Last Updated on August 27, 2021
There are a lot of unexpected circumstances that can ruin a camping trip. From animal attacks to heavy rainfall and even falling sick. But, while most are out of your control, there is one that is completely avoidable but experienced by far too many campers – a smelly tent. So let us help you make sure your home away from home smells fresh and inviting every time by showing you how to clean a tent that smells.
Airing out a new tent
A big mistake new campers make is buying a new tent and taking it on the maiden trip without ever taking it out of the stuff sack. Not only does this prevent you from becoming familiar with your new equipment and making sure all the components are included, but it also means there is a good chance it will smell less than pleasant when you hit the campsite.
New tents are often surrounded by chemicals when manufactured, treated with waterproofing & bug repellent, or stored in less than ideal conditions before the sale. Each of these situations can leave the fabric smelling less than fresh.
The easiest way to rid your new tent of possible smells is to air it out
- Select a clean, debris-free area in your yard, preferably where it is exposed to a light breeze.
- Assemble the tent.
- Open all windows, doors, and vents.
- Let the tent air out for 24-48 hrs.
- If you do not have a suitable spot for the set, you drape it over a clothesline and let it air for 48 hours, flipping after 24 hrs. to ensure all surfaces are exposed.
- If the odor is still present after 48 hrs. you may need to wash your tent before use (see directions below).
How to get a musty smell out of a tent
Having a musty or mildew smell in your tent is a sign that it needs immediate cleaning. Some campers think that getting rid of a musty smell is more hassle than it is worth, opting to simply buy an affordable tent instead. But this is not completely accurate. How difficult it is will depend on what is causing the smell.
The musty smell can result from normal use (body odors, food remanence, etc.), being stored incorrectly, or even deterioration of the waterproofing. If the tent is worn out completely, you may want to check the best waterproof tents to find a good replacement as no amount of washing would help.
That said, let’s look at some of the steps you can follow to make the tent smell fresh again.
|All tents need to be aired out occasionally. This is especially true if the tent has been stored for extended periods or vents and windows could not be opened during a recent trip. |
You will follow the steps above (see airing out a new tent), with one exception – turn the tent inside out before hanging outside. This will allow the most air exposure to the inside, which is the most likely odor source.
|If airing out is not enough, it may be time to incorporate a deodorizer. The safest means of doing this is setting up the tent, opening the vents, windows, and doors, and placing an open baking soda box inside to absorb odor. This will generally work best if the source of the odor is not embedded into the fabric. |
If the fabric is impregnated with the odor, you will need to use a deodorizing spray.
- Select a deodorizer that is intended for tents or waterproof material like canvas or nylon.
- Make sure the product is designed to neutralize, not mask, odors
- If you cannot find a tent-specific product, many scent removers used for hunting gear are also safe for tents.
- NEVER use a perfumed deodorizer. Not only do these only masks the odor, but they will also attract bugs during your next outing.
- Turn the tent inside out and hang it on a clothesline.
- Test on a small corner of a door or window flap. If no reaction, apply to the entire inside surface of the tent.
- Let dry. If the smell persists, apply deodorizer a second time.
Your tent does not need to be washed after every use, especially if it was only used for a short trip and not exposed to a filthy environment. However, it may be necessary to spot clean small stains, spills, or dirty areas. Spot cleaning can also be useful in removing musty or mildew odors if the source is located.
Materials needed: cold water, dish soap, and a clean sponge.
- Locate the spot
- Add a small amount of soap to the water
- Gently blot stain or dirty spot with soap/water mixture using a sponge
- Allow it to dry
As with any piece of equipment, there will come a time when your tent does need to be thoroughly cleaned. This means deep cleaning, but do not worry, it’s not near as difficult as you might think. With a few simple tools, anyone can do this at home. A deep cleaning may also be necessary if the musty, mildew smell is permeating the fabric.
Materials needed: tub or sink (deep enough to submerge the tent), cool water, enzyme-based odor eliminator, or mild dish soap.
How to clean a tent:
- Fill tub or sink with cool water
- Add a deodorizer as per instructions, depending on water volume, and stir the water.
- If you cannot locate a deodorizer 1 or 2 ounces of mild, unscented dish soap may be used.
- Open all windows, doors, and flaps on the tent
- Turn tent inside out
- Submerge tent in water and soak for 10 minutes
- Remove – do not rinse if using deodorizer. If using dish soap, rinse with cold water.
- Hang to dry
Although some tents may include cleaning instructions that state they are machine washable, this should only be used as a last resort. Even on a gentle cycle, machine washing can damage your tent. If possible, use a front load washer without an agitator.
Never use laundry detergent, stain removers, or spot cleaners. Instead, use only products designed for tents or straight water without soap.
How to air out a Tent by Drying
One of the most important steps in preventing odors is to ensure your tent is 100% dry before storage. Even a few days of damp can cause your favorite tent to take on an offensive, musty smell. Trust us, prevention of this smell is much easier than removing it later.
NEVER machine dry your tent. Even on a low heat setting, this can cause damage to the tent. Plus, the action of the dryer can cause the tent to rip or tear.
The best method of drying your tent is to go old school:
- Select an area that is well ventilated but not in direct sunlight
- Turn the tent inside out and open all vents, windows, & doors
- Hang the tent over a clothesline or suspended outstretched on several chairs
- Do not lay directly on the ground; air circulation is critical
- Let dry for 24 to 48 hrs., depending on weather, flipping over, if necessary, at the halfway point
Storing your tent
Proper storage of camping equipment is another important step in preventing a musty-smelling tent As we said earlier, making sure your tent is completely dry before storage is the first step. Next, you want to store it loosely. This means avoiding the stuff sack it probably came with. Although this makes for a convenient, compact carry case, it is less than ideal for storage as it limits air circulation. Finally, select a dry, cool area for storage.
Final thoughts on How to Air out a Tent
If you follow these steps, we are confident you will successfully address almost any odor you may encounter. Proper airing, cleaning, drying, and storage of your tent will not only remove a musty or mildew odor but will also help prevent such odors in the future.
Knowing how to clean a tent is about more than being comfortable. A well-cared-for tent will provide you with many seasons of trusted service. You may even be able to hand down your tent to generations to come, allowing them to grow their appreciation for the great outdoors.
What to do next?
Check out our article on how to get campfire smell out of clothes so you can take the joy with you and leave the smoky aftermath behind.