When you go on a camping trip, you usually expect to get a little dirty. But what do you do when your tent starts to smell a little funky? Can you wash a dirty tent in the washing machine?
The short answer is, yes, you technically can. The better answer is no, you shouldn’t.
Read on to learn how to clean your tents and whether or not they can be washed in a washing machine. We will also provide some tips for keeping your tent clean while camping!
How to Clean Your Tent
In general, the answer to “Can you wash a tent in the washing machine?” is “NO, it is a BAD IDEA”. If you ask me, the best way to properly wash your dirty tent is to spray it down with a hose outside. You can spot clean with a mild soap, then spray the whole thing clean and call it good.
A benefit to hand washing is that there is less risk of damaging your tent and you can check your tent for small holes and inspect the seam tape while you’re doing it.
It can be a fun family activity! Send your kids inside the tent while you spray it to check for leaks! They can pretend they’re camping in the rain!
If you don’t have a large outside area, you can fill a bathtub or large bin with cold water and soak your tent in that.
Tent Washing Supplies:
- Cool or luke warm water
- Hose or Large Tub
- Mild soap or baby wash
- Soft sponge
- Water-proofing spray
Steps to Clean Your Tent:
- Set it up: Sweep any dirt out of the bottom of the tent or flip the whole thing inside out and shake.
- Spot Clean: Gently spot clean any really dirty areas with soapy water.
- Soak or Spray: Soak your tent in the basin/bathtub or spray it off with the hose. Either way get the whole tent wet.
- Rinse: Always rinse your tent thoroughly with clean water to get ride of any soapy residue.
- Dry: Hang your tent on a clothes line or set it up outside to dry completely.
Cleaning your tent outside on a sunny day will help some of the stains fade in the sun as well. It’s not going to be as good as machine washing, but it will help. Just be aware of prolonged UV exposure if it’s sitting in the sun for a long time.
DO NOT use a pressure washer to clean your tent! You will rip right through the tent material. You’re aiming for a gentle cleaning, not to rip it to shreds.
As a LAST RESORT you can put a tent in a large front-loading washing machine. If you machine wash your tent, there’s always a chance of ruining it if you’re not careful enough! Do NOT wash a tent in the washing machine if you have a top-loader. Tents can get easily tangled and before you know it you’ll have large holes in the fabric.
How to Wash a Tent in a Washing Machine With Minimal Damage
If there is no other way around it and you want to use your washing machine, be as careful as possible.
If you get too aggressive with your tent you’ll end up having to buy a new tent. So what we’re saying is that if it’s between washing it in the washer or throwing it away, you might as well give the washer a shot.
The first thing you should do when preparing to clean your tent in your washing machine is to remove all of the tent poles and stakes from your tent.
Shake your tent out to remove any foreign objects and dust. Zip all of the windows and doors shut as well before putting it into the washing machine.
This will hopefully prevent your tent’s mesh from getting caught on anything inside of your washer and ripping holes in your tent!
You want to use a gentle cycle or hand wash cycle with a low-temperature setting if possible.
Start with a gentle pre-wash if possible and add a small amount of detergent to that.
Once finished, you may want to run it through an extra rinse cycle with clean water to remove any leftover detergent. Choose a low spin cycle or best yet, no spin cycle at all.
What If Your Tent Doesn’t Fit in Your Washer?
If your entire tent is too large to fit in your washing machine, you can try taking it apart and washing each piece separately if there are multiple pieces. Just make sure that all of the pieces are completely dry before putting them back together.
You could also call your local laundromat to see if they have larger washing machines that may accommodate a big tent.
The front loading machines can hold more than a top loading washing machine. Again, this is a LAST RESORT.
What Kind of Soap Can I Use to Wash a Tent?
You do not need a special soap to wash your tent properly. The milder, the better. Mild dish soap, baby wash or biodegradable soaps are the best options.
NikWax and GearAid also make a lot of cleaning products for outdoor gear, and they can provide the gentle yet specific cleaning you’re looking for.
Whatever soap you use, be sure to rinse several times to remove any soapy residue. Using unscented soaps are also key as some scents can attract unwanted wildlife to your campsite.
Special Cleaning Scenarios:
- Pine sap: Mineral Spirits can help loosen pine sap. Use it sparingly and rinse it well.
- Mildew: There are special mildew removers that are usually enzyme based. Follow the directions on whatever cleaner you choose for the best results.
- Zippers: You can remove debris from your zipper track with a small brush like a tooth brush or pipe cleaner.
How to Dry Your Tent?
Never machine dry your tent. Any mechanical heat will be too much for your tent fabric and will certainly break down your tent’s seam taping. The last thing you need while camping in the rain is small holes in your seams.
Drying your tent in the dryer can also destroy your tent’s coating, and make the different layers start to separate.
The best way to dry a tent properly is to hang dry your tent outside on a clothesline or indoors on a drying rack. If the weather is nice outside, you can always set up the clean tent to dry in the sun.
Be sure your tent dries completely before repacking it in order to prevent mildew from forming. If your tent is going to be outside for a long time, a nice shaded outdoor spot is the best bet to reduce unnecessary UV exposure.
How Often Should I Wash My Tent?
How often should you wash your tent in order to keep it looking new? The general rule of thumb is to clean your tent after each time you have used it and before storing it away for the next camping season!
Try not to wait more than one year between deep cleanings as this could lead to mold or mildew growth which will be difficult if not impossible to remove from the fabric once established.
Always dry completely before putting the tent away, as you want to avoid mildew from forming on your tent’s fabric.
The Best Way to Clean Stained Tent
If your tent is stained, you can try spot cleaning it with a mild soap and water solution or diluted bleach (do not use bleach on coated fabric tents).
You should also avoid using scented detergents as these tend to leave behind strong odors, which may attract wildlife, bugs, or be unpleasant for some people when camping outdoors!
You may need more than one application depending on how bad the stains are because these products do take time before they start working effectively.
Water Proofing Your Tent Fabric
After you’ve washed your tent, you’ll want to water proof the tent fabric. Read the directions on the waterproof coating, and seam seal any of the seam taping that may be wearing thin. If you want to do any UV proofing, do that AFTER you add the waterproof coating.
How to Keep Your Tent Clean
The easiest way to make cleaning your tent a breeze, is to not let it get too dirty in the first place!
- Don’t wear shoes in the tent
Shoes just track in dirt, sticks and mud. Pack a small rug to place outside your tent to place shoes on.
- Protect your tent floor with padding
Using moving blankets or foam pads on your tent’s floor will help keep any dirt that does get in from staying in. Read our article on tent floor padding for more ideas.
- Watch where you pitch your tent
Take a look at your campsite and try to not put your tent next to pine trees that will just coat your gear with pine sap. Also stay out of low areas where water will collect and turn the ground to mud.
- Sweep out your tent before you take it down
Get as much dust and debris out of your tent before you go home. You can even flip your tent inside out and dump the dirt out if needed.
- Protect the bottom with a tent footprint
Using a tent footprint or tarp is the best way to keep the bottom of your tent clean and rip free. Use a footprint that’s made for your exact brand of tent or use a tarp that you fold to fit under your tent.
- No food in the tent!
Not only do you not want to clean smores goo off of your tent, but food items in the tent attract animals.
How Can I Clean a Tent That Smells?
If your tent has a funky smell or a downright bad odor, sometimes just spraying it down and letting it air dry is enough. If you do need to use something more than soap and water, try a diluted vinegar solution. Let the whole thing dry and if the smell remains, dry a specialty tent deodorizer.
Final Thoughts on Cleaning Your Tent
Cleaning your tent is a simple process that should not take very long. It can also save you time and money in the long run by prolonging the life of your equipment! We hope that you found this guide helpful and that you will be able to enjoy many more camping trips knowing that your tent is clean and in good condition.
I’m Molly Foss, aka Momma Critter. I’ve been camping since I was 9 years old and I always wanted to be Robin Hood and live in the forest when I grew up. I’m excited to share my love of camping with my son as he grows up. My favorite thing to do while camping is roast marshmallows over the fire.