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How To Take Down & Clean A Tent After Camping In It

A tent can be your saving grace when camping. Not only does a tent keep the elements off you from above, but also from the sides and the bottom, where you ultimately lay your head down to sleep.

Tents can be a camper’s savior in a wide array of environments, from the very hot to the very cold, protecting you from the chill of a mountain snow, the beating sun of a desert landscape, and or the sand and surf of a beach oasis. However, with all you put your tent through to keep you safe and protected from the elements, it can quickly or gradually become dirty and soiled—so dirty, in fact, that many people actually choose to discard their tent in favor of a new one and/or alternate accommodations.

So how exactly do you clean and sanitize a tent to ensure it can provide its designed function of shelter and safety without putting you at risk? How do you reverse the dirty and dusty outdoor conditions and transform your tent into a clean sleeping shelter that will not gross you out at the thought of having to lie in it?

It is these questions and more that we will explain in detail in the article below as we talk about How to Clean a Tent.

Taking Your Tent Down After Camping

tents in the forest at night

The manner in which you take your tent down and pack it away can have a huge effect on the cleaning of that tent later on. For that reason, it is important that you follow a few very easy steps in terms of taking down that tent correctly.

  • Shake tent out thoroughly. After removing the tent stakes you will want to shake the tent out thoroughly. Start by cleaning out the dirt and debris and removing any trash that may be in or around the tent. If your tent is freestanding, this step should not be very difficult at all.
  • Take care not to rip fabric or stress poles. When removing poles from your tent that are shock-corded, always push the poles rather than pull them. By pulling the tent poles you will invariably find that they get hung up on the tent fabric, which puts undue stress on the cord beneath.
  • Dry out the tent before sacking. Prior to sacking your tent into the appropriate bag, it is crucial that you dry it thoroughly. Even a well-ventilated tent can gather condensation, often under the floor and rainfly. Moisture that remains on a tent can do damage in the form of mold and mildew, so be certain to dry it as much as possible before packing up. If you are forced to pack up in wet conditions, make sure to dry the tent as soon as you get back home. If it’s a sunny day, set it up in the yard; if the weather is wet, hang your tent to dry in a garage or a non-carpeted room.

Taking Care of Your Tent at Home

Once you get the tent home there are few things you can do before you initiate the spot cleaning and deep cleaning steps we will cover a little later.

car camping

These things include:

  • Air-dry the tent at home. Once you arrive back at home, it is crucial that you remove the tent from the bag, spread it out and allow it to air-dry. This can be done in an inside room, the garage or over a clothesline. If you don’t have enough space to pitch it, drape it or hang it until the tent is dry.
  • Store the tent loosely. Most people, after camping, leave their tent in the bag until the next camping trip. This is not recommended. Instead, you should store the tent loosely, out of the bag, in a cool, dry space. Though nicely compact for camping and backpacking, the stuff sack is a poor choice for long-term storage. Your goal should be for the fabrics of the tent to relax and breathe. This will also ensure that the tent does not gather any moisture that could negatively impact it.

Never store your tent in a hot location, such as the attic, basement or the trunk of your car, as heat can also damage the fabric of the tent. Also, if a damp storage locale is your only option, you should place your dry tent inside a sealed plastic bin or other container that will keep the moisture out.

Cleaning The Tent After Your Camping Trip

Returning home from a fun and relaxing camping trip can feel like a real bummer, but if you want to make sure your NEXT camping trip is every bit as enjoyable it is important that you take the time to clean your tent. Any time you start to see stains building up on your tent, or maybe you smell a funky odor, it is definitely time to clean that tent.

friends camping

Cleaning a tent is basically a three-step process that includes:

  1. Gathering the supplies you need. You will need certain supplies to make sure the cleaning of your tent is thorough.
  2. Spot clean and immerse. Spot cleaning certain areas of your tent, areas in which you see stains, is a must. Following this step you will also need to immerse the tent in sudsy water. If your tent is really dirty, you will then need to move on to the deep cleaning strategy that we will cover in detail.
  3. Rinsing and Drying. Once the tent has been thoroughly washed, it must be rinsed and dried throughout before you even think about storing it.

Gathering Your Supplies

To properly clean a tent you will need a few very basic, yet important supplies. These supplies include:

  • Cold to lukewarm water. Never use water that is too hot, as the heat from the water can break down certain tent fabrics.
  • Soap. A mild, no-fragrance dish soap is ideal for tent cleaning, regardless of the fabric.
  • Specialized cleaner. You will need to pick up a cleaning product that is designed specifically for cleaning outdoor gear such as tents.
  • Sponge or cloth. A non-abrasive sponge or cloth is needed for the spot cleaning and deep cleaning.
  • Bathtub. A bathtub is the ideal place to clean a tent, but any large tub will suffice in a pinch.

Spot Cleaning and Immersing

The spot cleaning and immersing steps of the tent-cleaning process are both fairly easy. Here is the process:

  • Spot clean with soap. Using your non abrasive sponge or cloth and a small amount of the dish soap, carefully scrub away any noticeable stains on the tent.
  • Prep the tub. When prepping the tub you will first need to clean it if necessary. Next, simply fill the tub about halfway with cold to lukewarm water and add the recommended amount of the tent-cleaning product. Always follow the directions on the bottle exactly when figuring out how much cleaner to use.
  • Prep your tent. To prep your tent for washing you will need to unzip the doors and turn the tent inside out.
  • Immerse the tent. Immerse the tent and the rainfly into the water for a good soaking. Again, follow the directions on the cleaner bottle to see how long the tent should be soaked in the solution.

Deep Cleaning Your Tent

Not all tents will need deep cleaning, but if your tent has mildew, mold or very foul odors emitting from it, try using an enzyme-based cleaner. Follow the directions VERY carefully when using one of these products or you could damage the tent.

If you are having any problems with the zippers, try using a tooth brush to scrub out any sand or grit in teeth of those zippers. In most cases this will clear up the problem.

And if there is pine sap on the tent, spot clean those areas first with mineral oil, but be careful not to over-scrub. You can also try alcohol-based products like hand sanitizer or wet wipes to remove the sap. Be sure to rinse thoroughly with water once the sap is removed.

Rinsing and Drying Your Tent

Finally, after your tent has been thoroughly washed and/or deep cleaned, you will need to rinse it and dry it before putting it away loosely for storage. Here’s how:

  • Rinse. After washing the tent, drain the tub of sudsy water and refill it with clean water, again cold to lukewarm in temperature. If some suds still remain you may have to do this several times to get all the soap off the tent and rainfly. Continue the process until no soap remains on the tent.
  • Dry. If you are in an area where you can actually erect your tent this is the best way to dry it. However, if erecting the tent is not possible, spread it out carefully and hang it in a cool, shaded area until it is completely dry.

When the tent is completely dry, you can store it (loosely) in a cool, dry place such as an indoor room or well-ventilated garage.

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