The allure of coming home from a camping trip exhausted, and just throwing your dirty tent in the washing machine is completely understandable.
But, can you wash a tent in a washing machine? Or to put it another way, should you wash your tent in a washing machine?
The short answer is NO (sorry, no dramatic build-up here). But we’ll explain why and also provide some tips on properly cleaning your tent the right way.
How Tents Get Dirty
Tents are pretty much plug-and-play camping equipment. You buy them from a website or a department store, follow a few setup instructions, and you get an instant, temporary shelter.
This shelter is designed to protect you from bugs, weather, extreme temperatures, and to keep you dry and safe.
Because of this, the exterior will be subject to mud, pests, rain, and various debris. Furthermore, at least some of the dirt and debris you’ve picked up while hiking and camping will end up inside your tent no matter how careful you are (Tip: a tent vestibule helps tremendously to keep a tent clean while camping).
The price you pay for this protection from the elements is time spent cleaning it once the camping trip is over.
This leads us to an often asked question…
Can I Put My Tent In The Washing Machine?
Tents can power through heavy rains, winds, and even snowstorms, so they should be fine in the washing machine, right?
Not quite. Having your tent toss around in a large cylindrical chamber with the fabric panels getting scrubbed and entangled is another beast entirely.
The rotational actions of a washing machine are extremely harsh and can have negative effects on even the most durable tents. Even when you set your washing machine on its gentlest wash setting, it can still damage your tent’s waterproof coating and meshes.
So the answer is no, you shouldn’t do that.
But, let’s break it down even further.
Why You Shouldn’t Put A Tent Inside A Washing Machine
Tents have existed for thousands of years, but up until World War II, they were mostly just single pieces of canvas that people pitched over bare soil where soldiers could lie down on elevated beds or water-resistant tarps.
Today’s tents have several layers of fabric and mesh that are conjoined using seams. These seams create small holes along the sides of the tent through which water can flow even in a light shower.
Tentmakers plug up these holes by putting a thin polyurethane tape beneath the seams, which the harsh motions of a washing machine can, and will, damage. And you can imagine what will happen if those seams get damaged – it allows rain, dust, and small bugs to get inside.
Modern tents also have meshes and vents that prevent condensation from forming in their interior fabric, which is especially useful if you’re camping in cold weather. There’s nothing more annoying than waking up to dripping tent walls and realizing that your sleeping bag has become a sponge.
These meshes and vents are the most fragile sections of a tent, and they’re typically the first to rip and tear in a washing machine, even on 15-minute gentle cycles.
So, we’ll say it again, do not wash your tent in a washing machine.
However, there are ways to clean your tent that are easy and far better for the fabric than putting it in a washing machine.
How Do You Wash A Tent?
Cleaning your tent the proper way is not difficult. And it will ensure that you can enjoy your tent for years to come.
There are two main ways to wash your tent, which we cover extensively in our how to clean a tent guide. But, we’ll quickly cover both ways below.
The Tub Method
For the tub method, you will need three things:
- A non-abrasive sponge
- Tent soap or a mild dish soap without harsh whiteners or strong chemicals
- A bathtub or large bucket
- Remove any debris from the tent’s interior with a vacuum or broom. It’s sometimes even helpful to flip your tent up 90 degrees and give it a vigorous shake to remove any dirt that might have stuck to its inner floor.
- Spot clean any problem areas while they are still easy to find. You can use a toothbrush or non-abrasive sponge to do this.
- Unzip any zippers on your tent and put it inside the tub to soak in the water and dish detergent mix. Wash down the rest of the tent with a non-abrasive sponge. And don’t forget to gently clean the zippers and seams.
- Rinse off the soap thoroughly.
- Hang your tent on a clothesline or drape it over a wall, and then allow it to completely dry.
Important: Do NOT hang your tent in the sun. Prolonged exposure to strong sunlight might cause your tent’s fabric to become brittle, and its waterproof coating might flake off.
The Garden Hose Method
This method is similar to washing your car. You would need the same cleaning materials as the Tub Method, but you’ll be cleaning your tent outside, preferably in the garage or driveway.
Tip: Avoid cleaning on a freshly mown lawn since you don’t need blades of grass sticking to the underside of your tent as you dry it.
- Once again, you’ll need to rid your tent of any dust or dirt remaining on its surface. Give it a good sweeping or vacuuming, and remember to do the flip-and-shake maneuver to dislodge anything you might have missed.
- Use a garden hose to remove any mud, foliage, and hard water stains that might have built up outside your tent. The Garden Hose method is useful when your tent has become really dirty. Large amounts of caked-in mud and forest matter can quickly clog up a shower or bathtub drain.
- Dip your non-abrasive sponge in detergent and scrub off any remaining stains that the water pressure of your garden hose failed to rinse off.
- Rinse off the detergent. Hang your tent on a clothesline or drape it over a wall.
Do not put a tent in the dryer to speed up the drying process. And be sure to fold the tent up and store it indoors once it completely dries.
When Should You Wash Your Tent?
There is no general rule for when you should wash your tent. In other words, it comes down to personal preference. However, if you notice dirt building up or you want to pack it away at the end of the season, it might be a good time to give it a good ol’ fashioned hand washing.
If you notice even the smallest sign of mold and mildew, or a foul smell coming from your tent, then it’s definitely time to wash your tent! In these cases, you will have to take extra steps to ensure the bacteria is completely gone and the smell doesn’t return, as it can lead to health issues. Check out our guides on how to clean a tent with mold and clean a tent that smells for specific instructions to get your tent back to new.
With that said, you should at least vacuum your tent after every use. Remove any stones, leaves, food crumbs, and dirt that have made their way into the interior.
And if you do wash your tent, make sure that it is completely dry before you store it to prevent mold and mildew from forming.
What Is The Proper Way To Store A Tent?
People usually roll up their tent, store it in a bag, and forget it. However, if you want to protect your investment, you need to check the tent’s condition before putting it away and assess the environment where you’ll be storing it.
If you’re going to store your tent in the attic or the back of a camper van, for example, make sure there’s no excess humidity and that it’s generally a cool and dry place.
Before putting your tent away, check for any ants, moth pupa, or caterpillars that might have stuck to its surfaces because these pests might consume your tent fabric—and you won’t find out until it’s too late.
The key takeaway here, ensure that your tent is dry, clean, and pest-free before putting it away, and it can last for many more years of outdoor trips.