Going straight to the point: for the majority of tents no, you shouldn’t. Even though it’s always tempting to just put the 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 on it. Enjoy
Hand Washing vs. Machine Washing
Washing your tent manually is the method we recommend you do if you’re planning on cleaning your tent, as it allows you more control over the process.
Here’s how to do it:
Set Up: find a clean, open area to lay out your tent; avoid rough surfaces that could damage the fabric
Prepare a Cleaning Solution: fill a large container or bathtub with lukewarm water and add a mild, non-detergent soap or specialized tent cleaner
Gentle Scrubbing: use a soft brush or sponge to gently scrub the tent’s fabric, paying extra attention to stained or soiled areas; avoid harsh scrubbing, as it can damage the waterproof coating (more on how to waterproof your tent here)
Rinse Thoroughly: rinse the tent thoroughly with clean water to remove all soap residue
Dry Carefully: hang the tent to air dry in a shaded area. Avoid direct sunlight, since it can weaken the fabric. 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.
When NOT to Wash Your Tent in a Washing Machine
While machine washing is possible in some rare cases, you should never use it when:
Older tents with fragile fabric should not be machine washed as it can lead to tears and damage more easily.
Tents with delicate coatings like silicone or polyurethane should not be machine washed, as it can compromise the waterproofing.
Valuable or Vintage Tents
If you have a valuable or vintage tent, avoiding machine washing is best to preserve its qualities.
Understanding Tent Fabric
Tent Material Composition
If you want to read more on the different types of tent fabric and materials, we recommend you read our article dedicated to it – here.
A Good Alternative to Machine Washing
Using a Garden Hose
Using a garden hose to wash your tent can also be a good option, as it won’t damage the tent fabric as a washing machine would.
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.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I Machine Wash My Tent If It’s Made of Polyester Fabric?
Polyester tents are generally safe for machine washing (they’re an exception), but it’s crucial to exercise extra caution. Use a front-loading washing machine, not a top-loading one with an agitator, to avoid damaging your fabric. Also, ensure that it’s on a gentle cycle with cold water, mild soap, and an extra rinse.
What’s The Best Way to Wash a Dirty Tent After a Camping Trip?
Cleaning a dirty tent involves taking several steps and being patient/not speeding things up. First, remove loose dirt and debris. Then, set up your tent in a shaded outdoor spot and use a gentle hose spray to rinse off surface dirt. Afterward, machine wash it with warm water and mild soap on a gentle cycle – but again, remember that only certain tents can be machine washed! Read the instructions to make sure you can do it with your tent. Ensure it’s completely dry before storing it in its stuff sack.
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.