The question of whether or not you can wash a tent in a front loading washing machine is one that many people have asked themselves. The answer, unsurprisingly, is complicated.
While you technically can wash your tent in a front loading washing machine, it isn’t recommended, because it could compromise the fabric of the tent or its waterproof and UV coating.
If you still feel it’s absolutely necessary to wash your tent in a front loading washing machine, make sure that it is in a large industrial-sized machine, and only wash the tent on cold and gentle settings.
Be prepared for stretching, rips in the fabric, and a loss of the tent’s protective coatings. The mesh sections on your tent are the most susceptible to ripping and your seams and seam tape may begin to peel as well. You will need to check and repair all rips, reseal the seams, and re-coat the tent with a waterproof and UV-resistant product.
For many, all of these problems aren’t worth the risk. Instead, it’s much easier and safer to simply wash your tent by hand, or even avoid washing it at all!
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How To Properly Clean a Tent
There are different types of tents made out of different materials with different needs, so it is important to read the instructions carefully before attempting any type of wash. Read on to learn more about how you can properly clean your tent without damaging it.
How To Wash a Canvas Tent
Canvas tents need to be treated with care. They should never be put in a washing machine and instead cleaned by hand using just water.
If the tent is moderately dirty and needs a bit more cleaning power, it can withstand a small amount of mild dishwashing liquid (not detergent). Once you’ve washed your tent make sure it is thoroughly rinsed as any soap residue could lead to mold growth.
Speaking of mould, this will likely be the biggest issue you could run into with a canvas tent. If you notice any mold growing on your tent, treat it immediately.
You can create a natural scrub to remove mould that is made out of a mixture of hot water, salt, and lemon. You can use a soft brush or a textured towel to remove any dirt, stains, or mould from the surface of your tent.
How To Wash a Nylon or Polyester Tent
Nylon and polyester tents should be spot-cleaned using warm water and a touch of mild detergent. You can use a specialty tent soap such as Nikwax Tech Wash which leaves less residue on the tents than other soaps.
How To Fix Majorly Dirty Tents
If your tent is severely soiled with mud or grease stains, hand or spot washing may not cut it, and you will need to more thoroughly wash it.
You can soak your tent in a bathtub to remove the dirt and grime. Mix a few drops of mild dishwashing soap in warm water, add your tent to the soapy bathtub water, and let it soak for about 20 minutes.
After this time, gently hand scrub off any caked on dirt with a soft brush while still in the tub. It may be helpful to use a scrub pad to get into any hard-to-reach areas.
Once completely clean, rinse the tent with warm water until there are no more suds. Make sure you have removed all soap residue by rinsing it multiple times if needed.
Get out as much extra moisture from your tent using either bath towels or other absorbent towels. Never put your tent in the drying machine because even a small amount of heat can damage it.
What if My Tent Is Too Big for the Bathtub?
If your tent is too big to fit into your bathtub, you’re left with two choices. You can find a larger basin, preferably outdoors, that will fit your tent, or you can use a hose and wash it outside.
How Should I Dry My Tent?
The best place to dry your tent is outdoors because the sun can ensure it will dry fully and quickly while helping to stop any bacterial or mold growth.
You don’t want your tent to be crumpled up or folded on the ground drying, since it will unevenly dry and could lead to permanent creases or a moldy scent.
To ensure it dries evenly, use a clothesline or something similar that can be suspended in the air and keep the tent at least two feet off of the ground. You may want to weigh down your tent ends so they don’t curl up while drying.
Another great way to dry a wet tent is by pitch drying it. Pitch drying means keeping the wet tent open and staked down while it’s being aired out in the sun.
A polyester or nylon tent can dry as quickly as an hour with these two methods, assuming it’s a bright and windy day. Cotton tents will take longer to dry, but it’s worth waiting since they are more likely to develop mold and bacteria growth if they are packed away while damp.
No matter how you choose to dry your tent, make sure you avoid direct heat like an electric dryer or stove. This could damage or even melt the fabric.
Do I Need To Waterproof My Tent After Washing?
Since washing a tent may remove some of its coatings, you will want to re-waterproof it after washing it.
You can use a silicone-based spray on both polyester and nylon tents to add back the water resistance they had before being washed.
You can apply a waterproof coating to the seams, the rain fly, or the tent base, depending on what part of your tent you’ve washed.
Some tips for applying the coating include using even strokes in the same direction and applying thin coats rather than one thick coat.
You may need to use several coats for complete coverage so you can reapply as many times as needed until it’s completely water-resistant again. Make sure to let your tent dry for at least two hours in between coats. This will take at least two hours.
How Often Should I Wash My Tent?
You should ideally never need to wash your tent since this compromises its waterproofing, breathability, and fabric durability. Don’t worry about setting up a regular schedule for cleaning and focus on taking the best care of it possible while camping and storing your tent.
However, if you do need to wash it after a long camping trip or extended outdoor use, then follow the tips above about how to properly clean your tent again.
If you find that there are still issues with water resistance, mold/mildew growth, or unpleasant odor after washing it once more thoroughly, then you should probably consider getting a new tent.
You may also want to identify what keeps making your tent moldy and dirty. One obvious reason may be where you’re setting up your tent. If it’s in a low area that can’t drain water or another marshy area, you may want to consider a different spot to avoid mold.
The tent itself may have breathability issues due to how you’re setting it up. If the rainfly isn’t properly extended over the tent, or if it’s right on top of a wooded area that is producing lots of sap and other natural materials, then you may need to adjust how your setup for optimal breathability.
How Can I Keep My Tent Clean?
The best way to have a clean tent is by preventing it from getting dirty in the first place. Here are some great ideas for keeping your tent in the best condition possible:
Use a Tarp or Ground Cloth
Putting down a tarp or ground cloth under your tent will help keep it clean and can be easily removed to shake off any dirt, debris, leaves, twigs, etc.
Using a tarp or ground cloth can also help to protect the floor of your tent from any potential punctures, cuts, tears, or rips.
Be Careful With Your Tent’s Zipper
Use your tent’s zipper tracks as a guide. Don’t pull at seams in order to open zippers. Instead, work from one end to the other when you’re opening it up to avoid overstretching and tearing.
Set Up Your Tent in The Right Area
Try not to set up your camp right near a marshy area, or somewhere that is going to have water pooling around it. This means you shouldn’t sleep too close to the shoreline of a lake, as well as avoid low areas where water can accumulate during rainstorms.
Let Your Tent Fully Dry
Always make sure your tent is completely dry before packing it away, and be aware of how damp the area you’re storing in may get over time. If you’re in a hurry and can’t fully dry your tent before you head out from your campsite, at least make sure to shake it out, wipe off all the moisture you can, and take it out to finish drying when you get home or arrive at your next destination.
Make Sure Your Tent Has Ventilation
Ensuring your tent has proper ventilation will help to keep it dry and prevent mold or mildew build-up. Avoid setting the rain fly too close over the top of your tent, which can block out any airflow that comes in through vents.
Even if you’ve been careful with your tent and have taken all the necessary steps to keep it clean, at some point, there will come a time when you need to get your hands dirty and actually wash it.
Try your best to spot clean it and use as few products as possible so that you don’t damage the tent.
Focus on treating your tent like you want to treat your skin; use as few chemicals and products on it as possible, while still getting the task done.
With this level of care, there shouldn’t be a need to machine wash your tent at all, and you’ll enjoy a mold-free experience on each and every camping trip.