How to Remove Smell From Tents

No one enjoys a smelly tent on a camping trip.
No one enjoys a smelly tent on a camping trip

No matter if it’s a family trip, a trip with friends or even a solo trip, bad tent smells is something you’ll want to avoid. But how? It turns out that it isn’t too difficult! You need to be focused on 2 things: 1) preventing the smell from getting there in the first place (via for example choosing a cooking spot away from your tent); 2) cleaning it thoroughly and with the right materials to kill the smell if you couldn’t avoid it.

One way or another, we have you covered in the article – no more excuses!

Understanding the Causes of Smelly Tents

Tents, like any other fabric, can suffer from bad odors. Some of the most common ones you can find in a tent that smells are:

  • Mold and Mildew: This is the most common reason for smelly tents. When tents are stored without being completely dry (which we never recommend), mold and mildew can grow, leaving a special smell that is hard to ignore

  • Cooking Residues: While it might be tempting to cook inside or near your tent during rough weather, you should know that doing that can cause the tent fabric to absorb food smells, especially if the food is particularly aromatic or spicy (who never had a tent smell like barbeque?!)

  • Body Odors and Sweat: After several days of camping, especially in hot weather, it’s normal for sweat and other body odors to linger on the tent fabric

  • Environmental Elements: Finally, if you’ve camped near water or in areas with dense vegetation, your tent can also absorb some organic and often unpleasant smells from its surroundings

Preventing Tent Odors

When it comes to camping, your tent is your queen - protect it!
When it comes to camping, your tent is your queen – protect it!

The best way to deal with a smelly tent is to prevent it from becoming smelly in the first place.

Here are some tried-and-tested prevention tips:

  • Always make sure that your tent is completely dry before you pack it up. Even if it feels dry on the outside, the underside might still be wet, so it’s worth the extra time to let it air out and dry properly – don’t rush this process, you’ll regret it

  • Choose a cooking area that is away from your tent: this not only prevents food smells, but is also safer

  • Ventilation is key: even during the night, ensure that there’s some airflow inside your tent. Most modern tents come with ventilation options that can be adjusted to prevent condensation and allow fresh air in

  • Remember to use ground protection: a tent fly or groundsheet can prevent ground moisture from seeping into the tent, reducing the chances of mold and mildew

Removing Smells From Your Tent

If you’re late to the party and couldn’t stop the smell from conquering your tent, not all hope is lost.

With a bit of effort you can transform it from a smelly tent to a more “nose-friendly” one. Let’s see how:

  • Start by setting up your cleaning station: you’ll need warm water, a mild detergent, lemon juice, a spray bottle, a soft brush, and some clean towels – if you’re interested in reading more about how to clean and wash your tent, check our article

  • Immerse your tent in a jar with warm water, and remove any loose dirt. Next, add detergent to the water and scrub the tent with a soft brush. Your focus should be on areas that are more dirty or with a particularly bad smell

  • Another option is to use lemon juice. Known for its deodorizing properties, lemon juice can kill pretty much every odor. If you’re going for it, empty the jar and refill it with clean water and a good amount of lemon juice. Then let your tent soak for about an hour

  • After you’re done waiting, rinse your tent thoroughly with clean water. This is crucial to remove any detergent or lemon juice residues

  • Finally, you have to let your tent dry, completely. Spread it out in an open space, preferably in the shade to prevent any UV damage, and only store it once it’s totally dry

Freshening Up Your Tent

Invest in a good odor eliminator - it's worth it
Invest in a good odor eliminator – it’s worth it

If you’re looking to freshen up your camping tent and remove smells from it, look no further:

  1. Start by setting it up in a well-ventilated area

  2. Spray an odor eliminator that is adequate for its fabric to eliminate any bad smells

  3. Make sure you treat all parts of the tent and leave no stone unturned: interior, exterior, and underside

  4. Once you’ve sprayed the odor eliminator, leave your tent to air dry completely: this helps kill the odors and any moisture inside the tent, preventing mold.

A good idea is to use a tent air freshener to give your tent a nice smell:

  1. Choose your freshener carefully: you want something that is safe for your tent fabrics and won’t damage the tent’s material

  2. Spray it lightly inside the tent

  3. Avoid overusing it as strong fragrances can be too much in a tent

Finally, a third option is to apply a waterproof coating: this will help keep your tent dry in your next camping trip and trap any remaining smells inside the waterproof barrier.

Always remember that you should only apply the waterproofing treatment if your tent is completely dry, and you should follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the best results.

What About Vinegar?

Good old vinegar does not disappoint
Good old vinegar does not disappoint

If you’ve heard that using vinegar to clean a tent, you heard right: it can be an effective way to remove nasty smells from your tent.

Vinegar, a natural odor eliminator, works on most tent fabrics and can be used safely with the right approach. Here’s how you should do it:

Create an Odor Eliminator Mixture: Mix white vinegar and water and add a bit of lemon juice. This mixture will neutralize the smells without damaging your tent’s fabric.

Spot Test: Before applying the mixture to the entire tent, test it on a small area to ensure it doesn’t discolor or damage the fabric.

Apply the Mixture: After testing it, you’re good to go: use a clean & soft cloth or a sponge to use the vinegar and lemon juice solution on the affected areas.

Gentle Scrubbing: For tougher stains or smells, gently scrub the area with a soft brush. Don’t apply too much pressure, as you may damage the tent’s fabric.

Air Dry Completely: After cleaning, you need to let the tent air dry completely. A good idea is to set it up in a well-ventilated, shaded area and just wait.

Use Baking Soda Bags for Persistent Odors: If the vinegar treatment isn’t enough, you can try using small bags filled with baking soda inside the tent while it’s set up.

Hand Wash for Overall Cleaning: If your entire tent needs to be cleaned & washed, you should hand wash it in a large tub with a fabric-safe detergent. Don’t use harsh chemicals or brushes.

Rinse Thoroughly: After washing your tent, rinse it thoroughly with clean water to remove any residue of the cleaning solution.

Dry Completely Before Storage: Never store your tent until it is completely dry

Conclusion

Everyone knows that sleeping and living in a smelly tent is a bad experience, but what not everyone knows is that with a bit of effort, you can easily kill all smells. Plus, as long as you properly store your tent and regularly clean it, the chances of your tent getting a bad smell are low. No more excuses of a smelly tent on your next trip!

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Does My New Tent Smell Strange?

Your new tent probably smells differently due to the materials used to build it and the manufacturing process itself. The strange smell normally comes from water-repellent treatments, adhesives, or the fabric itself.

Can I Use Household Cleaners to Remove Tent Odors?

While you can use some household cleaners to remove smells, you should know that they can also damage your tent’s fabric or reduce its water resistance. Don’t risk it and just use a mild detergent or a specialized tent cleaner.

How Often Should I Clean My Tent to Prevent It From Becoming Smelly?

It will depend on how often you use it. If you’re camping frequently or in muddy spots, you should clean your tent after every 1-2 trips. However, if the tent is clean, a complete cleaning once a season is probably enough.

Is It Safe to Machine-Wash My Tent?

Not for most tents. Check our article on the topic here.

Can UV Rays From The Sun Help in Deodorizing The Tent?

While the sun’s UV rays have natural sanitizing properties and can help if you expose your tent to the sun for too long, the fabric and protective coatings can get damaged. Choose a shaded spot to dry and air out your tent to avoid any damage.

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