Can You Wash A Tent In The Washing Machine?

If you like your tent, you don't want to put it here
If you like your tent, you don’t want to put it here

Going straight to the point: for the majority of tents, no, you shouldn’t.

Even though it’s always tempting to just put your tent in the washing machine instead of spending the time to wash out the dirt, stains, and odors manually, doing so will destroy your tent.

While we’ve written on how to clean & wash tents, we wanted to write an article specifically dedicated to answering the question of whether you can use a washing machine to do it, since we get a lot of direct questions about it. Enjoy

Understanding Tent Fabric

When it comes to washing, tent fabric rules
When it comes to washing, tent fabric rules

Most modern tents are either made of polyester or canvas, and the washing rules can be totally different for each.

Tent Material Composition

Here’s a quick rundown of different tent fabrics and their corresponding washing tips:

  • Polyester tents: usually these can be machine-washed, so you’re in luck – but don’t go buck wild just yet

    • Always check the manufacturer’s instructions, because some might also require a gentle hand wash or just spot cleaning

  • Canvas tents: on the other hand, can be a real pain in the tent pole

    • They cannot be used in a washing machine since the agitation and heat can shrink them up or straight up demolish its fabric

If you want to read more about the different types of tent fabric and materials, we recommend you read our article dedicated to it – here.

When NOT to Wash Your Tent in a Washing Machine

Stubborn enough to wash your tent in a washing machine?
Stubborn enough to wash your tent in a washing machine?

While machine washing is possible in some rare cases, you should never use it when:

Tent Age

Older tents with fragile fabric should not be machine washed, as it can lead to tears and damage more easily.

Delicate Coatings

Tents with delicate coatings like silicone or polyurethane should not be machine washed, as it can compromise the waterproofing.

Valuable or Vintage Tents

Do you really want to risk ruining great looking vintage tents?
Do you really want to risk ruining great looking vintage tents?

If you have a valuable or vintage tent, avoiding machine washing is best to preserve its qualities.

When the Washing Machine is a No-Go, What Can You Do?

Hand Washing

Hand washing your tent is the way to go
Hand washing your tent is the way to go

If you’ve got a canvas tent or the manufacturer instructions clearly say “hell no” to machine washing, you better listen up or be ready to seriously mess up your tent, from shrinkage to damaging the floor or waterproofing. It’s not worth it.

Hand washing is the method we recommend if you’re planning on cleaning your tent, as it allows you more control over the process.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Set Up: find a clean, open area to lay out your tent

    1. Avoid rough surfaces that could damage the fabric

  2. Prepare a Cleaning Solution: fill a large container or bathtub with lukewarm water and add a mild, non-detergent soap or specialized tent cleaner

  3. Gentle Scrubbing: use a soft brush or sponge to gently scrub the tent’s fabric, paying extra attention to stained or soiled areas

    1. Avoid harsh scrubbing, as it can damage the waterproof coating (more on how to waterproof your tent here)

  4. Rinse Thoroughly: rinse the tent thoroughly with clean water to remove all soap residue

  5. Dry Carefully: hang the tent to air dry in a shaded area. Avoid direct sunlight, since it can weaken the fabric

    1. Always make sure your tent is completely dry before you pack it away

One thing you cannot forget throughout this process is that you should NOT be rushing it.

We know that sometimes there isn’t enough time or you may be tired; but if that’s so, don’t wash your tent and leave it for another day. The worst thing you can do is try to speed up the washing process; you will end up damaging the tent.

The Garden Hose Rinse

If you’ve got access to a garden hose, this is the perfect chance to give your tent a thorough rinse-down. Just avoid any high-pressure settings so you don’t damage the fabric or waterproofing and you’re golden.

If you choose to do it, don’t forget that you need to set up your tent as well, otherwise, the garden hose won’t be too effective.

Naturally, you will also need to let it dry out completely before storing it.

Dealing with Molds and Musty Odors

For your health and comfort, deal with molds and musty odors in your tent
For your health and comfort, deal with molds and musty odors in your tent

Whether you packed your dirty tent away wet or it’s been in storage for too long, a moldy or musty stench can seriously kill the camping vibe.

It’s not acceptable not to know how to deal with odors anymore.

The Vinegar Solution

Enter vinegar, your new best friend in the fight against funky smells.

Just mix up a solution of equal parts vinegar and warm water, and use it to spot-clean any moldy or musty areas. The vinegar will help neutralize those odors and take out any lingering mold spores.

The Sunshine Cure

If you’ve got a really stubborn case of stink, sometimes a good old dose of sunshine is just what the doctor ordered.

After washing your tent, set it up in your backyard or a sunny spot and let those UV rays do their job. Just keep an eye on it and bring it in before it turns into a crispy critter—you don’t want a tent that’s well done.

Spot Cleaning Process

Tackle small stains and spots on your tent with spot cleaning solution
Tackle small stains and spots on your tent with spot cleaning solution

Sometimes our tent doesn’t need a full-on deep clean; a little spot-cleaning here and there is enough in these cases.

Whether it’s a muddy footprint or a spilled snack, spot cleaning can be a lifesaver for keeping your tent looking fresh.

The Gentle Touch

When it comes to spot-cleaning, the key is to be gentle.

  • Use a soft-bristled brush or sponge and a mild cleaning solution

  • Gently work the solution into the stain

Be careful not to scrub too hard and damage that tent fabric.

The Blotting Technique

Once you’ve worked in the cleaning solution, it’s time to blot, blot, blot!

  • Use a clean, absorbent cloth or paper towels to gently lift that stain from the tent fabric

  • Repeat as needed until the stain is gone

Voila, you’ve got a clean surface once again.

Deep Cleaning Process

Don't slack off: deep clean any stains and odors that build up over time in your tent
Don’t slack off: deep clean any stains and odors that build up over time in your tent

Most of the time, a little spot cleaning just won’t cut it. Maybe your tent has seen one too many muddy adventures, or perhaps it’s just been a hot minute since its last deep clean.

In this case, it’s time to break out the big guns and give your tent a thorough, deep clean.

The Pre-Soak

Before you even think about scrubbing, start with a pre-soak.

  • Fill up a large bucket or bathtub with some lukewarm water and a dash of mild laundry detergent or tent-specific cleaning solution

  • Let your tent soak for a bit, allowing the solution to work and loosening any stubborn dirt or grime

The Gentle Scrub

Once your tent has had a good soak, it’s time to break out the soft-bristled brushes and get to work.

  • Gently scrub the tent fabric

  • Pay extra attention to any particularly dirty or high-traffic areas, like the tent floor or entryway

Final Thoughts

Whether you can wash your tent in the washing machine or not depends on the type of tent fabric and what the manufacturer says.

But no matter what method you choose, the key is to be gentle, patient, and always prioritize the health and longevity of your trusty outdoor companion. Rushing things is a great recipe for disaster.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I Use a Regular Top-Loading Washing Machine for My Tent?

It’s normally not recommended to use a top-loading machine with an agitator to wash your tent, as the agitator can damage the fabric. Choose instead a a front-loading machine for a gentler wash.

How Do I Prevent My Tent From Getting Wet During a Camping Trip?

To prevent your tent from getting wet, set it up properly with a rainfly, seam seal any potential leakage points, and choose a well-drained campsite. Additionally, you should consider using a ground tarp or footprint to protect the tent floor from any moisture.

Can I Machine Wash my Tent’s Rainfly Along with the Tent Body?

It’s best to wash the rainfly separately from the tent body as they may have different care instructions. Once again, check the manufacturer’s guidelines for specific recommendations.

How Can I Ensure My Tent Doesn’t Lose its Waterproofing After Washing?

To maintain tent waterproofing, avoid using detergent with additives, and make sure you rinse the tent thoroughly after washing. Consider reapplying a waterproofing treatment if necessary.

Are There Any Specific Detergents I Should Avoid When Washing my Tent?

Avoid detergents with additives, fragrances, or harsh chemicals, as they can damage the tent fabric and coatings. Stick to mild, non-detergent soaps or specialized tent cleaners.

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