How To Clean A Tent That Smells (Mold, Mildew & Other Odors)

tent by river

Have you ever loaned out your tent to a buddy only to get it back with a new stinky smell? Or maybe you went camping in it and something happened that left it smelly.

So, what do you do with foul smelling tent? You might be tempted to toss it into your front loading washer. (don’t do that!)

Before you damage that tent, let us help you clean it the right way and get rid of that funky smell.

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Finding The Cause Of The Stink

Before you can get rid of that putrid aroma, you first need to determine what’s causing that tent to smell so bad. Knowing what is causing the smell lets you know how you can get rid of it.

Here are the most common causes of a stinky smell in a tent:

  • dirt and grime
  • mold
  • mildew
  • polyurethane coating of the tent

But this is by no means an exhaustive list. I know of a guy who had a frog trapped in his tent when it got put away after a camping trip. Then end result was dead frog smell in the tent the next time he took it out. (ick, gross!)

I also want to note that dirt and grime itself doesn’t really tend to make a tent stinky, but there can be bacteria and other things in that dirt and grime that lead to a smelly situation.

Removing Mold & Mildew Smell From A Tent

If this is your stinky problem, then you probably recognize the smell. It normally has this musty, stale air sort of scent to it.

You might be thinking that this smell isn’t that bad. Wrong!

It is actually bad for your health. The CDC website talks about that a bit, but the basics are that you don’t want to be inhaling mold spores. And, you can even transport mold from your tent into your home and car.

Mold and mildew grow on wet fabric.

A wet tent is how you end up with mold growth and mildew. So, obviously you want to try to keep you tent dry and you should never put your tent away when it’s wet.

If you’re wondering how to remove mold and mildew from your tent, then the answer varies depending on how bad the problem is on your tent. Below are some cleaning option for you:

  • hot, soapy water removed mild mold buildup
  • bleach is effective on bigger mold problems, but can damage your tent fabric
  • solution of white vinegar and water can deal with some mold and mildew problems
  • a specialized cleaning product, like Gear Aid Revivex Pro Cleaner for Tents

As you’re working to clean the mold and mildew from your tent, there are a few things to keep in mind.

  • setup the tent to clean it for the easiest way to do it
  • never put the tent in the washing machine
  • don’t scrub the fabric because you can damage the tent’s coating
  • remember to rinse off the tent after cleaning it
  • use a mask to cover your nose and protect yourself from breathing in mold spores
  • let the tent dry fully before putting it away (don’t use a clothes dryer or leave it in the sun!)

Once you get all of the mold and mildew removed, you should take steps in the future to prevent this from happening again. Primarily, make sure the tent is dry before you put it away after a camping trip or cleaning.

How To Deodorize Tents That Smell Bad

Even if you give that tent a good cleaning, you still might be left with a lingering smell that’s unpleasant. Fortunately, there are ways to fix that as well.

Here’s a few ways to deodorize your tent:

  • if it has a storage smell, then it just needs to air out. You can also spray with some Febreeze or other fabric deodorizer.
  • soak it in some Gear Aid Revivex Odor Eliminator

Most of the time, the best way to deodorize a smelly tent is by soaking it in a Gear Aid Revivex Odor Eliminator bath. This product is an all-natural blend of microbes, so it’s safe to use on the tent fabric.

Here’s how to do that Gear Aid Revivex Odor Eliminator bath:

  1. Put enough water to a tub or basin that allows you to submerge the tent fully.
  2. Add ½ oz. to 1 oz. of Gear Aid Revivex Odor Eliminator in the water, depending on how bad the smell is in the tent, and mix it well.
  3. Completely unzip the tent and open all the flaps.
  4. Soak the tent in the water mixture for a maximum of five minutes. Don’t rinse when you’re done. Note: you must soak the tent immediately after adding the cleaning product to get the best results.
  5. Take the wet tent and set it up inside or out of the sun to air dry completely. Note: it should dry in a cool place and not be exposed to heat.
  6. Give it the sniff test once it’s completely dry. Note: it will still smell while wet because it needs the complete drying process for the microbes to remove the smell.

By following those steps, you should be successful in deodorizing your stinky tent. Unless that odor is coming from the tent’s polyurethane coating breaking down.

How To Remove Polyurethane Coating Odors From Your Tent

Does your tent have a really foul vomit smell or urine smell? This is a telltale sign of the polyurethane coating of your tent breaking down.

This tends to happen with older tents and it’s just the result of a chemical reaction of the breakdown of urethane in the coating. But it still smells really, really bad.

In order to fix the foul odor of polyurethane breaking down, you have to actually remove that old coating from the tent. Here’s how you can do that:

  1. Fill a tub or basin with enough warm water to fully submerge the tent.
  2. Add 4-5 drops of liquid soap to the water and mix it in with your hands.
  3. Fully submerge the tent in the water and leave it to soak for two to three hours.
  4. Make a mixture of isopropyl alcohol, water and a few of drops of soap in either a spray bottle or bowl.
  5. Remove the tent from the water and gently scrub away the polyurethane coating with the mixture you just made and a clean cloth. (You’ll usually find the coating on the top of the tent floors and the underside of the tent flies).
  6. Set the tent up so that it can dry completely.
  7. Apply a new polyurethane coating and seam sealer to the tent to waterproof it. (our tips here) You MUST do this because your tent isn’t waterproof without this coating.
  8. Sprinkle some talc powder to get rid of any initial tackiness before take the tent out for a camping trip.

By following the steps above, you should be able to remove that putrid vomit smell from your old tent.

Tips To Prevent Tent Odors

Now that you’ve gotten that tent to be odor-free, it’s time to be proactive and take steps to prevent this sort of thing from happening to you again in the future.

Here are some best practices for keeping your tent odor-free:

  • Always let your tent dry completely before putting it away.
  • Air dry your tent after a camping tent and clean off any mud or debris.
  • Leave the tent some room to breath when you put it away for storage.

With all of the tips and steps above, you should be on the right path to no more smelly tents.

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