September 10, 2021 7 min read

When in the outdoors, your tent is your sanctuary. It shelters you from the rain, wind-borne debris, falling droppings, and critters. As a consequence, it accumulates dirt, mud, grime, and stains that can weaken its fabric, cause foul odors, and eventually cut short its lifespan. Keeping your tent clean will ensure it lasts many years and many trips and also help you drift off to sleep without worrying about uncomfortable smells.

If you’ve just completed your latest backpacking adventure or returned home from a camping trip with your family, follow these expert tips on how to wash a tent to get rid of mud, grime, bird droppings, tree sap, and other foreign matter that end up outside or inside your tent. 

Keep reading to learn:

Let’s dive straight into it.

When to Clean a Tent

While it’s important to show your tent some love, that doesn’t mean you need to always be worrying about keeping it meticulously clean while you’re camping. That will take the fun out of your trip and ultimately take a toll on your tent. Still, tent care is essential.

The ideal time to clean your tent is immediately after a big camping trip or right after you take it out of storage (as it may have been exposed to dirt or dampness). Remember, the longer you wait to wash it, the more the dirt hardens, and it’s just a matter of time before the grime turns into tough stains.

However, if you go for a brief backpacking adventure and your tent still looks spotless, there is no need to clean it. Only wash it when it looks messy with caked-on dirt or mud. A good wash will remove any dirt buildup, kill mold growth, and eliminate musty smells, making your next camping experience much more comfortable.

Can a Tent be Washed in a Washing Machine?

While there is some debate on how often you should wash your tent, there is one thing the outdoor community agrees on: You should never put your tent inside a washing machine or dryer. These devices can stretch and tear the tent’s seam and mesh and wear down the waterproof coating. Also, never use a pressure washer, as there’s a good chance it’ll damage the tent’s delicate material.

How to Wash a Nylon Tent

Tents made from synthetic materials like nylon and polyester are loved by backpackers because they’re lightweight, easy to pitch, and pack small. Paired with ultralight sleeping pads, you never have to worry about your backpack getting too heavy.

Cleaning nylon backpacking tents is not a complicated process. The most important rule is to follow the manufacturer’s cleaning instructions. You can find that in the manual or on the care label sewn into the tent. Generally, synthetic tents are washed using the following approach.

First, get your supplies: 

  • Non-abrasive sponge 
  • Mild odorless soap or tent-specific wash
  • Cold water
  • Large bucket or container

Steps for deep cleaning a soiled nylon tent:

If your tent is really muddy, greasy, or stinky, wait for a sunny day, take your tent and cleaning supplies outside and follow these steps.

  1. Fill the large bucket with water, add the liquid soap or tent cleaner, and stir thoroughly.
  2. Unzip the tent and turn it inside out, then shake it to remove any loose debris.
  3. Submerge the tent and rainfly and gently scrub the tent fabric with a sponge. Be extra careful with coated areas.
  4. To rinse your tent, pour out the dirty water and refill the bucket with clean water. Repeat this step several times until the water is finally clear of any soap residue.
  5. Gently shake the tent to remove excess water.
  6. Take the tent to a shaded spot and hang it on a clothesline or drape it over a lawn chair to dry. 
  7. Allow plenty of time to completely dry. Preferably 2-3 days to eliminate all the trapped, unseen moisture.
  8. Once bone-dry, roll up your tent and store it in a cool, dry place.

Steps for spot cleaning your tent:

If your tent is generally clean apart from a few soiled areas on the exterior, use these steps.

  1. Set up your tent in your yard on a sunny day. Make sure you place it over a tarp.
  2. Identify any greasy areas, zip the door, then apply the cleaner or soap to those dirty sections.
  3. Use the sponge to scrub down the spots with a light hand.
  4. Turn on the hose and rinse the entire tent. 
  5. Place the pitched tent in a shady outdoor spot to dry.
  6. Allow it to dry completely, fold it, and store it properly.

If it’s been more than a year since you last waterproofed your tent, post-cleaning is the perfect time to coat it with waterproofing spray.


How to Clean Mold and Mildew from a Nylon Tent

If your tent is stored dirty or before drying properly or is exposed to damp conditions, it will fall victim to mold or mildew. Note that mold or mildew can appear in different colors such as black, blue, yellow, gray, or green isolated spots. 

And the longer you wait to clean your tent, the more the mold or mildew grows, exposing you to harmful allergens and weakening your tent’s fabric. Fortunately, you can kill the fungi with a simple homemade solution.

First, get your supplies:

  • Warm water 
  • Soft brush 
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Spray bottle
  • Non-porous gloves

Steps to safely remove mold on a nylon tent:

  1. Pitch your tent so that the fabric is stretched, allowing you to spot all the mold and mildew specks. Set it up outdoors to avoid dispersing mold spores into your home.
  2. Use a soft-bristled brush to gently brush the areas with mold growth. 
  3. Wear your gloves, mix 1/4 cup of vinegar and 1 cup of water in a spray can, and shake vigorously. This combination kills the mold.
  4. Spray the mixture on the affected areas and then wait a few minutes for it to dry.
  5. Now use warm water mixed with a non-detergent soap to scrub the spots with a sponge. 
  6. Thoroughly rinse the freshly-cleaned areas with clean water, then place the tent in the shade to dry. 

If you’re a parent, why not teach your eager kids some backpacking tricks after giving your tent a good wash. Pitch the tent in the backyard and have some fun and games.

How to Wash a Canvas Tent

Canvas camping tents are made from cotton and will last a long time with proper care. However, they’ve been gradually replaced by synthetic tents because they are pretty heavy to carry if you’re hiking and camping. Cleaning them also isn’t as straightforward as other tent materials. Here’s how to wash your canvas tent.

First, get your supplies:

  • Bristle brush
  • Vacuum cleaner
  • Mild soap
  • Sponge
  • Warm water
  • Large bucket
  • Canvas cleaning solution

Steps for cleaning a dirty canvas tent:

  1. Unfold your tent on a flat surface in your yard and use a bristle brush to scrub any dirt or mud debris that is attached to the canvas. 
  2. Shake the canvas aggressively to remove debris and dust.
  3. Attach the brush attachment to your vacuum cleaner and thoroughly vacuum the canvas, focusing on the dirtiest areas, storage pockets, and hems.
  4. If there are any stubborn dirt spots left, take your bucket of warm soapy water, wet the sponge, and use it to gently scrub the stain.
  5. When the stains are gone, submerge the tent in a large bucket, then rinse it.
  6. For an extremely filthy tent, fill your large bucket with water, add a canvas-specific cleaning solution and stir thoroughly. Then soak your tent for at least 4 hours to loosen up the stains.
  7. Come back later and scrub any visible stains. Now pour out the dirty water and refill your bucket with clean water until the tent is properly rinsed.
  8. Take your tent to a shady area, spread it on a lawn chair or any other large object, and let it air dry for two days. When it’s completely dry, fold it and place it in a dry place, just like you would store a sleeping bag.

How to Clean Mold and Mildew from a Canvas Tent

Due to their cotton fabric, canvas tents are more susceptible to mold and mildew. Here’s how to purge the mold infestation.

First, get your supplies:

  • Bristle brush
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Two spray bottles
  • Water
  • Non-porous gloves
  • Sponge
  • Paper towel

Steps for cleaning canvas tent mold:

  1. Put on the gloves, take an empty spray can, add 1/4 cup of distilled white vinegar and 1 cup of water. 
  2. Shake the mixture thoroughly, spray the infested spots, and let it dry.
  3. Next, scrub away the dead mold spores with a bristle brush using quick, soft motions. 
  4. When all traces of mold growth have been targeted, fill a second spray can with warm water, rinse the areas you’ve cleaned, and use a paper towel to dry those sections.
  5. Now let your tent air dry.

Tips on How to Prevent Your Tent From Getting Dirty

Now you know how to wash a camping tent safely. But there is still a lot you can do to minimize how often your tent needs a major cleaning. In fact, preventing it from getting dirty in the first place is the best way to prolong its lifespan. Here’s how to keep your tent in pristine condition:

  • Pitch your tent on a spot that’s above ground level, where rain water won’t pool around you.
  • Always lay a tarp or groundsheet beneath your tent, whether the site is muddy or dry.
  • Don’t wear your shoes inside your tent, and keep any wet gear outside in the vestibule.
  • If your plan to camp for more than two days, make a habit of sweeping your tent every two days.
  • Take down your tent after the morning dew has evaporated to avoid packing up a wet tent.
  • When packing up your tent, first shake it to remove any dirt and debris.
  • To prevent mold growth, dry the tent completely and pack it in a large bag that allows ventilation.

Show Your Tent Some Love to Get the Most Out of it

A tent is your home away from home when you go backpacking. But just because it’s built to withstand the unforgiving elements, doesn’t mean it should always look grubby. To keep it looking spotless and in pristine condition, take care of your tent when camping, clean it regularly (especially after long trips) and store it properly. With this approach, your trusty outdoor shelter will always be fresh and clean when you want to head off the beaten path.

Do you have any tent cleaning tips that we’ve missed? What are your thoughts on our tent cleaning process? Do you have another process that works for you? Feel free to drop a comment below. We really appreciate hearing from you.

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