If you love to hike or camp, you already know that the days of the basic all-purpose tent are long gone. Today there are so many kinds of specialty tents! There are backpacker tents, car camping tents and family tents. There are all-season, 3-season and 4-season tents.
More importantly, some of these tents do not come cheap. Depending on how you plan to carry your tent, where you will camp and how many need to fit in the tent with you, you could easily plunk down $1,000 or more for a high-end tent.
What this all boils down to is your investment. You want to have a great experience and have the right protection no matter where your campsite is located. You also want your tent to go the distance with you, and this involves keeping it clean and well maintained in between trips.
In this article, you’ll learn the steps to take to clean your tent after a hiking adventure.
Do You Need to Clean your Tent after You Use It?
The best way to answer this question is, “It depends on your tent.”
For example, if your campsite was clean and dry, the weather was warm and sunny, you stayed for only a night or two and you used a tent pad (footprint) underneath your tent, you likely won’t need to clean it after every hiking trip.
However, if you stayed out longer than a couple of days, your campsite was damp or muddy, you slept inside without changing out of your hiking gear or you didn’t have a tent pad with you, the chances are good you will need to clean your tent after your trip.
How you store your tent during the day can also impact whether or not you need to clean it after use. It only takes 24 to 48 hours for even a fully weather-treated tent to start mildewing. So when you get home, you should make sure you air out your tent and let it fully dry before you pack it away.
Regardless, one thing you will need to do is to inspect your tent after each trip. This is so you can find any minor damage such as small pulls, tears or holes and fix those before they get any bigger.
How to Clean a Tent?
If you eyeball your tent and it looks clean, how do you know whether you should clean it or not? The best way is to give it a sniff. If your tent has an odor (other than “new tent smell”) or even if it doesn’t smell but you can see debris or dirt on it, you should probably go ahead and clean it.
But before you begin, you should always read the manufacturer’s cleaning instructions and your tent warranty (if applicable) before you begin. You don’t want to use the wrong cleaning approach and inadvertently void your warranty!
Take careful note of the manufacturer’s cleaning instructions, including how to air dry and repack your tent between trips.
These tips will help you clean your tent safely and effectively:
- First, shake out your tent to dislodge any dirt or debris in or on the tent or trapped in the zippers and poles.
- Next, use cold water, a soft sponge and some castile soap to gently sponge away any stained areas or hardened dirt or debris.
- Use the right manufacturer-recommended products for cleaning away any mold or mildew you find on the tent.
- If you need to soak your tent in a water-based cleaning solution, be sure you follow the directions for how long to soak it (soak it too long and your weatherproof coating may begin to break down).
- Don’t put your tent in a washing machine, even if it is on gentle cycle. Also, don’t take it to the dry cleaners, since the solvents and chemicals will break down your tent fabric. Handwashing is the only safe method to use.
- Then thoroughly rinse your tent inside and out (a garden hose works great for this).
- Finally, place your tent in an area that is warm with a breeze but out of direct ultraviolet sunlight. Leave all the doors and windows open. Let your tent air dry for as long as you can (the longer the better to ensure it is fully dry).
- If you need to re-treat your tent to improve the weather sealing, waterproofing or resistance to ultraviolet light, it is best to follow each of the steps listed here first (but check with your tent manufacturer’s recommendations). This will ensure your tent is clean and dry, which will make the weather sealing more effective and help it dry faster as well.
- After you are sure your tent is fully dry, pack it according to the manufacturer’s instructions for longer-term storage. Fold it loosely yet carefully in sections about the same length as the tent poles.
- Don’t use the small hiking bag it came with for longer-term storage. Rather, store it in something larger that lets the tent breathe and aerate. Also choose the storage place carefully – you want to pick someplace that is coolish and dry so the tent won’t attract condensate and start to form mold or mildew.
A Tent Cleaning Postscript
The best way to keep your tent in top condition is to bring a small basic “tent first aid” kit with you on your trip. This way you can repair minor tears or abrasions so they won’t widen and worsen while you are still using the tent.
Another tent lifesaver is to periodically shore up the tent seams with seam grip (its like crazy glue for tents) and the tent itself with durable waterproof repellent (DWR).
By taking these precautions before and during your hiking and camping adventures, you can reduce wear and tear on your tent and prolong the useful life of this valuable piece of camping gear.