8 Key Tips On How To Clean a Tent That Smells

By October 30, 2020 No Comments

The first step you take when cleaning a smelling tent is to spot clean any dirty areas with a damp cloth using mild dish soap. If there are any saps, dub the area with rubbing alcohol or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. 

Next, fill a bathtub or a large container with cool to lukewarm water. Add distilled white vinegar and lemon juice to the water.

Unzip the door and turn the tent inside out and let it soak in the solution. The solution will take care of any intense odors, mold, and mildew. Rinse the tent and allow it to dry thoroughly, but away from direct sunlight. 

Your tent can pick up all sorts of muck, dirt, and plant matter. Here are some quick tips on; how to clean a tent that smells to get it ready for your next adventure. Let’s dive in.


Tips for Cleaning and Preventing Your Tent From Smells


how to get smell out of a tent#1 Moisture is the main culprit for smelly tents

Don’t store your tent when it’s damp; even when it has not rained, it could still be covered with dew. It would be best if you had it completely dried.

#2 Get a tent footprint to give your tent extra waterproofing from rainwater

When it rains, the water that collects beneath the structure exposes it to moisture that makes it damp.

#3 Don’t eat or drink inside your tent

Crumbs and moisture can cause bacteria that lead to the growth of mold and mildew inside your tent. Set up food 200 yards from the sleeping area and observe all safety rules.


#4 Don’t wear shoes inside the tent, and bring along a small rug that you can use near the tent door to wipe off the mud


#5 Always clean your tent after every trip and take it out to dry

If you make short trips, clean the tent after the season you take it for the outdoor adventure.

#6 To minimize odors, clean dirt areas as soon as you can with a wet sponge and mild soap

Ensure you give it plenty of time to dry completely.

#7 For long term storage, keep the tent in a mesh bag or pillowcase for proper ventilation and aeration

We recommend you use the tent bag for carrying and not for storage. 

#8 Store the tent in a cool, dry location

Avoid basements, garage, or car trunk.

Your tent is an investment. Keep it free from moisture and in the best possible condition.  

Don’t Wash a Tent in a Washing Machine a Tent

how to clean a musty tentIf you’re thinking of throwing your tent into the washing machine, just don’t. Laundering could cause damage to the seams, stretch the mesh, and even tear the fabric.

Camping supplies are expensive. Therefore, you need a slower and smarter approach when cleaning a tent to avoid costly mistakes. 

Additionally, don’t spray the tent with a hose as you may put too much pressure on the seams. 

Check for Problems before Cleaning a Tent

Before you clean your tent, set it up to check for any damage. Please pay special attention to the seams, ensure they are well sealed, and have a waterproof coating because if they are, they will allow water in, and this will lead to a smelly tent.

If they are flaking off, apply the right seam sealer for either a polyurethane-coated tent or a silicone treated one. Leave to dry.

Fix small tears, replace broken zippers, and patch damaged mesh. Repair the tent before making the next step to keep it in good condition to serve you a long time.

Should You Use Soap when cleaning a tent or Not?

washing a tentUsing mild dish soap to clean your tent is a quick, effective, and cheap way to remove dirt and smell. If you opt for one, pick a mild or fragrance-free product. Fragrances are known to attract bugs and mosquitoes. 

However, if you want to remove stubborn stains and strong smell caused by mold and mildew, we recommend distilled white vinegar, lemon juice, and water solution.

Too many chemicals can damage the fabric and make it brittle.  A non-chemical approach works well when cleaning a tent and leaves it spotless and fragrant free.

Tips for Hand Washing a Tent That Smells

cleaning a tentWhen cleaning a really dirty and smelly tent, you don’t need a ton of fancy chemicals. However, it would help if you had time to clean it rigorously. Here are the supplies you’ll need for hand washing your tent;

  • Water (cool or lukewarm)
  • Mild soap
  • Lemon juice and vinegar solution
  • Non-abrasive sponge
  • A little elbow grease
  • A spray bottle 
  • Large tub 

Step 1. Prepare the tent 

Pitch the tent outside, unzip the door and turn it inside out. Inspect the tent and look for areas that need spot cleaning. 

Step 2. Spot clean dirty parts

Suppose you notice sap on the tent, spot clean with a little elbow grease, or try an alcohol-based sanitizer. Take precaution so that you don’t over scrub the fabric. Be gentle to avoid damaging the tent. 

There is a wide range of chemical solutions in the market for spot cleaning tough stains. However, we prefer a non-chemical approach to help lengthen the lifespan of your tent.

Step 3. Soak the tent 

Prepare the water in a large tub, add lemon juice, and vinegar solution. Soak your tent in the water and allow it to sit for an hour or so. 

Step 4. Rinse and dry the tent

Rinse the tent in a tub with clean water. Repeat as you swish the tent until there is no soap. Air-dry the tent and make sure it’s completely dry.  

What to Do if Your Tent Has Mold and Mildew

If you store away from your tent while slightly damp, the chances are that mold and mildew have formed. Molds can grow on a damp surface within 24 hours. It’s easy to detect mold as it smells due to the decaying process.

With the right conditions, these microscopic organisms can thrive anywhere and can grow on any surface. They are harmful and can pose serious health risks. 

The best way to prevent mold and mildew from growing in your tent is by identifying and eliminating any source of moisture and keep the tent as dry as possible. However, if you notice that your tent has mold and mildew, you don’t need to worry!

Here are a few suggestions on how you can clean a tent with mold and mildew:

  • Using a soft brush, gently brush off the mold.
  • Use distilled white vinegar and lemon and spray on the affected areas.  
  • Allow it to sit for an hour and a half.
  • Rub the area with a sponge or a soft piece of cloth
  • Dry the tent. Remember, if you pack it when it’s not completely dry,  mold will quickly begin to grow back, and you could get a tougher stain and smell.
  • The solution effectively kills the microorganisms, gets rid of the smell, and makes the tent safe to use again.  

Note: Don’t dilute the vinegar with water since the acid is what destroys the microorganisms. 

The Best Way to Store Your Tent Properly to avoid the smells

So far, we’ve seen how to clean a tent that smells and what to do if you find microorganisms such as mold and mildew spores growing in your tent.  

We need to discuss the best way to store your tent properly to avoid foul smells – which is every campers’ nightmare. 

Where and how you store your tent affects the tent’s condition and whether it stays relaxed and aerated. As we’ve discussed, moisture is the chief cause of mold, mildew, and smelly tents.

Don’t pack your tent the same way you loaded it in your car when leaving the campsite. The carry bag it came in is best for compact packing and transportation. 

Once you’ve washed your tent and it’s completely dry, choose a storage container or bag suitable for long term storage. Also, adding baking soda bags in the storage container will help keep moisture under control, prevent bad odors and growth of organisms.

Final Words

So, there you go! We hope the tips and recommendations we’ve discussed in this article have answered the question: “how to clean a tent that smells.” The methods are safe for washing any tent sold in the market today.

Remember, when you’re camping, your tent collects all sorts of dirt since you will be moving in and out all the time. Therefore, cleaning a tent immediately after a camping trip is paramount to get rid of foul odors. Also, deep cleaning after every few months will help maintain the tent to last you for years. 

Perhaps the most important point to keep in mind is to ensure that your tent is completely dry, especially when packing and during storage. It will help you avoid smells and hinder the growth of mold and mildew spores.

Do let us know if you’ve found this article helpful. Are we missing anything? Let this conversation continue with the comments below. All the best!