How to Clean a Tent that Smells?

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Are you struggling with a smelly tent? Sometimes after a rough and continual use, the tents become smelly. It is absolutely normal. But it turns out to be a nightmare when the smell is stubborn and lasts longer than you expected. If you’re looking for an effective solution for your smelly tent, you’re at the right place.

Want to know how to clean a tent that smells? In this article, we will be sharing several methods of cleaning and deodorizing a smelly tent under different circumstances along with some tips to prevent the smell from returning. Have a look!


What Causes a Tent to Smell?

In most cases, people who camp once or twice every 6 months or more, face a damp smell every time they take out the tent from the storage. If you face this too, you know very well how annoying this thing is and also, it also extinguishes your desire to use the tent.

Again, in some cases, there is a very bad smell coming out from the tent after long-term use. There is a particular reason behind the formation of all these odors. Below we’re pointing out the most common causes behind a tent smelling in different circumstances.

Dirt and Filth

It is the most obvious reason. After all, your tent is one of the most crucial and active parts of your outdoor gear, it can easily get dirty after use due to the dirt and filth from the outside environment. And sometimes, when you keep it like that for a long time without cleaning, it starts to smell.

Mold and Mildew

This is the most usual cause behind the smell that is formed after storing a tent for a long time. And generally, the reason behind the growth and formation of mold and mildew on a tent surface is because it being wet and damp while storing.

Many times, you might not realize that the surface of your tent is wet as there was no rain while using it. But the tent captures moisture from the air constantly, especially at night. And thus, storing them with that moisture leads to the formation of mold and mildews.

Time and Grime

Now, the question is, in case you’re always cautious about the above two points, still why does your tent smell. It can simply be because your tent is too old and has been in use for a long time.

Everything has an expiry date. Hence, maybe the materials of your tent are worn out causing it to smell. Again, maybe a layer of grime is created on its surface due to long-term use.

Polyurethane Break Down

Well, this is a smell hard to get rid of. This smell is caused due to the breakdown of a chemical called polyurethane that is used in manufacturing waterproof tents. This chemical contributes to waterproofing the tents. But the UV rays from the sun break down the polymer bond of this chemical forming a urine-like smell.


How to Prevent a Tent from Getting Smelly?

You don’t want to face this struggle every time you plan to use the tent. Do you? Hence, it is better to adopt some small preventive steps that can save you from such nightmares in the future.

Firstly, always avoid your tents getting stored while wet. Storing plays a huge role in preventing a tent from getting smelly. Hence, always make sure you wipe, brush, and dry out your tent in sunlight before storing it after use. Don’t skip these steps even if you think your tent is dry.

Moreover, take a look at the place you’ll be storing the tent. Make sure the place is not wet or has any bugs. Besides, if you have a habit of eating inside your tent, try to avoid it. Definitely not when you don’t have a choice. But if you do, especially in the daytime, try to have your food outside the tent.

Because the residue food particles that get powdered on the tent lead to molds. Hence, even if you eat inside the tent, be extra cautious about not letting any food particles drop on the surface of the tent.


how to clean a tent

Methods to Clean a Tent that Smells

We hope you already realized what you have been doing that made the tent smell. Now, it’s time for the main business. We will be introducing you to some very effective ways to clean your tent according to its condition and situation. Recognize the situation that matches best with yours and get your solution.


→ Cleaning a Minimal Smelly Tent

If your tent is not smelling severely but still, you’re getting a pungent or dumpy smell that is bothering you, you don’t have to go for too harsh methods. You can try out these super easy methods to clean it out and get rid of the smell. It is better to try this method one after another, that is if the first one mentioned below doesn’t work, go for the second one.


1. Quick Scrub or Brush to Remove Dirt: This is the most primary and simplest method of cleaning a tent that you should do at least after every use, better every day of use.

And this is the only technique to clean the tent after setting it up too. All you have to do is to brush off the dust, if necessary, scrub the walls of both the inside and outside surface of the tent with water. See if it works.


2. Leave it for Air Dry: You should follow this method of cleaning the tent every time before storing it. Take the fabric parts of the tent and place them on the clothesline and let them stay there for about an hour or longer in sunlight. Take it off the line before the dark. And you’re good to go!


3. Use White Vinegar: If none of the above really seem to work for you, go for a vinegar solution. Just mix a half ratio of vinegar with half a ratio of water and just mop the whole surface of the tent with it. And then, once you have rubbed all the surfaces properly and entirely, leave the tent for drying.


→ Cleaning a Badly Smelling Tent

If your tent smells really bad and stubborn, the above methods might not be able to help you. You will need a bit tougher fighters to fight the strong and stubborn smell from the tent. The methods below can help you in this regard.


1. Vinegar and Lemon Extract Solution: Vinegar and lemon extracts are a marriage made in heaven when it comes to cleaning. These are very basic and available kitchen ingredients but can be really helpful in cleaning stubborn grime.

Just add one-fourth cup of lemon extract with half a cup of vinegar and water. Then, mix them well and apply them to the tent. Set it aside to dry once applied entirely.


2. Wash the Tent with Mild Soap: Washing out the tent with soap and water is probably the first thought that comes to mind when you need to clean your tent. But it is not a wise decision to clean your tent with normal detergent with which you wash your regular clothes.

It will eventually strain your tent materials. It is better to use a mild soap like dishwasher or hand wash to clean the tent by scouring it softly with your own hands.


3. Use Enzyme Cleaners: Enzyme cleaners are a great and instant solution to disinfect smelly tents. You might get a very quick and effective effect in removing the bad smell coming from the tent.

Mirazyme Odor Killer Bath and Revivex are great enzyme solutions that work like miracles in removing unwanted bad odors.


→ Cleaning a Tent with Mold

If your tent has caught molds, then it will naturally form a damp smell. Try out the following techniques one to the next until you get rid of the molds and the smell caused by them.


1. Exposure to Sunlight: The best treatment for molds is sunlight. Because exposure to sunlight kills molds and mildews. Hence, lay your tent fabric on a chair or table outside in the sunlight and let the sunlight do its work.

After about an hour, check whether the molds and the smell are gone or not. If it did, bring it back and if it didn’t, keep it in sunlight for a bit longer time. Check if all the parts with molds are getting proper exposure to sunlight.


2. Warm Water Wash: If the sunlight fails to treat the molds completely, give them a hot water bath. Wash it in warm water. Don’t just put it directly in boiling water. Let the water cool down for not more than 5 minutes.

Then, gently rub the tent surface by pouring the warm water on it with a brush of soft bristles. Don’t burn yourself. Be careful.


3. Lemon Extract and Salt: As we have mentioned before, lemon extracts are great cleaning agents. But lemon extract with salt is a deadly combination to remove molds.

The citric acid in the lemon is capable of killing the molds and the salt works as mini scrubbers. Mix 1 cup of lemon extract with 1 cup of salt and a gallon of water. Wash the tent off with the mixture and let it dry. This should definitely work.


How to Clean a Tent that Smells Like Rotten Egg or Vomit?

If your tent smells as bad as a rotten egg or vomit, it is most probably due to sulfur degradation. What you should do in this regard to get rid of this disgusting smell is make a solution of warm water and a small portion of a mild detergent in a large tub.

And then, just submerge the tent inside the mixture for at least an hour. After a while, take the tent out from the tub and rub it gently using a soft brush or scrub. And then, wash away the soap from it and let it dry. That’s it!


How to Remove Polyurethane Odors from the Tent?

We have mentioned before that removing polyurethane odor is not an easy task. You will need a chemical solution named isopropyl alcohol for that. At first start with submerging the whole tent in mild soap and warm water like the previous method. And then, instead of taking it out for scrubbing, keep it inside the tub for about 2 to 3 hours for soaking.

After that prepare a solution of isopropyl alcohol, water, and mild soap and mix it well in a bottle or jar. Then, take out the tent from the soap and water solution and gently remove the polyurethane layer with a soft-bristled brush or scrub using the solution of isopropyl alcohol.

You will be able to see the polyurethane layer coming out. You will mainly find this layer on the underside of the tent flier. After the polyurethane coating is removed completely, wash it with clean water and let it air dry. Thus, you have successfully removed the polyurethane layer of the tent causing such a repelling smell.


How to Clean a Smelly Pop-Up Tent?

If the tent you need to clean is a pop-up tent, then, unfortunately, you won’t be able to perform any of the above methods as the fabrics of the pop-up tents cannot be removed easily. But don’t get disheartened. There is an amazing way to clean up a pop-up tent as well. Just do the following.

Make a solution in a spraying bottle. You can add any ingredient you think would be better to make the solution. Take ideas from the above points. You can use vinegar, lemon extract, salt, mild detergent, all in a bottle of water. Set the spraying lid. And then, spray it all over the tent while it’s been set up.

If you feel making a solution is a bit like a hassle, then you can also get or use a readymade cleaner or disinfectant spray such as Lysol to clean up the pop-tent. After spraying it all over the pop-up tent walls, keep it aside in a well-ventilated area for about half an hour, then wash it away and let it dry.


tent cleaning tips

Tips for Cleaning a Tent

To maintain your tent’s longevity, we’re sharing some tips with you that you should follow while cleaning a tent. So that, you don’t make any unintended mistake that costs the quality of your tent. Here it goes.


1. Check the Manufacturer’s Warranty

If your tent is not more than 2 years old, don’t forget to check the manufacturer’s warranty before taking any steps. If the warranty date has not expired, then why take all the hassle by yourself. Take the advantage of the warranty and let the manufacturer repair the issue.


2. Always Handwash the Tent

Never throw your tent for dry cleaning or do the laundry. It would be the worst mistake you can make. They will wash it like all other clothes in either machine or with harsh detergents or chemicals by rough coursing. This might damage your tent forever. Therefore, always wash your tent with your own hands delicately.


3. Never Use a Washing Machine to Clean a Tent

Never even think of chucking your tent into the washing machine for cleaning. Firstly, it won’t really help it clean but it would damage the strength of the materials and fabric of the tent.


4. Always Use Soap that is Mild

Whenever you plan to wash your tent with soap and water, remember to always use mild soap or detergent. Because soap is corrosive to the tent material. However, mild soap might not be very harmful.

That’s why experts suggest using dishwashing soap to clean the tent. You can also use soap or solutions specially manufactured for cleaning tents that are available in the market.


5. Never Bleach Your Tent

There is no doubt that bleach is a very strong cleaner, but bleach is also very caustic. If you have ever used bleach in cleaning your clothes, you have noticed it hardens the fabric and fades away the color.

In the case of tent fabrics, bleach will cost their seasonality making them thinner and less durable. Hence, stay away from bleaching your tent.


6. Use Tent Air Fresheners

Sometimes when you use the tent for a long time, it just eventually starts to smell bad for getting into contact with regular dust and grime or simply because of capturing any odor from the outside environment. If brushing away the dust doesn’t remove the smell immediately, using a tent air freshener is a pretty good idea.


Methods to Deodorize a Tent

Sometimes even after properly cleaning the tent, the odors of mold and mildew might not immediately get eliminated. And thus, for that, you have to deodorize your tent. There are various deodorizing solutions available in the market.

One of the most popular among them is Gear Aid Revivex Odor Eliminator. They are very effective and efficient in deodorizing a tent immediately after one time use. However, if you don’t have this deodorizer, then you can also try with other fabric and laundry deodorizers such as Febreeze as an alternative.

All you have to do is to take a large tub with warm water and pour half to 1 oz of the deodorizer in the tent and mix it well. After you’re done mixing, submerge the tent completely in the solution and let it soak for 5 minutes.

Don’t scrub or brush the tent. Just keep it submerged. Then take it out and let it air dry under sunlight. Once it dries, the odor will be gone and a fresh nice smell of the deodorizer will come out from it replacing the bad odor.


Post Cleaning Treatments

After you have cleaned and deodorized your tent, there is a fair possibility that your tent has lost its ability to waterproof, or at least it has weakened. But nothing to worry about, there is a way for everything. After you’re done cleaning the tent and when there is no more bad odor releasing from it, do the following post-cleaning treatments.

  • Seam Sealing
  • Waterproofing
  • UV Protection
  • Permethrin: Rare Bug Treatment

You will have to buy a number of products and chemicals to do the treatments yourself. Hence, it is better to do it from tent experts or your tent manufacturer



How to Make a Tent Last Long?

You don’t want to face this trouble of bad odor from your tent again, right? So does your tent. Because performing such cleaning treatments multiple times will gradually cost the durability and longevity of your tent. Hence, here are some tips you can follow to make your tent last longer.


Always Air Dry After Use: Always try to air dry your tent in sunlight after every and before storing. Even when your tent isn’t wet or needs to be dried. This kills microbes that might have formed after a use. And try to air dry the tent just after it faces a rainfall.


Use a Tent Footprint: It is better to use a tent footprint that will protect the downward surface of the tent from exposure to dirt, mud, and moisture from the ground.


Make a “No Shoe” Policy: This policy would help a lot in increasing the lifespan of your tent. One of the main causes of tents getting dirty and catching molds easily is the dirt and microbes that come from shoes.

You can have a separate place to keep your shoes or can wrap them up with a one-time bag to store them inside the tent. This would be beneficial to your health as well.


Final Words

We hope we were able to help you solve your problem. Let’s hope you won’t face much trouble in the future again. And even if you do, now you know well, how to clean a tent that smells. Thanks for reading till the end!