How To Clean A Tent That Smells: 6 Brilliant Tips

How to clean a tent that smells

Every lover of camping trips knows that it is really important to take care of the camping gear, otherwise, in case you use a tent frequently it will quickly get dirty, take on unpleasant smells and finally, its service life will decrease. Smelly tents are a problem that bothers a considerable number of tourists.

In this article, we will look at how to clean a tent that smells terrible and try to find a way to do this at home without the help of specialists. We prepare a step-by-step guide so if you face a bad smell in your tent, follow these brilliant tips!

How to clean a tent that smells

How to prevent the appearance of the bad smell?

Competent care of the camping equipment is as important as its proper operation during a camping trip. A tent is usually used for camping under natural conditions sometimes in bad weather therefore the tent’s fabric wears out quickly and soaks the smell of fire.

Frequently after returning home after another camping trip some tourists prefer to just put their tent into its case for storage but it is absolutely wrong! There are some time-tested life hacks that will help you to protect your tent from the appearance of the bad smell!

1) Let your tent dry

Before setting up your tent make sure that it is completely dry. Rain, morning dew or even moist air can easily damage the material your tent is made of.

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If you have no opportunity to dry your tent in field conditions, do it at home. Set it up in a spacious room and leave it until it becomes completely dry. In case you will store your tent when it is wet there is a big chance of the appearance of the mold and mildew.

2) Clean your tent

If you notice any foreign objects in your tent (like branches, sand, pieces of trash or food) it is important to remove them from your tent before putting your tent in case for storage or transportation. Leave shoes and other items that attract dirt outside of the tent.

What can be the reason for a bad smell inside a tent?

There are a lot of reasons that can cause a terrible smell inside your camping gear.

If you notice that your tent smells nasty after another camping adventure, try to find what causes it to choose a proper method of cleaning.

1) Mold Or Mildew

In case you go on a camping trip frequently and choose damp regions as your camping place, then you may face mold or mildew growing inside your tent. If you like to spend time camping when the weather is bad and it is raining or snowing, this can also happen. Although your camping gear is waterproof, unfortunately, it isn’t able to prevent trapped moisture.

If it has rained and you’ve decided to pack up your tent without wiping it down or drying, you may find that mold or mildew is growing inside your tent the next time you use it.

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If mold or mildew is present, you will find some significant black spots on your tent’s fabric. This may be along the sides and on the inner roof of your tent. Take in account that the mold and mildew may also have a slightly moist and musty smell.

2) Moisture Retention

Moisture retention is another common cause of bad smell.

If you like camping in areas with high humidity, you can also face this problem because dampness can easily get into your tent and not enough attention was paidto the drying.

Your camping gear also retains moisture from the last time you washed it, and it was packed away and stored before being dried completely.

3) Bacteria

Most of the tents are made of no-breathable synthetic fabrics and therefore the sweating is increased. Sweat itself doesn’t actually smell, but it is a favorable breeding ground for bacteria.

The products of vital activity of bacteria are just the same and cause a foul smell inside your tent.

4) Breakdown Of Polyethylene

It is not a common case, but we have to mention it too. If you notice a strange urine or vomit smell, it may be caused by the breakdown of the polyethylene fabric of your tent.

5) Time and Grime

If you go for camping trips really frequently you can face this reason of a bad smell but it typically doesn’t make your camping gear smell too terrible and you might not notice. It is the effect of using your tent outdoors. As you continue to use your camping gear, it might get dirty or be packed with some dust into it.

If you don’t pay closer attention to cleaning out and taking proper necessary post-cleaning care about your camping gear after your outdoor adventures, this can create a bad smell from being packed in for so long.

How to clean a tent that smells: our brilliant tips

1) Handwash stinky tent

It is necessary to always hand wash your tent to extend its service life. Total cleaning of a stinky tent is possible to make by your hands as well as by a washing machine.

You need to fill the bathtub with warm water and add dish soap noodles, wait until it dissolves. After that clean your tent.

There is one more convenient way to handle with a smelly tent – spread the tent’s fabric on your lawn or other flat surface, turn your hose on, use a soap and rinse it after a few minutes.

You can clean your smelly tent by your hands at times more frequently than cleaning it by a washing machine – once per a season. It depends on the quality of your camping gear.

Hand wash the outer side of your tent’s material and avoid scrubbing the underside of the tent fly because you can easily end up damaging or even ruining the waterproof top coating that will significantly reduce the service life of your camping gear.

2) Try to avoid using washing machines

Using washing machines: What is the risk?

It is more advisable to clean your tent with hand wash, but if you decide to use a washing machine, you need to be ready that there is a big chance to wash away waterproof coating which protects your camping gear and extends its service life.

That is why the manufacturers do not recommend cleaning a tent with this method to not damage the top coating. Even experienced tourists are not enthusiastic about this idea either.

Is it possible to clean a tent by a washing machine?

But in some critical situations using a washing machine for cleaning your smelly tent is allowed. If you will observe all rules and be careful, your camping gear will not lose its original form. You need to:

  1. Make sure your tent’s weight is not more than acceptable. Take in account the fact that it will be heavier when the tent is getting wet;
  2. Put your smelly tent on a dry and clean surface, sprinkle it with water using a household spray bottle on the one side, after that lather thoroughly with a dish soap. Repeat these actions on the other side;
  3. Choose a washing mode that does not involve heating water and spinning. The rotation speed on the selected mode shall not exceed 500 rpm;
  4. Do not use washing gels and laundry detergents;
  5. Wait until the washing process is done and take your camping gear out to a washing machine. After the water drain, leave a tent in a well-ventilated place for drying;
  6. Inspect the entire tent for scuffs and damages, use a waterproofing spray if it is necessary to recover the protective properties of the fabric.

Attention! Even if your tent is high-quality and expensive it is not recommended to clean it by a washing machine more often than 1-2 times. Frequent washing would result in the complete destruction of the protective layer without the possibility of recovery.

3) Use vinegar and lemon juice

One of the most effective and most budget ways to deal with a terrible smell inside your tent is using vinegar and lemon juice as cleaners. Make DIY-cleaner at home in just a few minutes!

In one bowl, mix about 60 ml of vinegar with 240 ml of warm water. In another bowl, mix 240 ml of lemon juice, 275 gr of salt and 3,8 liters of warm water. Then add the diluted vinegar at the second mix.

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Spray this homemade cleaner using a spray bottle and leave your tent for one hour. Wet a clean rag or sponge and clean your stinky tent. This method will help you to remove the mold and mildew.

Many lovers of outdoor activities find this method to clean a tent that smells be one of the most popular and usable because all the necessary components (lemon juice, vinegar, water) can be easily found in any home.

Vinegar is a very effective remedy to kill and get rid of mold and mildew because of its acidity. The lemon juice also plays a big role in the cleaning process.

4) Do not neglect using tent air freshener

A tent air freshener is a great option for a smelly tent once cleaned. They are also eco-friendly and hypoallergenic.

5) Use a fermentative cleaner

If you want to handle a tent that smells, we not recommend you to use bleach. Bleach will spoil the quality or even ruin the tent’s material, it will lose its color. Instead, it is advisable to use a fermentative cleaner to get rid of the musty smell.

Fermentative cleaner is one of universal and safe chemical substances that can be used at home to clean a tent that smells.

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Enzyme cleaner is used as a mold and odor eliminator in your tent. To use an enzyme cleaner to clean your tent, start with simply soaking your tent in a bathtub of warm water with some enzyme cleaner and let the tent soak. After a few minutes when the water drains, you can remove the tent and allow it to air dry in a well-ventilated area.

6) Do not forget to remove sap

If you notice any soap on your tent, don’t worry!

Use some isopropyl alcohol. You can spray it or wipe down the areas of your camping gear that have sap on them.

Sap can be a reason for a strong scent over time. It provides an enabling environment for fungal and bacterial growth and can lead to a moldy tent. Wipe them down gently, take your time to get them clean without wearing away and damaging the protective coating.

How to take care of the tent after cleaning?

One of the steps that are always forgotten is to take care of a tent after it has been cleaned. To maintain your camping gear original condition it is important not to only clean a tent but also take in account the post-cleaning care.

Seam Sealing

If you’d like to extend the service life of your tent and avoid retaining moisture and other undesirable consequences that will cause a terrible smell, you can simply add a seam sealant to your camping gear’s seams. It is possible to use a sealant to grease a few seams or a spray bottle to handle with each seam of your tent. These simple actions will make the seams at times more durable and waterproof.

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Please read the manufacturer’s instruction of the seam sealing and make sure that it is can be used on your tent before starting sealing the seams and causing damage to your camping gear.

Spray for insects

How to protect your camping gear from insects is an important question as how to clean a tent. The market offers a wide range of different excellent products for protecting your tent from unpleasant bugs that can easily cause significant damage to your tent and ruin the camping trip. It comes in several forms, but it is really convenient to use a spray bottle. It allows you to cover all over your tent once cleaned to help repel insects. It is like a natural insecticide.

This method of post-cleaning care becomes really useful when there is good weather conditions and the annoying bugs are everywhere.

Waterproofing spray

After cleaning, inspect the entire tent for scuffs and damages.

In case you notice that the old protective coating has been particularly or completely removed and the tent is dry again, it is time to redo the waterproof top coating.

Use a waterproofing spray if it is necessary to recover the protective properties of the fabric. Nowadays it is easy to choose a suitable one for your tent.

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You should pay closer attention to the seams due to they are the most vulnerable places on your tent and should be treated with much more consideration.

If you want to achieve the most effective results and protect your tent, it is advisable to follow the instructions on your seam grip.

After you have done with the seams, use a waterproofing spray to give a thinner coating to the rest of your camping gear.

Give it at least one day to air dry before packing it back up and storing.


Hope your article will help you to find a correct answer to this disturbing question: “How to clean a tent that smells?” and make your next camping trip more comfortable! It is really easy and enjoyable to travel with our tips and life hacks!

In Case You have Mold on your Tent read also the following article.


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