It’s finally time to escape into nature and you’re packing your tent for a weekend camping trip with friends. As you unzip the tent to pack it up, you notice that it smells musty and mouldy. You know what this means: mildew! A knowledge of how to clean a tent with mould and mildew will go a long way to prolonging the lifespan of your camping gear.
The best way to clean a tent with mould and mildew is to wash it with soap and water. Use a soap that is safe for your tent and won’t do any damage to its fabric.
Unfortunately, no matter how much we try to keep our tents clean and dry, they can still develop mould and mildew after a while. But with a few household items and a little time, you can clean your tent before the mildew gets out of control.
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How Do You Clean a Mouldy Tent?
The first step to cleaning mould and mildew off of a tent is removing any other large or visible pieces of debris.
To do this, you can use a broom or leaf blower to thoroughly sweep away any foreign objects on the outside of your tent before unzipping it completely.
Next, you’ll want to fully inspect your tent to see what areas have concentrated amounts of mould on them.
Be careful not to breathe in too much of the spores when you’re in close proximity to these areas. Handle your mouldy tent outdoors or in a space that is well-ventilated.
Now that you’ve removed extra dirt from the tent and inspected it thoroughly, it’s time to start cleaning. There are many ways you can remove mould and mildew from a tent. Here are 5 common approaches:
1. Air Out the Tent and Use the Sun
The easiest way to remove mildew from your tent is by letting it air out in the sun for a few days. You might be surprised at how much of the mould and mildew this approach gets rid of.
Sunlight is a natural dehumidifier that will help to dry out any damp areas left behind from mildew and mould growth. It’s a very powerful force, so give it a few days to work its magic.
You’ll need to make sure that it’s sunny and warm out for this, or else you may end up with some mould and mildew left over. The best time of day to air out your tent is in the morning or afternoon when it’s warmest outside.
Go ahead and take it down overnight so it doesn’t become saturated with dew the following morning. Set it up the next day and continue this process until the smell of mildew and mould has dissipated.
Make sure that if you choose this method, you leave the zippers open on all sides so that you’re getting maximum ventilation. The airflow will help to reduce the number of mould spores in your tent.
2. Use Lemon and Salt
Another natural and affordable option is to use a combination of lemon and salt to remove mould from your tent.
This method will require a few lemons, some rock salt, a water spray bottle or bucket, and a towel.
Begin by mixing the juice from one lemon with about two cups of warm or hot water in a spray bottle. Spray this mixture onto any areas of the tent that have visible mould growth.
Let it sit for about 15 minutes on the affected area. After this has sat for a bit, take an old towel or rag and sprinkle a generous amount of salt onto it. Use your towel to gently scrub and wipe away as much of the remaining mildew as you can.
Rinse and repeat as needed.
3. Use Vinegar
Vinegar is another effective and natural treatment for mould and mildew on tents. To use vinegar, all you have to do is mix equal parts of white distilled vinegar with water in a spray bottle or bucket. Then just follow the steps that we outlined for lemon and salt treatment above.
This method has been known to work quite well for getting rid of any pesky mildew stains left behind by mould. It can also remove the odours caused by mildew and will help to prevent any further mould growth in the future.
Lastly, as a preventative measure, you can also spray a diluted vinegar mixture directly onto your tent’s exterior before putting it away for storage between uses. This will reduce airborne mould spores from accumulating on top of your tent when it is not being used.
Be aware that this method may not work for all tents since some are made with materials that cannot be exposed to vinegar (due to its high acidity).
Always make sure to check the tent’s care tag or manual to see which cleaning methods are acceptable before attempting any of these treatments.
4. Purchase a Tent-Safe Spot Cleaner
If you’ve tried the above methods and have had little success, it may be a good idea to purchase a tent-safe spot cleaner.
These cleaners are specifically designed to remove mould and mildew stains from a variety of surfaces, including fabric tents like the ones used for camping or outdoor sports.
They can be quite useful if your tent is going to need some intensive cleaning attention. Make sure that you read the product label before using this type of cleaner on your tent, as some may contain harsh chemicals that can damage certain fabrics.
5. Fully Wash Your Tent
If your tent is too far gone and you need to get rid of all the mould growth, then it’s going to have to be washed in a tub or large basin.
Fill a large basin or tub up halfway with very warm water (not too hot). Add some mild dish soap, like Dawn, into the water and stir.
Then, submerge your tent in the soapy mixture and allow it to soak for about 15 minutes. This will help break up any mould or mildew that is stuck onto the surface of your tent. Once this time has passed, take a clean washcloth or sponge and begin scrubbing away at any areas where there is visible mould or mildew.
Rinse the tent with clean water to remove all of the soap residues. Then, hang it up outside on a clothesline and allow it to air dry completely before storing it for future use.
Make sure that you don’t wash your tent in very hot water as this may cause certain fabrics (like some synthetic materials) to break down.
What Is a Good Cleaner for Mould and Mildew?
A good cleaner for mould and mildew will be tough enough to remove stains, odours, and kill spores. It will also need to be gentle enough so that it doesn’t damage the fabric of the tent.
Here are three great options for cleaning mould and mildew from your tent:
This cleaner is a concentrated formula that is designed specifically for tent fabrics. You can also use it to clean other camping gear as well as furniture in your home.
It’s water-based, environmentally friendly, and VOC (volatile organic compound) free.
This 32-ounce spray quickly starts killing mould and mildew within 10 seconds of application. Don’t let this product sit for too long on your tent, however, as it may damage certain fabrics.
If you have mould that has built up on the zippers of your tent, this Gear Aid cleaner is specially designed to kill mould and mildew.
It also helps to lubricate the zippers, which will help them to move more freely. It can clean both metal and plastic nylon zippers and can also be used on other zippered items like backpacks or jackets.
How Do You Get Mildew Smell Out of a Tent?
After you have killed the spores in your tent, there may be some lingering odours.
To get rid of these smells and prevent them from coming back in the future, we recommend trying out one (or more) of these four methods:
Use an Air Freshener Made for Tents
Many brands have tent-specific air fresheners that can be hung inside of your tent to help eliminate odours. These air fresheners work by using water to bond with odour molecules to dissipate them.
You can use hanging air fresheners, sprays, or scented beads to help remove the mould and mildew odours.
Baking soda is a great DIY solution as a tent air freshener. You can sprinkle it onto the floor of your tent or hang it in a pouch inside.
Spray the Tent With Vinegar
Vinegar is a natural anti-odour cleaner that will help remove stubborn odours. It can be used on a range of surfaces, including your tent fabric and poles.
Just mix up some vinegar with water (equal parts) in a spray bottle and then spritz the inside of your tent to leave it smelling clean and fresh again.
Do this over the course of a few days if you don’t get results on the first try. It’s better to go slowly and be gentle with your tent rather than damage it by using too much vinegar too fast.
Fully Dry Your Tent After Camping
A good habit to get into is taking your tent out at home after your trip and giving it another chance to air out and dry. Even if you think your tent was fully dry when you packed it at the end of your camping trip, it’s likely that there are areas where moisture has been trapped.
If you let your tent hang out in the sun or air it out indoors for a day, this will help significantly with reducing any mould and mildew odours that are still hanging around after cleaning.
Pack Your Tent With a Dryer Sheet
Fabric softener sheets are another great option for removing mould and mildew odours from your tent fabric.
The main ingredient that is used by these types of products (usually scented) is an alcohol-base that helps to neutralize odours.
Just place a sheet inside of your tent and allow it to stay there for at least 48 hours. You can also use a dryer sheet when you pack your tent away to keep it fresh between uses.
What Should I Avoid Doing When Cleaning My Tent?
There are a couple of cleaners and methods that you may think would solve your mould and mildew problem, but actually may do more harm than good.
Don’t Use Bleach
When cleaning a tent with mould and mildew, be sure to avoid using bleach as this may weaken the fabric’s fibres over time. It can also damage the waterproof coating of your tent if you are using a non-waterproof material.
You’ll need to look out for more than 100% bleach. Many cleaning products have bleach derivatives, so if you see anything that contains “oxygen” or “peroxide”, be sure to avoid it, as these are also versions of chlorine bleach.
Don’t Use Ammonia
Also, steer clear of ammonia-based cleaners that contain ingredients like Windex, since these products can also damage the waterproof coating of your tent.
Ammonia, like chlorine bleach, can also weaken the fibres of your tent if you use it too frequently or for an extended period.
Check the labels of your cleaning products to identify and carefully avoid using ammonia in your tent.
Don’t Put Your Tent in the Washing Machine
You may be tempted to deep clean your tent by washing it in a machine, but we don’t recommend doing this.
Washing machines can cause damage over time because they are so rough on fabric and your tent is no different.
Also keep in mind that if you have a non-waterproof material for your tent, this will damage it over time as well because the water will seep into the fabric and cause it to weaken.
Never put your tent in a washing machine. It’s not worth the risk of ruining your tent completely.
Mould and mildew are common issues with tents since they naturally exist in virtually every environment.
However, if you deal with this problem as soon as it comes up and use the right products to clean your tent fabric, there’s no reason that you can’t enjoy a mould-free camping trip.
Be sure to keep your tent stored in a dry place between uses and avoid leaving moisture inside of your tent for long periods of time.
If you clean your tent regularly and take care of it, not only will you keep mould and mildew off the fabric for good but also extend its lifespan significantly.