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How To Clean a Tent in 6 Easy Steps

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One of the worst parts about coming back from an epic camping trip is, well, coming home from an epic camping trip.

Mostly because it means the fun is over and we have to get back to our “normal” lives.

But partly because we have to clean up and put all of our camping stuff away.

One challenge that most campers face is learning how to clean a tent.

After all, you can’t just throw it in the laundry with your grubby camping clothes. So how do you clean a tent?

We would like our featured guests answer that for you.

Ken and Jules from Outdoormagnet, will share with you some tips on how to clean and wash your tent, as well as some tent maintenance.  Also read here if you are interested on how to set up your tent in minutes.

When should I clean my tent? 

Before you start washing your tent, you should ask yourself, “When should I wash my tent?”

Generally said, it’s when it’s visually dirty, or after a camping trip. It’s not wrong, but there are few more conditions that you should know when to wash your tent, these conditions include:

Visually dirty. A little bit of dust on your tent is fine, unless your tent looks particularly caked or you built up a lot of dirt on your tent, you are fine to wash your tent.

When water doesn’t bead up well or fabric wets out easily. Tents are usually waterproof to keep you warm inside, but when the waterproof layer of the tent starts to degrade, you should start washing your tent. Dirt is one of the factors of waterproof coating defects, do keep that in mind.

Camping at the ocean. Other than soil, sand is something you should clean away from your tent. Sand acts as a microtear in fabrics and can prevent tent poles from inserting fully which will damage your tent. Other than sand, salty air can corrode the zippers and poles of your tent. A good soak should do the trick, for ground-in sand needs some soap and a good scrub.

Prolonged exposure to campfire smokes. Campfire smoke coats your tent in a layer of micro particles, make sure to clear them.

Prolonged UV ray exposure. UV rays act like an oven, baking dirt into the tent. Although it is unavoidable, you can prolong your tent’s life by cleaning and washing your tent.

Things to prepare for washing a tent

As always, you need to prepare your tools and stuff before doing anything, running around finding stuff impromptu will tire you out I’m sure of that. So, what to prepare? Here’s a list of what to prepare to wash your tent:

  1. Water – cold to lukewarm temperature is advised. Make sure it’s clean water, tap water is suitable.
  1. Soap – Dish soap, or detergent is okay for cleaning tents, but don’t use harsh or strong cleaners such as bleach, spot remover, or pre-laundry soaking products.
  1. Sponge – Any sponge or cloth that is non-abrasive is suitable. Steel wool is not advised
  1. Tub – A large tub to fit your tent (folded) while soaking and to store soapy water.

Step-by-step guide: How to Clean a tent

Step 1: Spot clean any dirt with soap

Clean any spotable dirt with a cloth or a sponge with a little bit of soap

Step 2: Prepare a washing tub

Fill a tub with cold to lukewarm water, add some tent cleaner product (soap). Do read the instructions on the soap for cleaning as different soaps have different instructions.

Step 3: Prepare your tent.

First, unpack the tent from your tent bag. Then, unzip the tent doors and turn the tent inside out, that way you can clean the insides too.

Step 4: Soaking and washing the tent.

Immerse the tent in the tub, agitate the tent and the soapy water together. Knead the tent, pushing down and swishing it around for 5 minutes to make sure you wash all the nook and crannies of the tent.

Let the tent soak for 20 minutes, then repeat the agitation process.

Take the tent out of the tub and observe the water. If it’s brownish, drain it and squeeze the water from the tent, don’t twist it as it may damage the tent, refill the tub and repeat the process. 

Step 5: Rinsing the tent.

After you’ve washed the tent, take it out of the tub and fill it with clean water, rinse the tent like the soaking procedure.

Step 6: Drying

Hang the tent over a shower rod, drape it over a drying rack or lay it on a clean surface. Avoid sharp corners or edges and do not hang by the corners of the tent, it will put stress on it. Dry it in a shady and cool area till “bone dry”

Extras – Maintaining Your Tent

Applying waterproof coating

A waterproof coating or DWR (Durable water repellent)  is needed for tents to prevent water from being absorbed into the fabric. Without it, your tent may become a wet cocoon during the rain. After some time of camping, the waterproof layer may degrade or wear off. It’s best to learn how to waterproof coat your tent

Here’s how you should do it:

  • Set up your tent and let it sit until it’s damp (not fully wet)
  • Spray the DWR product on one panel at a time in the tent and spread it with a cloth or sponge gently until you cover the panels completely. Mop up excess product and continue to wipe till it starts to dry up.
  • To access the floor of the tent, roll the tent to the side.
  • Let it dry completely before you store your tent.

Clearing Pine Sap From your tent

Pine sap or sap is a sticky substance that can damage your tent. It would be impossible to clear them without harsh measures. Using a ground cloth or a footprint (a cloth that is used to separate the tent from the ground) helps to prevent sap from sticking on your tent. 

If a sap does stick to it, start by spot cleaning with dishwashing liquid before moving to harsher chemicals. Do note that using harsh chemicals can damage the waterproof layer and weaken the fabric, whereas repeated scrapping and picking on a single area may damage the fabric more than using chemicals.

Mold – How to prevent mildew on your tent

Molds do appear on tents that are stored wet for a long time, which can lead to a horrible smell. Unfortunately, you can’t clean molds, but you can prevent it. Make sure your tent is dry before storing it. Even at a hot temperature, moisture may appear in the tent, so dry the tents thoroughly then store it. Check on your tents once a while to keep track of the tent’s condition.

Guess that’s all for now, remember that a good and clean tent will keep you warm and happy during camping.

Wrap Up

Thank you Ken and Jules! You’ve simplified the process of cleaning up after a camping trip. Now at least that part isn’t so dreadful.

If you could do something about making the Monday blues go away after a camping trip, that would be super helpful.

Check out more of Ken and Jule’s travel advice at Outdoor Magnet by following the link above.

More Camping Advice

Now that you’ve learned the basics on how to clean a tent, you can see it’s not as complicated as it seems. In fact, learning to camp is pretty straight forward.

If you want a great introduction to camping, we have an encyclopedic primer on camping for newbies.

And you will want more than just a fresh, clean tent. You will want to know how to make camping coffee for starters. If so, we got you covered.

If you want to keep your food cold, you will want the right camping fridge, or maybe you just need a cooler for your campsite (Here are the best camping coolers for less than $100!), we have some tips for you there too.

If you would like an easy packing system when going camping, sign up below for a free pdf download of our camping checklist.

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