How To Clean A Tent (3 Easy Steps)

No matter how clean you keep your tent while camping, it will inevitably accumulate dust, dirt, and grime during outdoor adventures.

This is why cleaning your tent regularly is essential to preserve its functionality and lifespan.

Below you’ll learn how to clean a tent in 3 easy steps, plus get answers to the most popular tent-cleaning questions.

Choosing the Right Tent Cleaning Method

There are two main ways to clean a tent, and the best option for you depends on your space and how much cleaning your tent really needs. 

Method 1 (Tent is Set Up)

The first cleaning method involves setting up your tent in your yard. Once erected, spray down the tent with the hose and scrub it with soap and water. It feels like washing a car.

If you’ve got room, this is the best way to spot-check your tent while cleaning. Use this method if there are multiple, specific areas of your shelter that need attention.

Method 2 (Tub Method)

The second way is to put the tent into a large bucket or bathtub. This method is similar to handwashing clothes. It allows the tent to soak and the soap to work through the fabric. 

This method is ideal if your tent needs a deep cleaning. However, it is harder to spot clean with the material all bunched up in a tiny space.

Whichever method you choose, the following steps are the same.

Tent Cleaning Step-By-Step

Before you begin cleaning your tent, it’s important to gather all the necessary supplies.

What You’ll Need

  • Non-abrasive sponge or cloth: This is used for spot cleaning and washing the tent. It’s important to use a non-abrasive material to avoid damaging the tent fabric.
  • Mild soap: Use a mild soap designed for outdoor gear like Nikwax Tent & Gear Solarwash. Mild dish soap can be used if a specialized tent cleaner is not available.
  • Warm water: Warm water is more effective at removing dirt and grime than cold water.
  • Dry, shaded area: It’s important to dry your tent out of direct sunlight, as UV rays can damage the tent fabric.
  • (Optional) Large tub or basin: If using method 2, you’ll need a large tub or basin to wash your tent in. Make sure it’s big enough to accommodate the entire tent.

Step 1: Spot Clean The Tent

Spot-clean the problem areas first before starting the overall washing. These areas are easier to find before the tent is wet and sudsy. When spot cleaning, use a toothbrush or some other firm but gentle cleaning tool to help eliminate the stain.

did you know Did you know…

If you have sap on your tent, you can effectively remove it by applying rubbing alcohol to a sponge or washcloth and gently wiping it off.

Step 2: Wash The Tent

After that, wash down the rest of the tent using a sponge and mild soap. The soap must permeate all of the areas to do its job.

Tip: Use a mild soap (like dish soap) or cleaner specific to outdoor gear. Some chemicals don’t work well with high-tech cloth or waterproofing. Be sure that what you’re using will work without damaging your tent.

If you use Nikwax Tent & Gear Solarwash, simply spray the tent down evenly on the outside of the fabric and rub it in with a damp sponge or cloth. This video by Nikwax shows exactly how to use their product.

If using mild dish soap, fill a bowl or large basin with water and the soap and rub the soap-water mixture into the tent fabric with a damp sponge or cloth, or if using the tub method, simply soak the tent fabric in the large basin.

Check out this video from REI on how to properly clean a camping tent using the tub method.

When washing, don’t forget the zippers and seams. These areas will trap dust and dirt. Because of this, they’re often the first places your tent rips or fails.

Step 3: Rinse And Dry

Once you finish, rinse your tent thoroughly. Any cleaner left on the surface might become sticky or cause deterioration.

Tip: If you plan on waterproofing your tent, now is the time to do it (before you let it dry).

Hang the fabric somewhere out of the sun and allow it to dry completely before you pack it away. Putting away a damp tent will lead to mold or mildew. And do not try to speed up the process by putting a tent in a dryer.

If you still notice an odor coming from your tent after washing it, check out our guide on how to clean a tent that smells to not only get it to smell fresh but also to prevent it from developing bad odors again.


Are You Supposed to Wash Tents?

It’s recommended to clean your camping tent periodically, especially after trips involving harsh weather conditions or muddy environments. Cleaning helps maintain the tent’s functionality and longevity and prevents the buildup of dirt and grime that could lead to issues like mold and mildew.

What Is the Best Thing to Clean a Tent With?

The best thing to clean a tent with is lukewarm water and a mild soap designed for outdoor gear like Nikwax Tent & Gear Solarwash. It’s also beneficial to use a soft sponge or cloth to gently scrub the tent’s surface. Mild dish soap can be used if a specialized tent cleaner is not available.

Tip: Avoid harsh chemicals or abrasive scrubbers, as they can damage the tent’s material and diminish its water-resistant properties.

Can I Clean a Tent With Dawn Dish Soap?

Yes, you can clean a tent with Dawn dish soap or any other mild dish soap if a specialized tent cleaner is not available. Dawn is known for its gentle yet effective cleaning properties, making it suitable for materials like tent fabric.

How Do You Get Mold and Mildew Out of a Tent?

To remove mold and mildew from a tent, wash your tent, soak it in a gear-specific cleaning enzyme such as Revivex, and let it completely air dry. Not only will this kill anything growing, but it will also eliminate any odors your tent picked up.

Revivex Odor & Mold Eliminator

Revivex Odor & Mold Eliminator

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Check out our guide on how to clean a tent with mold for a complete step-by-step breakdown!

Can You Power Wash a Tent?

While power washing might seem like a quick and efficient way to clean a tent, it’s not recommended. The high pressure from a power washer can damage the tent fabric, seams, and waterproof coating. Instead, it’s best to stick with gentle cleaning methods.

Can You Wash a Tent in the Washing Machine?

While it might seem convenient, washing a tent in a washing machine is generally not recommended. The agitation and heat from a washing machine can damage the tent’s fabric, seams, and waterproof coating.

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