How to Clean Your Camping Tent – Top Ten Tent Care Tips
If like me you love getting out in the wild then there’s nothing better than being in the wilderness enjoying the scenery in your favorite tent. Technology has come on leaps and bounds with tent design and construction becoming ever more innovative (check out these backpacking tents). With this advancement in tech comes an increase in cost too, with the best tent models costing upwards of a few hundred dollars.
No-one likes coming back from vacation – it’s all too easy to stuff your tent away and get on with daily life without caring too much about it. With an hour or two’s TLC you can ensure that your tent is properly clean and dirt free – preventing build-ups of mold and mildew that will gradually eat away at your tent, and make it stink too! This article has our top ten tips on how to clean your tent and ensure it lives on to give you many happy years of camping.
- Don’t wash your tent in a washing machine! If you’re wondering if you can wash your tent in your washing machine then the definitive answer is NO! You want to use a small amount of mild non-detergent soap and lukewarm water. Stay away from household cleaners such as laundry detergent, dishwashing liquid and bleach as these will harm the waterproof coating of the tent by chemical breakdown. Scrub with a sponge or cloth, obviously not a scouring pad, and be careful on PU coated areas such as floors and rainflys. Using household soaps may even encourage insects and rodents, not the best tent mates.
- Use an Enzyme based cleaner to remove mold and mildew – Even a tent that seems to be dry can have condensation and moisture in some of the crevices or seams. If you pack it straight and take it home without giving it a good airing, you risk the formation of unsightly and smelly mildew or mold forming on the tent. If you are wondering how you get rid of mold in a tent then although it can be a bit of a pain due to its stubborn nature,it is possible with a bit of elbow grease and the right products. There are a few different methods to remove mildew including a ‘natural’ remedy. This involves mixing 1 cup of salt with 1 cup of lime juice and a gallon of water. Other enzyme cleaners available from most grocery stores will also be highly effective.
You can use the bathtub at home to submerge with special cleaners – If your tent is really filthy, once you’ve hosed it off and wiped it down you could try leaving it submerged in your bathtub. Special cleaners such as Nikwax Loft Tech will both help clean the tent, and also leave less residue than standard soaps. The added advantage of this cleaner is that contains elastic water-repellant polymers that are absorbed into the fabric. These coat the tent fabric and renew the waterproof capability of the tent.
- Scrub the poles and zips – it’s important not to overlook the poles and zips when you’re cleaning your tent. A top tip is that if you have been around the coast then give the poles a wipe down to remove any deposits of salt from the air. Don’t submerge the poles though, as water may get in or soak any internal rope and be very hard to remove and dry out thoroughly. The zippers should also be scrubbed and make sure all bits of dirt and sand have been removed. If you don’t then this will reduce the life of the tent as the zipper teeth begin to bite the dust so to speak.
- Use a spray-on tent waterproofer – After cleaning your tent, whilst it is still damp you can use a spray on waterproofer from your local camping store. Popular ones include Nikwax TX Direct (review here) or Solarproof. Sprayed onto the side walls of the tent and over the entire exterior rainfly they not only increase the waterproof capability, but offer a number of other advantages. Fabric strength is enhanced and can almost double the life of the material, enhanced by the UV protection it offers from sunlight.
- Rewaterproof your tent’s seams and seals – When you buy your tent, chances are the tent manufacturer will have already sealed the seams. This stops water leaking in through the joins in the fabric. You can buy special seam sealer from big brands such as Coleman and Texsport. It usually comes with a small paintbrush end that you can run along the outside of the seam (as the inside sometimes has the gunk left behind from the old failing seam tape). Small holes in the tent fabric can be easily repaired also with a dab of the seam sealer.
- How to deal with flaky waterproof coatings – Many tents in the budget to mid range are coated on the inside with polyurethane (PU) as this gives the fabric its waterproof capability. Over time, either through hydrolysis, heat damage or abrasion the interior PU coating becomes flaky and peels away, thus eliminating the waterproof capabilities of the tent. If the area isn’t too widespread then it might be worth repairing. First you remove any flaky bits, once it’s clean you can then paint on a polyurethane sealant to renew the protection.
- Give your tent a good airing – Don’t use a tumble dryer as it will ruin the tents seals and the heat may damage or rip the fabric. The best thing you can do is to pitch the tent indoors or on a clean area in your back yard. Even hanging from a laundry line will also work. Basically the longer you leave it to dry the better. Make sure you don’t leave it out overnight though or condensation may form and linger on the tent fabric all night.
- Just roll with it – There are a few different ways you can put your tent away. Sleeping bags are best stuffed into their stuffsac but this isn’t the case with tents. It will stretch the fabric and will cause creases all over it. Folding is fine, but a combination of folding the tent to the length of the poles (about the width of a sleeping bag), and then rolling up is best. This is kinder on the fabric and will encourage longevity.
- Don’t use your tent’s stuffsac to store – Believe it or not a pillowcase is probably one of the kindest ways to look after and store your tent. It is breathable and so will prevent any build ups of condensation, allowing any residual moisture to escape.
Here are a few tent care tips from REI:
There we have it, ten top tips on how to care for your tent and keep it in tip top condition. A little effort when you return from your hiking or backpacking trip will pay dividends in ensuring your tent lives on for many more adventures.
If you have any other tips or advice for fellow campers on tent cleaning then please leave these in the comments below.