How to Clean a Tent (Quick and Easy)

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Backpacking and camping tents are one of the most expensive pieces of gear you might have. Knowing how to clean a tent can actually help extend the longevity and protect your tent of damage from the sun. However, if you are anything like me, when it comes to cleaning gear it often gets left on the backburner and most of the time never gets done.

Cleaning gear can be time consuming. But I have some good news for you! Cleaning your tent does not have to be a super time-consuming process. And in this article, I am going to show you how to clean a tent quickly and efficiently plus, my longer deep cleaning process in case you have the time.

How to Clean a Tent (Quick Method)

This is the method I use most of the time and works super well for frequent spot cleaning and just times when you do not want to spend a longer time cleaning your tent. I can clean a tent in less than 10 minutes using this method.

Pre-Cleaning Tent Inspection

Prior to starting the cleaning process, I always like to assess the tent for any damages or increasingly dirty areas. Things l often look for prior to cleaning a tent are:

  • dirt, grime, mold, mildew areas
  • any signs of deterioration in the fabric
  • Seam separation, holes, tears

By finding these areas first I can address some issues and repair either prior or after cleaning

Repairing Tent Fabric

If your tent has tears and seams that are starting to separate. Then remember these spots and fix them after cleaning. I personally like to write down issues I find on my tent and a general idea of location because I like to clean my tent prior to doing my repairs.

There are a lot of methods to repair a tent depending on what the issues are here are some of our helpful articles for how to repair a tent tear and how to repair tent mesh in various methods. Most of my favorite methods involve using a Gear Aid Patch or sewing kit.

How to clean a tent quick method

Gathering Your Tent Cleaning Supplies

For this method the supplies are pretty simple. I recommend finding an area where you can set up your tent. I like to stake out tarp and set up my tent on top of it to give it a dry pad to sit on. Next, you are going to need Nikwax Tent & Gear Solar Wash or a very mild soap like Dr. Bronner’s, a damp sponge or washcloth.

Steps for How to Clean a Tent (Quick Method)

  1. Pitch your tent, you can use a ground sheet or tarp to pitch it on top of or the ground.
  2. After pitching the tent, I like to sweep or shake out the inside of the tent.
  3. Next, spray Nikwax Tent & Gear Solar Wash evenly over the outside of the fabric or use a bucket with mild soap like Dr. Bronner’s.
  4. Afterwards, be sure to scrub the wash in with a damp sponge or cloth, paying attention to excessively filthy places.
  5. Rinse with clean water sometimes I like to use a garden hose but you could use a sponge or cloth again.
  6. Allow to dry naturally (if not applying waterproofing).
  7. If there were any areas in need of repairs now is the time to make those repairs
  8. Ensure it is completely dry before packing the tent away.
How to clean a tent

How to Clean a Tent (Deep Clean)

This method I rarely use and probably actually have not done a deep clean on my tents in years. It is useful when you have had a tent collect mildew or mold. Or those times when you tent has become increasingly stinky or musty inside. Usually this is from poorly storing it and not letting the tent air out after a rainy or wet trip.

Pre-Cleaning Tent Inspection

Remember prior to starting the cleaning process, assess any areas for damage, look for:

  • dirt, grime, mold, mildew areas
  • any signs of deterioration in the fabric
  • Seam separation, holes, tears

By finding these areas first I can address some issues and repair either prior or after cleaning

Repairing Tent Fabric

If your tent has tears and seams that are starting to separate. Then remember these spots and fix them after cleaning. Use a Gear Aid Patch or sewing kit depending on the damage.

Supplies for a deep clean

Gathering Your Tent Cleaning Supplies

For my deep clean method, you are going to use Nikwax Solar Wash or a mild soap like Dr. Bronner’s to spot clean your tent prior to soaking it. For spot cleaning use a sponge or cloth. Next, for the soak I recommend using Nikwax Tech Wash or a little bit of mild soap.

Also, for the deep cleaning method you’ll need a large container or a bathtub. The size will depend on how big your tent is. Just make sure the container is big enough to fully submerge your tent body and rainfly in water. I like to just use my bathtub.

Steps for How to Clean a Tent (Deep Clean)

  1. Similar to the quick method, first pitch your tent, you can use a ground sheet or tarp to pitch it on top of or the ground.
  2. After pitching the tent, I like to sweep or shake out the inside of the tent.
  3. (Steps 3 and 4 are optional) for a deeper clean, spray Nikwax Tent & Gear Solar Wash or use a bucket with mild dish soap and apply evenly over the outside of the fabric.
  4. Be sure to scrub the wash in with a damp sponge or cloth, paying attention to excessively filthy places.
  5. Next, take the tent down place in a container or tub.
  6. Fill the tub or container with enough cool water to completely submerge the tent body and rainfly.
  7. Add a small amount of mild soap like Dr. Bronners or a Nikwax Tech Wash.
  8. When adding the soap, I like to err on the lesser side and for the Nikwax Tech Wash I usually just use about half the bottle or about 5oz in a tub during the immersion process.
  9. Next, agitate the water by hand. Washing the tent fabric by hand moving it inside out to remove dirt from corners and crevices.
  10. Continue to move the tent around, pushing it down, and swishing it around for another 5 minutes or so.
  11. Let the tent soak for 20-25 minutes, then repeat the agitation cycle for another 5 minutes or so.
  12. Next, lift the tent and fly from tub while you drain the dirty water.
  13. Fill the tub with clean water and rinse the tent and fly.  
  14. Hang the clean tent over the shower rod, or place it over a clothes-drying rack, or even lay it on a clean tarp somewhere to dry.
  15. Sometimes I will set up a wet tent on a tarp or hang it outside to allow it to dry completely for a couple of days prior to packing it back up in storage.
How to deep clean a tent

Cleaning Methods for Mildew, Mold, or Musky Odors

How to clean a tent with stubborn mildew, mold, or bad odors. I recommend following the deep cleaning method above. During the soaking process add a enzyme cleaner. I recommend using Gear Aid’s Odor Eliminator which will use microbes to help dissolve bacteria, mildew, mold, and foul odors.

Cleaning Methods for Pine Sap

How to clean a tent with pine sap stuck to it. Start by cleaning up sap or other sticky substances using a soft scrub pad and mild dish soap or NikWax Solar Wash. Avoid scrubbing too much and too hard. Then move to the quick cleaning or deep cleaning method for how to clean a tent, mentioned above.

Zipper Care Methods

When cleaning your tent, it is also a good time to go ahead and clean out the zipper track. I recommend using a toothbrush to scrub out any debris that could be stuck in the track preventing it from allowing the zipper to move and close properly.

Post-Wash Tent Care

Caring for your tent post-washing is as vital as the cleaning process. This is the time to apply waterproofing treatments, clean tent poles, and repair seams and tears.

To make your tent waterproof again, you can:

  1. Use a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) spray. Apply it while the tent is still a bit damp.
  2. Inspect the tent poles for any bends or cracks.
  3. Check the seams for intact sealant or needed repairs
  4. Patch up any tears
  5. Ensure your tent is dry before repacking and storing

By following these steps, you can ensure that your tent, an essential piece of outdoor gear, remains waterproof and ready for your next outdoor adventure, preventing any tent wet situations.

Re-waterproofing

Re-waterproofing your tent is like giving it a new lease of life. If you notice flaking material on the inside of your rainfly or tent floor, it means the waterproof coating is wearing off, and your tent needs to be re-waterproofed.

For more information check out our article for how to waterproof a tent. But, in general to waterproof your tent, follow these steps:

  1. Seal the seams with a seam sealer to keep moisture out.
  2. When applying waterproofing ensure the tent is clean. Make sure the tent is damp before applying the waterproofing treatment to the outside using a spray, brush, or sponge.
  3. Wipe off any excess and let it dry completely before using or storing it.

Storing Your Cleaned Tent

With your tent now clean and dry, the next step is to store it appropriately. Remember, the way you store your tent can significantly impact its lifespan. The best place to store your tent is in a cool, dry spot. Avoid using the original stuff sack; instead, roll it up loosely, hang it, or put it in an old pillowcase or mesh bag.

To prevent any rodent damage, store everything in sealed plastic containers with tight-fitting lids. You can also put sticky glue traps or mouse traps around the storage area to catch any rodents before they cause any damage

Frequently Asked Questions

What can I wash my tent with?

When it is time to clean your tent. We recommend washing your tent by hand using cold water, a non-abrasive sponge, and a mild non-detergent soap or a tent cleaner like Nikwash Solar Wash. Avoid using harsh household cleaners or putting the tent in a washing machine.

Can I wash my tent with Dawn dish soap?

Yes, you can wash your tent with Dawn dish soap or a mild soap like Dr. Bronners. Gently wash the tent with a sponge or rag, rinse well, and make sure the tent is completely dry before storing.

How do you clean a musty tent?

For how to clean a tent that has become musty, we recommend following our deep clean method. First, fill a tub with water, add odor eliminator, soak the tent for 20 minutes, and then rinse it. This will help eliminate the musty smell.

Can you wash a tent in the washing machine?

No, you should not wash a tent in the washing machine. It’s best to clean it by hand using a mild, non-fragranced soap or a cleaner like Nikwax Solar Wash. Avoid using a washing machine or dryer to prevent damage.

How often do I need to clean my tent?

The more you use it the more you will have to clean it. I generally deep clean it at least once every two years or just when it gets musty. I tend to use my quick method to clean my tent and do that fairly often almost after every other camping or backpacking trip.

Summary

When it comes maintaining your gear knowing how to clean a tent is one way to keep your tent smelling fresh and extend the longevity by protecting it from sun damage. Use our quick cleaning method to get your tent cleaned quickly and easily so you will have time to do other things in your life. Or use our deep cleaning method if your tent has become a bit stinky and musty.

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