Heading out into the wild, we expect to get dirty and muddy. Some campers prefer the all-natural experience and simply wash off in a nearby body of water. But one of the first things people do when they get home takes a shower. They get clean and wash away anything that has stuck to them, like pesky tree sap or dirt that has clung to their hair. Some people don't really feel like they have made it back to civilization until they had a good shower. We get ourselves clean, but what about the gear we bring along, specifically: what about our tents?
Tents are our home away from home. They provide shelter at night, and many people have fond memories of hunkering down in them for stories by lantern light or moonlit conversations as they drift off to sleep in the wilderness. As much as we love our tents, they take a beating during our trips out into nature, and just like us, they need a good washing every once in a while, to make sure they last. Here is how to clean, repair and waterproof a tent.
How to Clean a Tent.
Tents are sturdy but still need tender love and care. To clean them is a bit of a process and can be time-consuming, so be sure to set a day you can do this properly because doing it wrong or rushing it can lead to issues later on.
You will also want to make sure you have all the supplies you need to clean the tent at hand. To clean the tent, you will need water, gentle dish soap, tent cleaner, cloth or sponge, MiraZyme tent cleaner, rubbing alcohol, and a bathtub or large sink. Just follow these steps, and your tent will come out good as new.
Spot-clean the tent. First, you want to spot clean the tent for stains and places that require a little more elbow grease. Things like tree sap can be hard to get out on just a soak. So you will use dish soap, a rag or sponge, and rubbing alcohol to get rid of the stubborn spots.
Prep the soaking tub. Now you want to prep the tub you will be soaking the tent in. You will fill it with cold or lukewarm water and add your tent cleaner to the water. Here, be sure to follow the directions on the tent cleaner on how much solution to put in and how long to soak the tent for.
Fully open the tent. Before you soak the tent, be sure to open the tent all the way and unzip all doors and windows. Be sure also to take unzip the rainfly and make sure that it is opened up as well.
Soak the tent. Go ahead and place the tent and rainfly in the water and tent cleaner mixture and leave the tent to soak for as long as the directions say. That is usually about 30 minutes.
Rinse the tent thoroughly. You will empty the tub of the soapy water the tent has been soaking in. Once all the water is out, you will refill the tub with clean water and use it to rinse out any remaining soap or dirt left in the tent. Continue to do this until the tent is completely clean and the water is clear.
Dry out the tent. Set up the tent somewhere in the shade and out of direct sunlight. Be sure to go out and move the tent occasionally to ensure all sides are given a chance to dry.
Check the tent for damage. After the tent has dried from the washing, be sure to look over it for any signs of wear and tear. Also, be on the lookout for signs the waterproofing or seal tape has worn out so you can reapply it. These will help keep the tent waterproof. For steps on that, read our article "How to Keep Dry While Camping."
How to clean a stinky tent. If you have a persistent issue with foul smells from your tent, use MiraZyme. MiraZyme is an enzyme cleaner that you can place in the soaking portion of the cleaning and will be sure to clear out anything clinging to the tent that causes mold or other smell sources. Be careful using an enzyme cleaner as if left soaking too long; it can also eat away at the waterproof coating that covers the tent.
How to remove mildew from a tent. However, if you have noticed mildew in certain spots over your tent and do not want to go through the entire process of washing it, you can do a spot wash and use simple ingredients found in your house to clean and kill the mold. You only need a one-gallon pail, a cup of lemon juice, non-detergent soap, and a sponge.
• Use the moist sponge to scrub the spots of mildew clean first.
• Next, mix the lemon juice with the detergent and scrub that on the mildew spots.
• Rinse the sponge with clean water and go over the same areas one last time.
• Let the tent dry. Mildew grows on the tent fabric itself, so the spots will not go away, but the mold is dead and will not grow.
How to clean zippers on a tent. If the zippers are still causing an issue, break out a toothbrush ad scrub them with water. There may be a build-up of dirt in the zipper itself, and the soaking was not enough to get it out. Scrubbing will help reach into places and dislodge soil and rocks that have snagged into the crevices.
Can you put a tent in a washing machine? It would be best if you did not put your tent in a washer or dryer. This may seem like a good idea instead of the multistep process listed above, but it is not. The tent is made to be tough and durable out in the wild, but it is not made for the tumble and spins of the washing machine. Putting the tent in the washing machine will stretch and even damage the tent and cause the zippers to become damaged. It is best to wash the tent by hand and soak it.
How to repair your tent.
No matter how well you maintain a tent, it will need to be patched or repaired at some point. Learning how to fix tent issues will save you money in the long run. Repairs are always cheaper than getting something new, and learning to fix things can always be a handy skill to have for future situations.
Patching small holes. It is always wise to bring some patching supplies with you when you head out camping. A patching kit is great to have stored with your camping supplies and doesn't take up a lot of room. The kit can fix holes quickly in the tent floor or walls. Some kits come with glue or are self-adhesive.
Just make sure the area around the tear is clean and dirt-free. If there is anything in the way of the patch, it will not stick properly and can come off. Once the area is clean, place the patch on and lets it sit for a few minutes. If there is a long rip or big hole, then you can use duct tape and a sealant to help keep water out.
Repairing a ripped seam. The seams of the tent are an essential part of keeping water out. If the seam rips, you can use a few methods to fix it. First, you can take it to a professional who can repair the tent. It will cost some more than you fix it yourself, but it will ensure the repair is done well and will last.
Second, you can take a swing at fixing the seam yourself by trying to sew the seam yourself. If you are handy with a needle and thread, you can attempt this and match the existing pattern. After you have finished sewing the seam, please give it a couple of coats of sealant to make sure it is water repellant again.
The cheap and easy way to fix a tear along the seam is duct tape, one roll of this can fix a thousand problems. Just place the tape over the incision, and if you want to make sure it sticks very well, try using a hairdryer to heat the video, which will strengthen the hold of the tape on the tent.
There are many tents out there that are great at being waterproof. They do what they are advertised to do for the most part and are great at keeping people dry. However, the waterproofing does not last forever and needs to be maintained.
Keeping up a tent and its waterproofing may mean you have to put a little more work into upkeeping your tent, but it is cheaper than buying a whole new one, and you will be thanking yourself for doing it comes to the next sudden rainstorm when you are out camping.
How to waterproof a tent.
Seam Sealer. The seams of a tent are made to keep things out, and they are sealed to ensure that. Over time, though, the sealing fades and needs to be reapplied to keep moisture from seeping in through them. It is a simple task that only requires a seam sealer, rubbing alcohol, and a clean rag.
Tent Sealer. Be sure you get a suitable sealer for your tent. Waterproof tents are usually made up of Silicone-treated materials or polyurethane-coated fabrics.
The application is easy, and here are the steps on how to apply it.
1. Set up the tent, with the rainfly, in a sunny or well-lit area to see all the tent's seams. It would help if you set the rainfly up inside out so the seams are more visible.
2. Once you have the tent set up, look over all the seams on the rainfly and the inside of the tent itself. Be sure to take note of anywhere the seam tape peeling or coming loose.
3. Gently remove any of the flaking or peeling parts of the seam tape. Be sure to leave any tape that is not damaged. Then clean the area using a rag and rubbing alcohol.
4. Once the area has been cleaned and dried, you can apply the seam sealer to the seam. You may also want to use the sealer to all the seams. The fact that one area has started to peel or show signs of wear and tear means the rest are probably close to breaking as well.
5. Now just leave the tent out to let the sealer dry completely.
Urethane Coating. A large part of what keeps water from seeping into the materials of your tent is the urethane coating. This covers that rainfly of the tent and the tent floor. If you have noticed there is flaking in these two areas, then that means the coating is coming off and needs to be reapplied. Just like with the seam sealer, be sure to get the tent sealer that is correct for the materials your tent is made of. Once you have the sealer, you will also need to have a sponge with an abrasive side and rub alcohol. To properly apply the coating, do as follows:
1. Lay your rainfly and/or tent flat on a floor or dry surface.
2. Using the alcohol and abrasive side of the sponge, scrub the tent to remove any portion of the original coating that remains.
3. Following the sealant's directions, apply the new coat to the tent or rainfly.
4. Be sure the tent is laid out in an area where it will not be disturbed as the coating takes 24 hours to set totally.
5. Ensure you wash your hands if you did not wear gloves when applying the sealant. Before they have set, the chemicals may be harmful when directly in contact with your skin.
Durable Water Repellent (DWR). Just as there is a protective layer on the inside of the rainfly, there is also one on the outside. The Durable Water Repellent, or DWR as it is commonly known, helps the water from rain and condensation bead up on the outside of the rainfly and roll off instead of absorbing into the material.
This helps keep the inside of the tent dry and makes the rainfly all the easier to dry out between uses. If this coating wears out, all you need is a damp cloth, some water, and a spray bottle of a water-repellent product.
Then you just follow the steps below:
1. Spray down your tent to ensure the surface area is clean and clear. If you have just washed your tent (don't know the best way? see our article on the Best Way to Clean a tent), then skip spraying it.
2. Evenly apply the repellent to the surface of the rainfly.
3. Wait a few minutes and then wipe any excess from the rainfly with a damp cloth,
4.Let completely dry. Let the rainfly lay there until it is completely dry before putting it away.
If you use these three methods to upkeep your waterproof tent, it should last for years to come. Maintaining a tent is just like keeping any other piece of equipment you have. The more you take care of it, the longer it will take care of you.
Being ready for your next camping trip starts when you pack up the one you are currently on. Be sure to take care of the gear you bring with you, especially the tent. It is your home away from home. Knowing how to clean, repair and waterproof your tent is a significant part of being a responsible camper. Here's to hoping your tent lasts for years and is part of many great memories to come.
Also check out these articles, Top 10 Pop Up Tents for 2021 (the one you should buy) and Top 15 Backpack Tents Datasheet and My Top Pick.
And in case your are wondering this is how I choose a camping tent.
Thanks for reading.
Do yourself a favor, take a kid camping!