Every camper has been through this and you’re no exception: it’s 11pm, you just got back from the camping trip and, while your kids rush to the room to read a book, you realize you have a dirty tent to take care of.
What do you do? For now, you keep on reading.
P.S. If you’re new to tents and want to learn the basics, check out our article on cabin tents.
Cleaning tents for newbies
Assuming you enforced some basic rules during your camping trip (prohibiting shoes inside, using a groundsheet to protect your tent floor and imposing light cleaning every 2 days), you can maybe finish in time to still have a good night of sleep.
The master rule here is: don’t use a washing machine to do it! Yes it’s faster but it may damage the tent’s fabric and won’t get the whole job done – trust us, not even using a top loading washing machine is worth it.
Gather your cleaning supplies (this will include a cleaning solution, a dust pan and brush, a water reproofer, etc.) and pick a spot with a smooth & clean surface where you can get to work (don’t assume any surface works: some will cause damage to the tent fabric without you realizing it
Read the cleaning instructions in the tent before you start your cleaning process! Again, you don’t want to ruin your tent fabric unnecessarily, so keep an eye on what the instructions say
Brush it off & shake it out before involving water or detergent-free solutions: you first want to remove any dirt or sand that the tent floor may have
Mix lukewarm water with your cleaning solution, grab a sponge and start your gentle cleaning process
Once done, you completely dry your tent before you pack it: never store tents before they dry completely and no, you should not dry your tent inside! Doing so will result in a funky smell and possibly mold and mildew; remember: there’s no such thing as too much drying time!
Taking things to another level with deep cleaning
If you’re reading this, it means your entire tent is extremely dirty. If so, bad news: your tent will require more time; but it will look like a new tent once you’re done!
The logic is the same as in the previous section: you will need cleaning supplies, you can’t ignore the instructions on your tent, machine washing it won’t work, and you can only store away a dry tent. However, when deep cleaning you do something different.
Deep cleaning involves completely soaking your tent in the mixture of warm water and detergent-free solution mentioned above in a large bucket or a bath.
The amount of time you leave your tent wet and pushing it around in the water varies depending on the cleaning solution you used, so it’s worth it to check on the bottle of the non detergent soap. Also, you may need to refill the bucket with new clean water, depending on how dirty your tent is.
We reiterate: drying your tent is crucial and is not a process that lasts several hours: it should take you several days! If you care for your outdoor gear and tent and want to go camping soon, don’t rush it.
Why cleaning your tent matters
You have to at least wash and spot clean your tent lightly between camping trips: there’s no way around that.
For argument’s sake, even if you could withstand the terrible smell tents can gain from not being washed and somehow convinced your family or friends that the smell isn’t that bad, here’s why you should still wash it:
Enjoy a moldy tent if you don’t: if you don’t wash and clean your tent carefully, or you don’t leave it until it’s bone dry, it will gain mold (and we really don’t think you will be able to go camping again given the health risks of mold)
Waterproof coatings of most tents will be damaged due to the mildew that an unwashed tent accumulates – good luck camping in the rain
There are higher chances that your children can start playing with dirt inside the tent, which is highly unhygienic
And have we mentioned the smell? We have, but it’s always important not to neglect this. A clean tent goes a long way, so make your life easier: wash your tent.
Washing your tent is really that important if you’re into camping and have invested some money in a solid tent.
There’s no point in taking shortcuts, and trying to get away with not doing any efforts here: from personal experience, you will have a nasty surprise in the middle of your adventure that could have been totally avoidable.
Frequently asked questions
My friends insist that a machine wash works. Thoughts?
Yes. We don’t know your friends’ backgrounds and experiences, but we know for a fact that trying to dump a tent inside a washing machine does not work. Why risk it?
I know that ideally I would wash my tent after each camping trip; assuming I don’t have time or patience for this, what is the maximum time I can go without washing it?
Assuming you do basic cleaning after each trip, you can probably get away with washing it every 3 trips. Definitely no need for a deep cleaning all the time.
How do I know if my tent is no longer fully waterproof?
A great test is arguably to set it up, close it and for 5 minutes use your garden hose on it – if there’s water inside, you know it’s time to reproof it.
Do we really need to use warm water?
Lukewarm water is not strictly necessary but your wash will be more effective using it than cold water.