Knowing how to clean a moldy tent is something every camper needs to know. Mold and mildew are both common problems that can occur in tents. It’s happened to every seasoned camper at least once. You think your tent was completely dry when you put it away, but the next time you take it out, you smell that distinct musty smell.
While frustrating, discovering mold isn’t the end of the world, or even the end of your tent. With a little effort and soapy water, you can learn to remove mold from your tent and your tent and camping trip can be saved!
If a mold problem is not dealt with properly, it can cause some serious health problems, so you can’t ignore it. You also don’t want mold to spread to your other camping gear like sleeping bags, air mattresses or camping pillows.
Let up help you save your tent with our tips and tricks for mold and mildew removal and prevention! We’ll go over how to identify mold, cleaning methods and common questions. We’ll get your moldy tent smelling fresh again in no time!
What to Do If You Notice Mold on Your Tent
If you’re camping and you discover mold on your tent, there are some things you can do to remove the mold and prevent it from coming back.
The first thing to do is wipe the suspicious spot with a wet rag to make sure it’s not just dirt or marshmallow goo. Don’t wipe too vigorously because you don’t want to spread the mold spores around if you can help it.
Mold is usually raised and either slimy or fuzzy. Mildew is flat and powdery white or gray.
The treatment for mold and mildew is the same, so you don’t really need to work too hard to identify it.
After you’ve wiped off any obvious mold, try to turn that side of the tent towards the sun. You want the tent fabric to be dry completely after you wipe it off, so you’re not helping the mold growth.
Once you’re back home from your camping trip, you’ll want to do a deep clean on your tent to fully wash off any mold spores and help prevent mold stains.
What Causes Mold to Grow on My Tent?
Mold is a type of fungus that can grow in a wide variety of environments, including indoors and outdoors. It can start growing inside your tent if there’s moisture present, such as from rain or condensation build-up overnight while sleeping outdoors.
Mildew is also a fungus that grows in damp conditions. It mostly stays on the surface and is often easier to fully remove than mold.
How Do I Prevent Mold From Growing On My Tent?
Mold grows in humid conditions, so the best way to stop it from happening is by keeping things dry inside and out. This means making sure to let your tent dry completely every time you put it away. When we’ve been camping in the rain, we roll our tent up loosely in a blanket and wash it off and dry it immediately when we get home.
After that, you’ll need some good ventilation to allow the tent to breathe and air out. You can do this by opening up all the tent flaps and doors, and even using a fan if necessary.
If your tent does get wet, make sure you dry it out as soon as possible. Mold can start to grow in as little as 12 hours, so it’s important that you get any moisture out of the fabric before then!
Storing your tent in a dry area is also a key way to prevent mold and mildew. Some people use a large breathable bag to store their tent in to keep it mold and mildew free. If you live in a humid climate, you may need to store your tent in the house instead of a damp attic or garage.
Keeping food out of your tent is always a good idea to prevent unwanted encounters with critters, but discarded food can also be a source of mold.
If you and your family go on long camping trips, be sure to clear any vegetation that can grow up around your tent. Plants and trees touching your tent will give mold and mildew a perfect shady spot to hide out in.
What Are The Health Risks Associated with Mold Exposure?
The health risks associated with mold exposure include allergies, asthma attacks, and other respiratory problems. Mold can also cause skin irritation if you come into contact with it directly by touching or handling materials contaminated by the spores.
If someone in your family is particularly sensitive to these types of allergens then they may experience more severe symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea.
If you think your tent has mold or mildew on it, try to keep children from touching that area of the tent directly. Be sure to clean off all the mold as soon as you can.
How To Clean Mold From A Tent:
If your tent has already started growing mold, don’t worry – there are still things you can do to stop it.
Here is what you’ll need to clean mold off of your tent fabric:
- Bucket or container large enough to submerge your tent in water
- Mild detergent or soap (non-scented)
- Sponge or cloth
- Rubber gloves
Mix together some mild detergent or soap with water until it forms a lather, then apply this to the sponge or cloth. Spot-treat the mold by gently scrubbing until it’s gone, then submerge your tent in the bucket of warm water. Don’t let your tent soak too long as you don’t want to delaminate the tent floor or damage the waterproof coating.
Carefully set up your tent so you can rinse off any soap residue afterward before drying out your tent completely. Wet fabrics sometimes rip easier, so pay attention when setting up a wet tent.
If the mold is on a part of the tent that can’t be submerged in water, you will need to use a cleaning solution directly on the affected area. Rinse it off with a hose to remove all mold particles and soap residue.
It’s very important that you allow your tent to dry completely before using it again, as any moisture left behind will only encourage more mold growth. If letting your tent air dry isn’t fast enough, a fan can help speed up the drying process.
Removing Mold Stains from a Tent
If you have a stubborn mold stain, it’s sad to say but you might just have to live with it. Once the all mold and mildew is gone, the stains in the tent’s fabric and tent fly may be permanent.
You can use a specialty cleaner or some homemade cleaning solutions to attempt to remove a stubborn stain. GearAid makes some good tent cleaners, as does Nikwax.
One option is to use one of the vinegar and lemon methods, which is as easy as diluting vinegar or lemon juice in a spray bottle and spraying it on the affected area. Dilute lemon juice 1/4c of juice to 4 cups water. Vinegar can be diluted 1/2 cup to 1/2 cup water.
Be sure to do thorough cleaning and rinsing after you use this deep cleaning method, as lemon juice can act as a bleach, especially in direct sunlight. (I’m sure my fellow 80s babies remember Sun-in)
As always, air dry completely after getting your tent clean. Do you sense a theme?
Removing Mildew Smell From Tents
Airing out a tent is the first step in getting rid of bad smells in a tent with mold. Set up the tent, open tent flaps and doors and let it flow in the breeze for a few hours.
If it’s still not smelling fresh, you can try an odor eliminator spray or cleanser. For minor smells, we’d suggest going with the spray bottle. For deep, baked-in smells you may need to put the tent in a tub of water with a special odor eliminator wash.
FAQ’s About Removing Mold From a Tent
Q: Can I remove mold from my tent with bleach?
A: No, using bleach can actually damage the fabric of your tent and discolor the tent material.
Q: Can I clean off mold and mildew with hydrogen peroxide?
A: No, hydrogen peroxide may be too harsh for your tent and other outdoor gear. It’s best to use warm water and a non detergent soap.
Q: Can I vacuum out a tent with mold?
A: It’s not recommended as you could end up sucking up spores into the vacuum cleaner and spreading them around.
Q: Can I get rid of mold on my tent by letting it dry in the sun?
A: The sun can help fade some stains, but sunlight itself will not remove mold and mildew from your tent. It’s best to wash it with warm water and soap to make sure the mold issue is gone. You can dry it in the sun as long as you do not leave it out too long. It’s not recommended for long periods of time as direct sunlight can fade the fabric and damage your shelter.
Q: Can I machine wash my tent?
No. Read our post on how to clean a tent to see why. (Spoiler, it will tear it up)
Q: Is there a different way to clean a canvas tent or pop-up trailer material?
A: The tent material doesn’t matter, so cleaning canvas tents or the canvas on a pop-up is the same. Since you can’t submerge it, you’ll have to spot treat each area. You can use a soft bristle brush and warm soapy water. Your canvas tent might be ok with a stiff bristle brush, be sure to read the instructions that came with your outdoor gear.
When you’re camping, there’s always a chance that mold will form on your tent. This is especially likely if your tent gets wet, so it’s important to dry it out as soon as possible.
Mold can be a big problem when camping, but it’s not impossible to clean it off a tent. By following these tips and tricks, you can make sure your trip stays fun and fungus-free! Happy camping! We hope these tips help you in your quest for a mold-free weekend getaway!
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.