Conditions are shifting outside. It’s time to start making plans for your next camping vacation because the nights are getting nice and cold. But the moment you take your tent out of storage, you’re assaulted by a garbage-can-like odor, and you really consider discarding it alongside your other trash.
Wait. Think twice about tossing that stinky tent in the trash before you do.
A tent with a bad odor can ruin even the most enjoyable camping experience. It’s okay though, because we’ve got you covered. I’ll tell you what works for me to get rid of odors in a tent and how to keep your tent from being the camp snob.
The great outdoors is calling, so let’s go!
Tip #1 – Preventing a Stinky Tent
The first step in ensuring your tent lasts for many years of enjoyable camping is to keep it from getting musty.
Many different preventative measures need to be taken into account. The following should be done after every camping trip to keep unpleasant odors and the growth of nasty organisms at bay.
- Make sure the tent interior is clear of any clutter.
- Before putting the tent away, make sure it’s entirely dry. Wait a little longer if you believe it’s dry for peace of mind.
- Check your tent out carefully. Check for any issues that could cause foul odors.
Tip #2 – Determine Why You Have a Smelly Tent
There are a few things that can go wrong, and your tent will start to smell, which isn’t exactly the picture of serenity. As a result, before attempting to eliminate the odor, you should try to pinpoint its source.
Smells that make your nose wrinkle are often traced back to dirt and grime. Since camping excursions typically involve a lot of outdoor activities, we inevitably come back covered in dirt and grime. Our clothes and shoes are filthy. Perhaps you even trod on your pet’s unwelcome present to you.
And then there’s the sweat we work up while hiking, canoeing, or doing any of a variety of other outdoor activities. Tents can get smelly from the dirt and grime that accumulates naturally during camping trips.
Secondly, fungi may be to blame for your musty tent. This is about mold and mildew.
Most unpleasant tent odors result from the growth of mold and mildew, which thrives in damp conditions. Surface mold and mildew are visible and smell musty as they spread through a space.
Learning how to properly clean a tent after it has become infested with mold and mildew is crucial because of the health risks it poses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has information on their website on the risks of breathing in mold and mildew spores. An illness is not acceptable on any camping vacation.
Third, there’s a chance that bacteria is the problem. When you touch your tent with bare skin, bacteria will spread throughout the tent. Like mold, bacteria may colonize virtually any substrate. It’s possible for unsightly bacteria to multiply and spread through your tent’s fabric.
As a final possibility, the polyethylene in your tent may be degrading, leading to an unpleasant odor. This isn’t something that happens often, but if it does, it could completely alter the course of your camping experience. Your tent may smell like puke or pee due to the degradation of polyethylene, but this is easily remedied.
Tip #3 – How to Air Out A Smelly Tent
In my experience, air is a fantastic cleaning technique for eliminating unpleasant tent odors. It’s no cost to you and it usually works just fine. This is a guide about how to air out a tent.
You should take your tent out in the fresh air a few days before your next major trip to make sure that any lingering odors are gone.
A clothesline is ideal for this purpose and can be used to suspend your tent. If you don’t have access to a clothesline, you can use an outdoor table or chairs to dry your items in your tent. Keep an eye out for jagged corners that could puncture your tent’s nylon.
Tent airing out often takes no more than a day or two, and you can get everything else on your camping checklist done at the same time.
Tip #4 – How to Clean a Tent with Vinegar and Lemon Juice
Use a solution of equal parts vinegar and lemon juice to neutralize musty odors caused by mold and mildew in your tent. Vinegar, lemon juice, a large enough tub to soak your tent, some time, and patience are all you need.
To prepare the bath soak, combine the lemon juice, vinegar, and warm water. Let the tent soak for at least an hour in the solution to get rid of the odor. It’s preferable if you can make it at least two hours, preferably three.
Gather some pals to assist in retrieving the tent from the cleaning solution. Make sure you give it plenty of time to dry. The tent can first be set up on a table or clothesline. When the tent has dried out sufficiently, you can set it up to finish airing out.
Vinegar’s acidity makes it highly effective against mold and mildew. Add some lemon juice and you have a potent weapon against unpleasant odors and deadly microorganisms. In addition to masking any pickle odor, the lemon juice will keep your tent smelling fresh.
To eliminate mold and mildew in specific areas, you can use any of these products.
- Mix one cup of warm water with a quarter cup of white vinegar.
- For every gallon of boiling water, add one cup of salt and one cup of lemon juice.
It’s recommended to combine the two liquids and use a spray bottle for application.
I should also point out that bleach is commonly thought to be effective against mildew and mold. Although bleach is effective at eliminating germs, it should not be used on the tent itself.
However, bleach has the potential to degrade the tent’s fabric, leading to further issues down the road.
Tip #5 – Saving a Tent that Smells like Rotten Eggs and Vomit
When going camping, no one wants to be reminded of the stench of sulfur or vomit. Don’t worry if the sulfur scent or the stench of a missing lunch permeates your tent. Indeed, it is salvageable.
As was previously said, a foul odor might be expected from deteriorating plastic tents. You’ll need a deep tub, some hot water, and a lot of mild dish soap to get rid of the odor.
In a sizable tub, combine hot water and a gentle detergent. Soak the tent for at least an hour in the liquid combination. Bring out the tent and carefully scrub the surface with a brush. Follow these steps to peel off the polyethylene layer.
Finally, before putting the tent away for the trip or storing it, give it a good washing and allow it dry completely.
Tip #6 – Cleaning a Smelly Pop-Up Tent
Single campers and couples often choose pop-up tents for their camping needs. Additionally, they have the potential to develop a putrid odor. This type of tent has a unique cleaning requirement from larger tents.
Your pop-up tent may be easily cleaned by opening it up and spraying it down with a cleaning solution from a spray bottle. Vinegar and lemon juice make a good do-it-yourself option, but you can also buy a cleaner made specifically for tents.
In a well-ventilated area, spray the tent down with the cleaning solution and let it sit for 30 minutes. The tent should then be washed down with fresh water and allowed to dry thoroughly.
Tip #7 – Always Hand Wash Your Smelly Tent
We’ve gone over a few options for deodorizing your tent. I think it’s worth mentioning that the only equipment you’ll need to clean your tent are your own hands.
Tents are easily damaged by vigorous cleaning. Soft scrub brushes are great for hand washing. Carefully swishing your tent around in the big tub of cleaning solution is fine. You shouldn’t put the tent’s fibers or mesh at risk by doing anything rough with them.
Tip #8 – Never, Ever Use A Washing Machine
Tent life can be greatly increased by regular washing. A washing machine is a simple method to destroy a tent. The agitation and spinning of a washing machine is too much for a tent to handle.
Unfortunately, machine washing is not recommended for certain items.
Don’t put it through the washing machine, even if the label says you may. A second piece of advise is to never dry your tent. Even in a mild situation, it’s not something we endorse.
Tip # 9 – Use a Tent Air-Freshener
Inevitably, your fantastic camping trip will include moments when your tent starts to stink. You can try an air refresher instead of leaving the room early.
But you should exercise caution. Unwanted guests may be attracted to the aroma of an air freshener. I wouldn’t recommend using any disinfecting sprays like Lysol or Febreeze.
Use an odor remover specifically made for tents if possible. Enzymes in these foods become active when they come into contact with water. The bad smells are neutralized by the enzymes.
The goal should be to get rid of the smell altogether, not just cover it up.
Tip #10 – Implement Post – Clean Treatments
It would be a shame if all of our hard work cleaning our tents caused us to neglect properly packing them up. Camping checklists should include instructions for stowing the tent properly.
After giving your tent a good cleaning, give it a good drying. You can’t overemphasize the importance of this advice. All your hard work will be for naught if you pack up your tent while it’s still damp out of the rain.
Mold can grow in a tent if trash is left inside. Cleaning the tent properly is required because crumbs are invisible to the human eye. A soft bristle broom or water hose may swiftly and easily clean out your tent.
Keep your tent out of the bag when not in use. You should roll it up after making sure it is completely dry. Keep it in a dry, cold area until you’re ready to use it again for camping.
How to Clean a Stinky Tent After Camping
The cleanliness and freshness of your shelter can be restored in a number of ways.
I have ranked some of the more prevalent ones in terms of their usefulness below.
In most cases, only one or two methods will be necessary, but if you really care about maintaining a pristine tent, by all means, go through all of them.
1. Let Your Tent Dry and Air Out The Odors
Air out the tent by hanging it in a well-ventilated area before doing a thorough cleaning with sponges and soap.
If you don’t have a clothesline, you can also use the backs of four chairs or anything similar. With this setup, air may flow freely all around the shelter.
That was simple enough, but how long should you let a tent air out? Clear the tent of any remaining forest debris and leave it alone for a couple of days.
The wind can often carry away the stench.
Using this procedure, you may quickly and thoroughly dry your tent after washing it.
Wait one more day after you think it’s dried before proceeding.
Mildew can develop if condensation forms within the tent, forcing you to start the process over.
2. Quick Scrub to Clean Dirt and Grime
Put up the tent; it will be much simpler to maintain that way.
Scrub filthy surfaces with a nonabrasive sponge and cold water and mild, unscented dish soap.
After the material has been cleaned, take down the shelter and set aside the poles, stakes, and any other parts.
You should wait until your tent is completely dry to put it away. (Refer to item 1 on the list.)
3. Warm Wash to Get Rid of Mold
Don’t give up hope if you find mold in your tent. Please follow these steps to clean your moldy tent:
Fill a bathtub or kiddie pool with warm water and unscented soap; I personally prefer the latter so the odor stays outside my home.
To clean the tent, remove all the zippers, pockets, etc., and submerge it in the pool water for ten minutes. Then get rid of the mucky water.
You can drain the dirty water out of the tub and refill it with clean water to rinse.
If any soap remains, rinse well again.
The tent must be completely dry before being put away. (Refer to item 1 on the list.)
4. Use Mirazyme Tent Cleaner
The mold and mildew spores in your tent can be resistant to soap or your homemade vinegar mixture.
You can also order an enzyme cleaner to use in addition to washing your hands.
Gear Aid, originally known as Mirazyme Odor Eliminator, is a staple of the camping industry.
This cleanser uses a combination of enzymes and microbes to eliminate odor-causing bacteria, mold, mildew, and algae.
As skeptical as I was that Gear Aid’s chemicals would eventually eat through my tent’s fabric, the product performed admirably.
Not only that, but it breaks down naturally and is safe for the planet. Although it is recommended that you use protective gloves when doing so.
Half an ounce of the enzyme cleaner should be added to every 20 liters of water to dilute the powerful cleaning solution.
After you’re done washing off the lingering odor from your tent, you probably won’t use it again until your next camping trip.
To extend the useful life of your shelter and improve its overall quality, you should think again before giving up after a thorough cleaning.
There is more art than science to seam sealing a tent, so follow the jump to learn more about the process.
Depending on the type of sealant you use, you either spray it on or paint it on, and then you go around the tent and close up all the seams.
You should probably waterproof the entire tent, not just the seams.
Nikwax Tent and Gear Solar Proof is my go-to because it is reasonably priced and simple to locate.
It will create a watertight seal around the tent and block the sun’s rays to keep the material from fading.
Rare Bug Treatment: Permethrin
Mosquitoes, gnats, fruit flies, and extremely hazardous ticks can be found just about anywhere.
For this reason, after every cleaning, I always spray my tent with Permethrin to keep the pests away.
This chemical can be applied on tent material or clothing to keep insects away; however, it is not recommended for use on undergarments or socks.
Although the application is only valid for a month, it could save your life if you are planning another travel within the next few weeks.
Always follow the instructions carefully and make sure you have the right safety gear before you try to bug bomb your safe room.
What’s Causing the Stink?
Now that we’ve covered what to do to clean a tent, let’s investigate what might have caused the problem in the first place…
Dirt and Grime
It is usually easy to see the filth and grime that has accumulated there.
These contaminants may not be the main cause of the smell in your tent, but they should still be removed to prolong the life of the fabric.
Mold and Mildew
Both of these fungus have the potential to cause significant problems if not addressed promptly.
Tents that have been contaminated with these substances often have a stale, musty odor.
Microbial volatile organic compounds is the scientific name for the compounds given out by these obnoxious critters, but I doubt you care about that.
However, you should be aware that the fungi’s spores can enter your home and produce unpleasant consequences if not eliminated.
Wrapping Cleaning It Up…
Although it’s not fun, keeping your stinking tent clean is necessary if you want it to last as long as possible.
If letting it air out doesn’t help, try washing it by hand and maybe soaking it in an enzyme bath.
When the tent is completely dry, you should go ahead and seam seal it, waterproof it, and bug bomb it. Reduce the commotion and get rid of it, instead of making a fuss.
Long Term Care of Your Tent Dwelling
Tents that stink are no fun at all. Having to deal with them may rapidly ruin an otherwise enjoyable camping experience. I can’t just leave you hanging after giving you some pointers on how to get rid of the stench in your tent.
A properly maintained tent can last for many years, allowing you to enjoy many more camping adventures.
- When it comes to building, waterproofing is an essential process that should not be neglected. Although it is not necessary to waterproof after each wash, it is always a good idea to inspect the seams and fabric for wear and tear. When in doubt, waterproofing your tent every two to three years is the general guideline.
- The original bag is ideal for storing your tent, but a pillowcase will do in a pinch. Pillowcases are wonderful since they allow air to circulate and are easy to remove and replace. Remember what I said about not being in a rush and just throwing the tent in the bag. Tent seams and other pieces are less likely to tear if you roll them up.
- Pick a good location for your tent and be careful when setting it up on your camping trip.
- It is recommended that you read all of the manufacturer’s instructions before to constructing your tent for the first time. It’s possible you’ll need to brush up on them every once in a while.
- In order to practice the setup in a safe environment, you should perform it at home first. Tent setup at home will be less of a headache than in the wild.
Rid Yourself of a Smelly Tent and Start Planning Your Next Camping Trip
Many families enjoy spending time together camping. There is nothing quite like a camping trip to reconnect with nature while enjoying some of your favorite comfort foods cooked over an open fire. It’s incredible to emerge from your tent each morning and take a deep breath of fresh air. Care for your tent so that you can experience that sense of wonder again and again.
Camping memories might be ruined by unpleasant odors in the tent. It might make you sick. To put it simply, your pain is unnecessary. All bets are off if your tent smells, but following these 10 steps to clean it will make a world of difference.
Prepare for your next camping trip without worrying about bringing a stinky tent.
Never Wash Your Tent in a Washing Machine
This should be obvious, but I have to confess that I have tested it out before out of curiosity. The ancient tent I used was part of the experiment, and it was just that. I’ll simply say that it’s not something I recommend.
It’s possible that the outcome wouldn’t have changed even if I had used a brand new, high-quality tent. Tents are not designed to withstand the rigors of a washing machine’s spin cycle.
Should You Use Soap or Go All Natural
To clean a tent, one of two methods can be used. When I first started looking into how to properly clean my tent, I read that mild detergent soap was all that was required. Dish soap was widely suggested as a solution. You may save your money and get something just as good from the dollar store.
Choose one with a subtle scent, or none at all if possible. It’s common knowledge that perfumes and other scented products can draw mosquitoes and other pests into a room.
Use a non-chemical solution of vinegar, lemon juice, and water as an alternative. This is the way I like best after using it multiple times to clean my tent. It seems more efficient to me, and it saves time because you don’t have to rinse the suds off afterward.
Handwashing Your Tent
It will take more effort to clean your tent thoroughly if it is really grimy. The unclean spots will require some manual scrubbing with a gentle cleanser like a damp sponge and some elbow grease. Here, a spray bottle is my preferred tool.
It’s best to wash the tent’s outer materials by hand and to avoid scrubbing the fly’s underside, as this might wear away the coating that makes it waterproof. Be careful not to brush too vigorously, since this could cause damage to your tent. Tents are easier to clean if they can be pitched, so keep that in mind.
They may sell chemical treatments for cleaning tents, but I find that good old soap and water, or a mixture of lemon juice and vinegar, works just as well.
What if My Tent Has Mold or Mildew
There’s a considerable probability that mildew or even mold has formed on your tent if you put it away when it was still damp. Don’t worry about it.
Vinegar can be utilized, and it doesn’t even have to be the same vinegar you used to clean your tent. Instead of diluting the vinegar with water, you can use a spray bottle to apply a mixture of lemon juice and vinegar directly to the affected regions. Leave it for an hour, then wipe it down with a damp sponge.
Vinegar and lemon juice have acids that will neutralize any mold or mildew spores in your tent.
A mildew and mold stain remover, like Starbrite, is another choice.
How to Store Your Tent Properly
One of the worst things that may happen to campers is to have a tent that smells musty because of mold growth. To avoid this, I’ve found that drying out the tent well before putting it away is the most effective measure.
When I get home from a camping trip, I don’t just throw my tent in the trunk and call it good for the season.
When I come home, I wash it thoroughly and hang it outside to dry in the sun (if it’s out). If it looks like rain, I’ll set up the tent in the garage for at least a day, and often longer, to dry off before putting it away for the season.
I put it in a plastic container, such as the Plano Sportsman 108 qt Storage Trunk, once I’m sure it’s dry.
It’s also a good idea to toss in a couple of Arm & Hammer baking soda bags if you plan on storing it in a damp area, such an attic, cellar, or outdoor shed.
When your tent is not in use, this will help keep it from getting musty and will also discourage the growth of mold.
All the suggestions in this post should be completely secure for 99.99 percent of all tents currently on the market. Before cleaning your tent, however, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the manufacturer’s guidelines, especially if you intend to use chemicals.
Tent cleaning is no joy, especially if it has be done before a long-awaited family camping vacation. You already have a full plate with packing and preparing for the vacation.
The good news is that you can avoid the inconvenience of cleaning a smelly tent every time you pull it out of storage by doing a little extra work at the end of each trip.