How To Clean A Tent (Step-By-Step)

When you get home from a camping trip, your clothes go directly into the laundry basket. You bang out your boots to remove the dust or rinse them off if they’re super muddy. Water bottles should be cleaned and stored.

However, most people leave their tent packed away, waiting for the next trip.

No matter how clean you keep your tent while camping, it will inevitably accumulate dust, dirt, and grime during outdoor adventures.

This is why it’s essential to clean your tent regularly to preserve its functionality and lifespan. So, we’ve put together a step-by-step guide on the best way to do just that!

Step-by-Step Guide: How to Wash a Tent

Tents are expensive pieces of outdoor gear. It’s common to be intimidated when it comes time to take care of this equipment. One wrong choice, and you’ve potentially destroyed it!

So, follow these steps to get your tent clean and looking great for many years to come. Our experience, knowledge, and past mistakes (yep, we’ve made plenty of mistakes) will guarantee you get the cleanest tent possible.

First of all, there are two main ways to clean a tent.

Everyone will tell you their method is better. However, the best way depends on your space and how much cleaning your tent really needs. 

The first cleaning method involves setting up your tent in your yard.

Once erected, you can spray down the tent with the hose and scrub it with soap and water. It feels like washing a car.

If you’ve got the room, this is the best way to spot check your tent while cleaning. Use this method if there are multiple, specific areas of your shelter that need attention.

The second way is to put the tent into a large bucket or bathtub.

If you choose this route, you’ll feel as if you’re handwashing clothes. This method allows the tent to soak and for the soap to work its way through the fabric. 

This method is ideal if your tent needs a deep, overall washing. However, it is harder to spot clean with the canvas all bunched up in the tiny space.

Whichever method you choose, the following steps are the same.

Whether you’re cleaning the erect tent or soaking it in the bathtub, you’ll want to use a mild soap (like dish soap) or cleaner specific to outdoor gear. Some chemicals don’t work well with high-tech cloth or waterproofing. Be sure that what you’re using will work without damaging your tent.

Step 1: Spot Clean The Tent

Spot clean the problem areas first, before starting the overall washing. These areas are easier to find before the whole tent is wet and sudsy. When you’re spot cleaning, use a toothbrush or some other firm, but gentle cleaning tool to help eliminate the stain.

did you know Did you know…

If you have sap on your tent, you can effectively remove it by applying rubbing alcohol to a sponge or washcloth and gently wiping it off.

Step 2: Wash The Tent

After that, wash down the rest of the tent using a sponge and dish soap. The soap must permeate all of the areas to do its job.

When washing, don’t forget the zippers and seams. These areas will trap dust and dirt. Because of this, they’re often the first places that your tent rips or fails.

Step 3: Rinse And Dry

Once you finish, rinse your tent thoroughly. Any cleaner left on the surface might become sticky or cause deterioration.

Tip: If you plan on waterproofing your tent, now is the time to do it (before you let it dry).

Hang the fabric somewhere out of the sun and allow it to completely dry before you pack it away. Putting away a damp tent will lead to mold or mildew. And do not try to speed up the process by putting a tent in a dryer.

Check out this video from REI on how to properly clean a tent using the tub method.

How to Clean a Tent || REI

If you still notice an odor coming from your tent after washing it, check out our guide on how to clean a tent that smells to not only get it smelling fresh but also to prevent it from developing bad odors again in the future.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you clean a moldy, mildewed, or stinky tent?

Even if you’re the most careful camper, you can still wind up with a tent growing mold or mildew. These fungi often develop when the fabric is slightly damp when you put it away.

After washing your tent using the steps above, one option is to use a gear-specific cleaning enzyme – such as Revivex – to soak the tent. Not only will this kill anything that’s growing, but it will also eliminate any odors that your tent picked up.

Revivex Odor & Mold Eliminator

Revivex Odor & Mold Eliminator

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Check out our guide on how to clean a tent with mold for a complete step-by-step breakdown!

Can you pressure-wash a tent or put it in the washing machine?

Pressure washing puts too much force on the seams. Seams are the most likely places to leak as it is. Protect their longevity by using the old fashioned bucket-and-sponge method described above.

And washing a tent in a washing machine, even on the gentle cycle, is too intense for tent fabric and seams. The harsh agitation can wreak havoc on the tent’s seam seals. Plus, if a zipper or tab gets stuck in the washing machine, for example, it could tear your tent.

When your gear is ready for an overall washing, soaking it in a tub and agitating by hand is the safest option.

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