air dry.

Use a Tent Air Freshener

After cleaning your tent, you can use a tent air freshener to maintain a pleasant smell. Activated charcoal bamboo air fresheners or odor-eliminating sprays are suitable options. These products can be used during your camping trips and while storing your tent.

How to Clean a Tent with Mold: Removing Mold and Mildew Safely

Mold and mildew can damage your tent’s fabric and create unpleasant odors. It is essential to remove mold and mildew safely and effectively to prevent further damage. Follow these steps to clean a tent with mold:

Choose the Right Cleaning Product

Avoid using harsh chemicals like bleach, which can damage your tent’s fabric and waterproof coating. Instead, opt for mild soaps, vinegar, lemon juice, or specialized mold cleaners designed for outdoor camping gear.

Set Up the Tent Outside

Cleaning a moldy tent is easier when it is set up, as the fabric is stretched taut. Set up the tent outdoors, away from direct sunlight, to prevent further damage to the fabric during the cleaning process.

Apply Mold Cleaner and Rinse

Using the cleaning product of your choice, gently apply it to the moldy areas of your tent. Be sure to follow the product instructions for soaking and rinsing your tent. In some cases, you may need to repeat the process to remove stubborn mold spots.

Dry the Tent Thoroughly

After cleaning and rinsing your tent, allow it to air dry completely in a shaded area. Drying in direct sunlight can cause the tent fabric to degrade. Ensure that your tent is fully dry before storing it to prevent the growth of mold and mildew.

Can You Wash a Tent in the Washer?

Washing your tent in a washing machine is not recommended, as it can damage the fabric, seams, and waterproof coatings. Instead, hand wash your tent using the methods outlined in this guide to ensure a gentle and thorough cleaning.

Additional Tips for Tent Care and Maintenance

Proper care and maintenance of your tent can prolong its lifespan and ensure a comfortable camping experience. Here are some additional tips for tent care:

  • Always clean out your tent after every camping trip.
  • Store your tent correctly in a dry, dust-free, and moderate temperature environment.
  • Ensure your tent is completely dry before packing it away in its stuff sack.
  • Aim to wash your tent at least once every season.
  • Re-waterproof your tent to prevent water from getting in and extend its usability.
  • Avoid keeping or eating food in the tent.
  • Leave shoes and other items that attract dirt outside of the tent.

Final Thoughts

By following these tips and learning how to clean a tent properly, you can keep your outdoor shelter in top condition for years to come.

Related Posts

About the Author

Hey there!

We are Derek and Ashley of Know Nothing Nomads. Whether it is hiking, camping, climbing, or just generally being outside, we love it. We are so happy that you have found our little blog and hope that you stick around a while.

Safe Travels,

Derek and Ashley


Know Nothing Nomads

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This