How To Clean A Tent That Smells

It can be disheartening to plan a camping trip or to book a music festival, only to find that your tent stinks once taken out of storage.

Despite it being stored away, perhaps untouched for a few months, it smells like it was used recently for a wet and muddy weekend.

Instead of debating whether to throw it away or not, there is a solution to the problem. It might stink due to past uses, or show signs of mold, but it can be fixed – and if you need it ASAP? Then let us get started.

In this article we shall guide you through ways to clean the tent and how to prevent the smelliness from starting in the first place. So read on to enjoy the great outdoors once more!

Why The Tent Might Smell

When you use your tent, it is usually because you are experiencing life outdoors surrounded by nature. A bad smell inside the tent can ruin the adventure.

To get rid of it, you will need to know why it smells to make sure you can eliminate the stench completely.

The obvious reason is grime, and that is because a tent is used outside in wet and dirty conditions. They are the shells that keep us warm and dry whilst in the unpredictable conditions of the weather.

Also, the dirt may have come from our shoes, clothes or the dog. And then there is sweat after a long day’s hike.

As you can see, when you are in the great outdoors, the tent becomes the place you retreat to after all that time spent walking through nature.

You cannot avoid all the debris that may end up being left inside the tent after the trip is over.

What About A Moldy Tent?

Even though you would think grime would be the most common reason for a smelly tent, it actually is not.

Fungi have a habit of forming on tents due to the damp and warm environment that is usually left behind after a long weekend away.

If this is the case, you should be able to spot patches of mold forming and the smell should be a good indicator too. If you do notice this, you will need to clean it right away.

Mold can make you sick, and you do not want to feel this way whilst on a camping trip – or ever!

Breakdown Of Polyethylene

Whilst this one might sound the weirdest, your tent might smell because the polyethylene material is breaking down.

It will smell like urine or vomit, and if these two occurrences have not happened within the tent, then this could be the answer.

Whilst not a common issue, it can happen and is an easy thing to fix!

Bacteria Problem

Just like mold, bacteria can form on the fabric of the tent and usually begins when skin comes into contact with the material.

It can actually grow anywhere within the tent, and will likely find it the ideal environment to multiply.

It is not nice to have, but it can be cleaned away with the know-how.

Preventing Having A Smelly Tent

Whilst it is really annoying and can prove a problem to have a stinky tent, there are a number of ways to avoid the issue.

It might prove annoying to have to spend extra time packing away the tent, especially when you are ready to just get home, but you will reap the benefits next time you camp if it was looked after once the previous trip was over.

Add these to a list every time you end the camping trip:

Make sure every area of the tent is dry before packing it away. This can be difficult to do if it has been raining, but find a way if possible.

Clean the tent of any debris and general dirt like food crumbs. This will help to avoid bacteria from forming.

Inspect the tent for any final issues that may cause a bad smell. If everything looks okay, then you are ready to pack up.

How To Clean A Tent That Smells

How To Clean A Tent That Smells

Now that you have determined where the bad smell is coming from, it is time to clean it so you can head out on that long weekend of hiking.

Airing Out A Stinky Tent

Sometimes all you need to do is to air out a stinky tent. If you cannot find a problem, it could just be that your tent has been in storage for such a long time and needs to be out in the open.

Whilst you might want to do this whilst camping, it is better to do it before.

If you camp, the smell will stay. So make sure to air it out first to avoid having to put up with a bad stink.

A couple or so days before you camp, if the weather is good outside, hang the tent over an outdoor table or clothesline if you have one.

Let it sit for a day or two whilst air flows through all the fibers.

Warm Water And Dish Soap

If airing the tent is not enough, then you can try the simple method of warm water and dish soap – though you will need a large tub.

A bathtub could be the answer if you do not have anything else available.

In the tub, mix a large amount of dish soap into the warm water and then submerge the tent into it. Leave it for around an hour or two to soak, and then remove it.

If you found that the smell was coming from the polyethylene, then scrub at the tent with a soft brush to remove the coating. This will get rid of the smell completely.

Rinse the tent under fresh water and then let it dry.

Vinegar And Lemon Juice

If you have mold forming on the tent, then vinegar and lemon juice are great ways to kill the mildew that has formed.

You will need a tub, some white vinegar and lemon juice to complete the job.

In a tub containing warm water, add some vinegar and lemon juice. Not too much, but enough to make a difference.

Add the smelly tent into the tub and leave it to soak for around an hour at the very least.

If you can wait a few hours more, then do it, but you should not have to wait anymore than 5 hours.

Remove the tent from the tub and place it over a clothesline if possible, or a table as an alternative.

Once it is nearly dry, set the tent up so it can fully get rid of the dampness.

Spot Clean

If you find that you just need to spot clean any mold away, then there is a simple solution to get the job done.

Instead of using bleach which will destroy the fabric and cause more issues, you can add warm water and white vinegar.

Mix around one cup of warm water and ¼ of white vinegar into a spray bottle and gently shake.

Spritz it onto the affected area and wipe away with a lint free cloth.

What Not to Do

Taking care of your tent properly will prolong its life and save you the trouble of having to keep buying a new one.

Making sure it is kept clean is one of the easiest ways to do this.

Whilst a manufacturer does sometimes suggest putting the tent into the washing machine, it is best to avoid it.

Giving it gentle care by handwashing is the best way to go if you do not want it to start falling to pieces.

Also, never put it into the dryer either. Always air dry, even though it can take a day or two to do.

It will be worth giving your tent extra care and attention, because it will last for a fair number of years.

Final Words

Whilst it can be very annoying to find that your tent smells or that it is a new home for mold before a camping trip, it can be fixed.

With a few simple steps, you can eradicate the terrible stink so you can enjoy the experience.

Making sure to double check that the tent is clean and dry before packing it away will ensure the tent stays in a good condition, ready to be used again.

George Alexander
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