How To Clean a Tent That Smells?

Tent winter camping or in the rain usually results in a tent that will need to be dried out properly once you get home.

If you do not do this, you will end up with molds and maybe even foul odor. No need to panic since we will go over how to clean a tent with mold and other funky stuff in this post.

Prevention is key for all types of tents when it comes to mold or mildew, but I guess most of us are guilty of being too lazy at some point, to thoroughly dry out a damp tent.

winter camping

How to clean a tent that smells does not differ drastically from cleaning other items that stink or have mold and mildew.

There are also specific, tent cleaners and tent mildew removers if you want special formulations.

Why Does Your Tent Stink?

Among the most common causes of a smelly tent are the following:

  • Mold
  • Mildew
  • Dirt and grime
  • Polyurethane breaking down

Also, keep in mind that a tent does not have to be rained on to acquire moisture. Condensation is enough to trigger the growth of mold and fungi. Improper storage areas like moist cabinets can also cause molds and odors to fester. Furthermore, this list is by no means an exhaustive one, as there are other causes for foul smell.

Likewise investigate for little critters hiding in the nooks and crannies, or food particles that may go unnoticed. If your tent has internal pockets, look in those too for forgotten items.

How Not To Clean Your Tent

To remove mold odor and other smells, the one thing not to do is stick your tent in a washing machine. A washing machine will not target specific areas of the tent that require special attention. This process of tumbling and spinning might damage the tent too.

When it comes to cleaning a tent thoroughly, you will have to roll up your sleeves and use a manual approach.

How to Clean and Deodorize a Smelly Tent

Here Comes the Sun

If your tent suffers from just a mild odor or smells like a musky closet, less invasive procedures could still be effective. Look out for a nice hot, dry day and prepare to ventilate it. Those sponges and soaps can stay on the sidelines for now.

Ideally, I use a clothesline, as this really allows air to go through all sides of the item, especially on the flooring material.

If you do not have access to a clothesline that can take a tent, lay out the item over four chairs, or similar pegs. The idea is to allow air to move freely all around and to keep the tent off the ground.

Examine the tent for loose debris that may be in the corners, and flick any away with your fingers.

A combination of direct sunlight and fresh air will effectively get rid of any odors. The sun will also kill any bacteria or fungi that may be lurking on the fabric.

After one day, turn the tent over and repeat the process on the other side of the fabric. Let the tent sit again and bask under the sun for the natural deodorizing and sanitizing process.

By the way, if you have to wash your tent, likewise use this method to thoroughly dry it. Once it feels dry and ready to keep, still keep it hanging one more day for good measure. Moist residue can sometimes be hard to detect thru touch, so the additional day outdoors is good insurance. (Read A Parent’s Guide to Camping with Kids)

Washing Your Tent

If you are up against a fouler foe, then washing the tent is your next option. To start the washing process fill a large enough basin with lukewarm water for total immersion.  You will also need some gentle commercial cleaning products for removing odors.

For good measure, put on some gloves that will not restrict finger use and movement.

Sometimes a liquid hand soap will also do. Hand wash the tent thoroughly, going through the specific spots you have identified as odor sources. I have heard that some folks add essential oil to the water as well, which you can do. (Find the Best Camping Queen Size Cot)

A tablespoon of tea tree oil helps to kill germs, while lemon and mint oils will deodorize the tent naturally.

You could also add some vinegar to the basin. The acid in the vinegar will get rid of the mildew spores or molds, making your tent odor-free and usable again. Two cups into the basin should do it.

After you have effectively cleaned the tent, I always make sure to do at least two rinses. I only stop rinsing once I am satisfied that all residue of the cleaning product has been washed off. A fully wet and immersed tent can take some time to dry, so use the prescribed procedure I talked about earlier in this post.

Prevention Is Still Supreme

green tent

While there might be some point that you need to wash your tent, preventive measures will usually work for most cases. Never store a tent unless you are sure it has no dirt or grime, and if it is totally devoid of moisture. Likewise, as I mentioned earlier, mere condensation or even morning mildew is enough for mold to take root. (Read Guide to Staying Cool While Camping)

When coming home from a camp trip, it is a good habit to hang your tent out to air. If your outdoor trips are rare, maybe pitching it for cleaning and airing in your yard is a good idea, and for the tent to stretch its legs. This way you are always good to go for your next camp excursion.

How To Clean a Tent That Smells