What Can I Use to Clean a Canvas Tent?

clean a canvas tent

Last Updated on September 1, 2021

These days, it seems as though everything is synthetic. From car seat covers to clothing, the fibers created from petrochemicals fill our lives from one end to the other.

When it comes to equipment to take into the outdoors, synthetic materials also dominate. This is especially true when it comes to tents. Synthetics are light, cheap and compact. A synthetic tent is perfect if you are hiking into the wilderness or embarking on some impressive expedition.

So it's good to know that canvas, the most traditional of natural materials, is not only still available but is actually one of the best materials from which to construct a tent.

This is especially true for the bigger, family-sized tents that you can take away on holiday and set up on a semi-permanent basis beside a lake, a river or at the beach. Canvas is a perfect material for these larger tents.

More on this: Canvas vs. Nylon Tents: Key Differences You Must Know!

Nature Fibers Rule

Canvas tents are cooler, more breathable, stronger, and far more stable than tents constructed from polyester.

A canvas tent will also last three to four times longer than a tent constructed from a synthetic fabric. Their heavy-duty frames will stand up to all manner of punishment thrown at them by the elements.


The word canvas originates from a 13th-century Anglo-French word, canevaz, which itself comes from a vulgar Latin word meaning “made from hemp.”

Historically, canvas was woven from hemp or from linen flax. Modern canvas is usually made from cotton. Canvas has a simple, plain weave structure which makes it very simple to produce in large quantities.

canvas weave structure

Canvas is a popular choice for tents

Canvas has been in use for centuries. Throughout the age of sail, canvas was the technology that powered ships around the world, on voyages of discovery, war, and trade.

Over the years it has been used for everything from oil paintings to knapsacks, and, of course, tents.

How to Clean a Canvas Tent

While a canvas tent may be stronger, and far more durable than a synthetic tent, it will require a lot more care and attention to make sure that it lasts.

A tent constructed from polyester can simply be shaken out, hung up on the line to dry, then stuffed back into its bag, ready for the next use.

clean tents drying

While synthetic tents can be simply left to dry canvas needs more care. Credit: Alan via CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Canvas requires a little more TLC.

A canvas tent needs to be properly cleaned to ensure that it does not retain a coating of dust and that it does not develop mold.

It also needs to be perfectly dry before it is packed away.

Elbow Grease

There is a bit of work involved with keeping your tent in tip-top condition. These are the steps you need to take, and what to use to clean a canvas tent:

  • Choose a bright, sunny, and dry spot on the ground. Dry ground is important because as you are cleaning a canvas tent, you want the drying process to proceed as quickly as possible. A dry, easily-drained spot will make this easier and more efficient.
  • Use a soft brush to remove dirt. Before you begin to clean your canvas tent with water, you need to go over it and remove any dry soil, or heavy coating of dust from its surface. Use a soft-bristled brush as this will enable you to scrub reasonably hard on areas of heavy dirt without damaging or abrading the canvas.
  • Inspect for mildew and mold. Mold and mildew are the enemies of canvas. The number one reason that canvas tents wear out, and have to be replaced, is because mold or mildew has eaten into the fabric of the canvas and weakened the stitching.Removing mold is one of the priorities of good canvas tent maintenance, so we will outline some more in-depth information about exactly how to clean mold from your canvas tent a little later.
  • Now scrub. Use the same sort of soft-bristled brush that you used to remove the dirt and dust. Scrub the tent with a mixture of lukewarm water and vinegar.While you can use liquid soaps, they can be quite hard on the fabric of the canvas. You should definitely avoid bleach, harsh soaps, and laundry detergents, as these are quite acidic and will quickly degrade the canvas. Hot water is also bad for canvas, so make sure that you only use lukewarm water.
  • Rinse with cold water. After you have washed the tent, rinse it thoroughly, paying particular attention to corners and seams. If there are spots that still contain dirt or mold residue, repeat the steps of cleaning with lukewarm water and a soft detergent. Then rinse again.
  • Dry thoroughly. If a canvas tent is put away damp, mold will quickly develop and begin to rot the canvas. Drying in the sun and a warm breeze is the best way to dry your tent out completely.It is vital that you do not skip this step or cut it short. Even if you have to put the tent inside and hang it out again the next day when the weather improves, make sure that you do this.
  • Waterproofing. There are many products on the market that will add additional waterproofing, UV resistance, and mold resistance to your tent, yet will maintain the breathability of the canvas.

Your outdoor supply store will be able to recommend the correct product for your particular tent.

Can You Steam Clean a Canvas Tent?

This may seem like a good way to clean your tent. A steam cleaner will kill bacteria, germs, and mold, and will loosen dust, grit, and soil quickly and easily.

However, steam cleaning is not the best way to clean your canvas tent. If it is done incorrectly, it can damage the seams around windows and joints and may cause parts of the tent to shrink if the steam cleaner runs too hot.

How to Clean Mold From Your Canvas Tent

Because they are constructed from natural fibers, rather than synthetic ones, canvas tents are highly susceptible to the action of mold, mildew and bacteria.

Mold is a type of fungus which grows on musty or stale organic substances such as canvas. In humid conditions, it can form in as little as 24 hours. This is why it is vital that your tent is cleaned and dried as soon as you have finished using it.

Mold gives off a pungent smell and can even be harmful in some cases. It will quickly rot the canvas of your tent and degrade its toughness, making it more susceptible to tear and wear.

The best way to prevent mold or mildew from forming on your canvas tent is to ensure that you dry it out completely in the sun, and store it in such a way that it cannot become damp while in storage.

There are times, however, when you may not be able to correctly dry and store your tent. Or perhaps the tent has been set up in one place for an extended period of time and is developing mold.

Here are some simple ways to remove mold and prevent it from reforming.

Can you Clean a Canvas Tent with Vinegar?

For small areas of surface mold that haven't had a chance to grow and become more problematic, a mild solution of distilled white vinegar is a perfect natural agent that will counteract the mold and remove it.

Simply spray it on with a pump bottle then rub the mold off with a cloth.

How to Clean a Canvas Tent with Lemon and Salt

This is another gentle way to remove mold from your canvas tent. A solution of lemon, salt and warm water will remove mold, fungus and mildew without having to scrub too hard and possibly damage the canvas.

lemon water and salt for canvas tent cleaning

Use them with water and salt to clean your tent instead!

Are Heavy Duty Mold Removers Good for Cleaning a Tent?

There are a number of heavy-duty mold removers on the market, including IOSSO Mold Mildew Stain Remover, which will not only remove mold and mildew but will also remove stains caused by such things as leaves, bird droppings, tree sap, blood, cooking oil, and food grease

The plant-based Boat Bling Green Sauce is a mold and mildew stain remover that is biodegradable, so it is not only easy on the environment but will break down tough-to-shift mold on your canvas tent and prevent it from reforming.

Correct Storage is Also Vital

Once your tent is perfectly clean and dry, it is time to store it ready for your next adventure. For a start, it won't hurt your tent to be left loose in some dry and sheltered place, like a garage, for a while.

The bag that your tent was supplied in may not be the perfect place to leave it in storage for an extended length of time. Just like a person, canvas needs room to stretch out and relax, so compressing it into a storage bag can make the canvas weaker and more prone to damage.

A loose bag such as a large pillow case or some other breathable container is a good way to store your canvas tent.

Your Home Away From Home

With care and attention, your canvas tent will give you years of trusty service. It will keep you warm and dry on stormy days in the wilderness, provide protection from the summer sun, and accompany you on some of the best adventures you will ever have.

And all you need to do in return is to show it a bit of tender love and affection by keeping it clean, dry and free from mold.

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