How to Clean, Maintain, & Waterproof a Tent

Published on January 31st, 2020

For many, camping just isn’t camping without a tent. Often, even those with RVs like to pitch a tent alongside their rig for daytime use, and those camping without an RV almost certainly want to have a tent on hand for shelter from the elements.

Because a tent is such an important part of camping, and because they tend to be a bit pricey, you will definitely want to know how to care for tents before purchasing one of your own. Knowing how to maintain a tent properly will help ensure your investment lasts for years to come and gives you many happy camping memories.

How Do You Care for a Tent After Camping?

The majority of tent problems arise while the tent is being taken down after a trip or while it’s in storage. Rough handling during break-down and/or improper storage can quickly lead to tears, broken parts, and other issues.

Here’s what you need to know about tent care after camping in order to ensure you put your tent away correctly each and every time.

Push, Don’t Pull

When removing the poles from your tent, use pushing movements rather than pulling. Pulling can cause undue stress on the poles as well as the fabric surrounding them.

Shake It Out

Once the poles are removed, shake out the tent, rainfly, and ground cloth. Make sure all dirt and debris is removed during the shaking, as even a tiny pebble can wear a hole through your tent while in storage.

Make Sure It’s Dry

The most important thing you can do to help your tent live a long life is to make sure it’s as dry as possible when putting it away. We recommend drying it in the sun at your campsite (if possible) and then pulling it out again at home and checking for any moisture or musty smell. If you detect either, hang the tent to dry again.

Store Wisely

Once you’re positive your tent is 100% free of moisture, you can store it by rolling it tightly and storing it in a loose, breathable bag. We really like pillowcases for tent storage.

Do Tents Need to Be Waterproofed?

Many people wonder if they should waterproof their tent before taking it out. The answer? It depends. Tent waterproofing is done in the factory, meaning a new tent will not need you to do any additional waterproofing. That said, tents do lose their waterproofing over time. This means an older tent will need to be resealed.

To reseal your tent, lay it out on the ground with the inside facing out. Push the seams all the way in to reveal the stitching and clean each seam with a cotton swab and rubbing alcohol. Once all the seams are clean, spray each one using a seam sealant. Let this dry before applying a second coat. Allow the second coat to dry completely before turning the tent the other direction and cleaning and spraying the seams from the outside.

Sometimes the waterproof coating will wear off of other parts of the tent. If this is the case with your tent, you will likely see it peeling away from the rainfly or floor of your tent. To fix this, gently scrub the old coating away using rubbing alcohol and an abrasive sponge. Apply a thin coating of spray-on tent sealant on the entire rainfly or floor. Let dry for at least 24 hours.

How Do You Maintain a Tent?

Besides putting it way correctly and waterproofing when needed, what else can you do to maintain your tent? Actually, there are several aspects of tent care that you should know about.

Always Use a Ground Cover

It’s super important that you always use some sort of ground cover before setting your tent up. This will protect your tent from rocks, sticks, and other sharp objects found on the ground.

Avoid Sunlight When Possible

UV rays can damage the tent fabric. Therefore, it’s best to avoid direct sunlight whenever possible. Setting up under a tree is a great way to do this.

Slow Down During Setup

Being in a hurry during setup can be disastrous. Avoid flinging poles to snap them into place, and go slowly when pushing the poles into place in the tent fabric.

Zip with Both Hands

Be sure to use both hands when zipping and unzipping tent doors and windows. Attempting to do this with only one hand often leads to ripped fabric and stuck zippers, neither of which is fun to deal with.

Leave It Outside

Dirt and other items tracked in on your feet can cause undue wear and tear on your tent floor. Meanwhile, food left in the tent can lead to problems with animals chewing through your tent. For this reason, we recommend leaving food and shoes outside or in your vehicle.

Carry a Repair Kit

You never know when you might end up with ripped tent fabric or a broken pole. Always carry a repair kit containing duct tape, a patch kit, some extra stakes, and a multi-tool with scissors and pliers. These items will provide a quick fix to any problems you might have.

Clean Regularly

Finally, you will want to keep your tent nice and clean. Need to know how to clean a tent? Read on for instructions on washing a tent.

Tent Cleaning Step-by-Step

Need to know how to clean a tent that smells or has stains? In this section we will discuss tent cleaning step-by-step. These steps should leave you with a clean tent that you can’t wait to use again.

Lay Out the Tent

Begin by laying the tent out as flat as you can and identifying any stains or especially dirty areas. This can also be done with the tent already set up, if that’s easier for you.

Fill a Bucket

Next, you will create your tent cleaner solution. This is just a mixture of warm water and a gentle hand soap. Dish soap can also be used if you have a particularly dirty tent.

Gently Scrub

Use a non-abrasive sponge or washcloth to gently scrub those stains and extra dirty spots you found earlier, making an effort to remove the stains completely.

Immerse the Tent

Immerse the entire tent in the soapy water solution, then agitate to clean any remaining dirt from the fabric. In some cases, you may need to repeat this step in order to ensure the tent is clean. Once you’re satisfied with the cleanliness of the fabric, rinse it well.

Hang to Dry

Lastly, you will need to hang the tent to dry in the sun, making sure it is completely dry before you put it away.

How to Clean a Tent FAQs

The instructions for how to wash a tent are pretty straightforward. That said, some questions may come up while cleaning a tent. Below are some tent FAQs you may want the answers to.

Can you wash a tent in a washing machine?

Some people wonder if they can take the easy route and place their tent fabric into the washing machine or dryer. The answer? Absolutely not! The washer and dryer are much too rough and can do serious damage to your tent.

Can I use detergent rather than soap?

In addition to skipping the washer and dryer, you’ll also want to skip detergents. These are just too strong for tent fabric. Hand soap or a simple dish soap is all you should need.

How can I get rid of mold?

Wondering how to clean a tent that has become moldy? The first step is to lay the tent flat and allow it to sit in the sun for several hours. The sunlight helps kill mold. Next, clean the tent using a solution of hot water, vinegar, and a small amount of dish soap. Use this solution to wash out any mold or mildew spots, using a soft bristle brush when necessary.

How can I get rid of smells?

Usually, simply washing the tent as suggested above will get rid of any smells. However, if this doesn’t work, you might want to try the vinegar mixture recommended for getting rid of mold. This should remove any lingering smells and leave the tent smelling totally neutral once it is dry.

How do I clean the inside of my tent?

Immersing your tent in the washing mixture should be enough to give the interior of your tent a general cleaning. That said, if there are stains on the inside of your tent, you might want to set the tent up or turn it inside out in order to scrub those out.

Now that you know how to clean and care for you tent, you can camp with confidence, knowing you’re doing everything you can to give your trusty tent a long and healthy life that is full of camping fun. Just be sure you actually use these tips and you shouldn’t have to invest in another tent for quite some time. Happy trails!

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