How to Clean a Tent

Gather up your tent cleaning supplies and get ready to start washing!

Knowing how to clean a tent is a key part of being a camper. Regularly cleaning it will keep it free of stains and weird odors.

In turn, that’ll make for a better experience on your next trip. Doing so can also keep your zippers working better since there’s less debris to get caught up in them.

Let’s jump into it so you can have a clean tent in no time.

Supplies and other preparation

Before we get started, there is one golden rule: don’t machine wash your tent. Not only can that physically tear it up, the detergent can ruin the material too if it’s too harsh. We’ll be going full handwashing here to make sure that doesn’t happen. First, you’ll need to gather up some cleaning supplies:

  • A bucket / large container of water for soaking the tent
  • A light soap or tent specific cleaner
  • A brush with soft bristles, cloths and or sponge

Now we’re ready to get started cleaning

The first steps

First, you’ll want to lay all of your tent’s pieces out and cleaning the worst spots on it. This is important because while soaking will do the trick for the general dirt / grime, it’s often not enough for anything past that. I usually like to set up in the back yard for maximum airflow and space. Once you’ve done that first step of cleaning, it’s time to immerse it in your tent in the tub of soap / cleaning solution. Make sure to follow any specific instructions on the amount of cleaner to use (if you have them.)

After immersing it in the tub

Make sure to give it a good swirl in the tub by using your hands to make sure each part gets exposed to cleaner. I typically spend about five minutes on this part making sure it gets thoroughly covered. Afterwards, you’ll drain that same tub and repeat the process with clean water.

How to dry the tent properly

Now that your tent is clean, it’s simply a matter of drying it out! The easiest way to do this is hanging it up in a cool area, or my preferred method of setting it up so air can pass through it more evenly. Just to restate my point from earlier: avoid using a drier as the heat can easily damage the material of your tent. Just let mother nature handle it!

Cleaning the extra parts

Now what good is a clean tent, only to put it back in a bag with dirty stakes and other materials? Usually you can get by here by using a wet cloth to wipe them down and drying them off afterwards. For zippers that have dirt that wasn’t washed off well, a toothbrush will be your best friend.

Setting up your tent to let it dry is my preferred method. Also allows for vaccuming.

Extra tips for cleaning scenarios you may run into

If there’s tree sap on your tent, don’t worry! Wet wipes work great for small spots and you can even use hand sanitizer if you have it on hand. The alcohol in them helps break down the sap, just be sure to not over scrub and wear down the material of the tent.

Dealing with mildew

For mildew (and other specialized problems like mold) you will want to use a cleaner specifically for that problem. Soap and water will not cut it in these cases and you’ll need to be aggressive about treating it properly. I recommend the IOSSO cleaner for this because it’s designed to treat mold / mildew without ruining the fabric, like most cleaners that have bleach in them.

Also be sure to follow the instructions of whatever cleaner you choose. It sounds really obvious, but getting the application of it right is important so it works.

Waterproofing your tent

The unfortunate reality is that cleaning your tent will probably affect it’s waterproofing over time. This will happen regardless from use, so not a big deal to apply more once the tent has been cleaned. I’ve even written a guide on how to waterproof your tent if you need any guidance!

Putting everything together

By now, your tent should be clean as a whistle and ready to go! Cleaning your tent can feel like a chore, but like most cleaning it’s best done proactively. Rather than waiting for it to become a mess of dirt, sap, pollen and other nastiness you can keep it really fresh and well performing.

I personally can vouch for having a clean tent ready to go and it has actually become a relaxing ritual for me after my trips.

As mentioned above, avoid using a washer and drier to clean the tents. They may seem like the convenient way to do things, but it’s very likely to just mess up your tent if not ruin it altogether.

Harsh cleaners are also a no go like bleach and chlorine. When you’re dealing with fabric (and waterproofing already on the tent) you want to be as gentle as possible with it.