How to Clean a Tent that Smells

Do you love camping? I bet you do. Everyone does. Exploring the wild, sitting by the campfire, eating s’mores, setting up a camping tent, sleeping in bags, well is there anything else more fun than all the activities mentioned above? You try telling me. Now imagine if you have trouble keeping your camping tent clean. Well, that sounds like a difficult task, but don’t worry about that, as we will now discuss How to Clean a Tent that smells as well as how to make sure you can keep your tent clean for your next camping trip.

You can also check out our tent section for getting the best two-person tents for your next camping trip.

We know how difficult the task is to make a tent clean that smells. Here, we will discuss the process step by step so that you can understand the whole thing and use the process when it is required of you. Now let’s dive into the steps of how to clean a tent that smells. You can also read our recently published article in the medium on the complete guide on how to clean a tent.

How to Clean a Tent that Smells

Step #1: Checking Unpleasant odor inside tents:

After returning from a camping trip, people tend to pack up the tent in the attic or storage room for the next camping trip. That is a massive mistake, as there can be little bits of scraps left inside the tent, and it might form molds inside the tent.

Therefore, we have to thoroughly check the inside of the tent for little bits of scraps inside. Before packing, it away, make sure it’s scorched on the inside as it will be a breeding ground for germs and bacteria if stored away in the dark with a bit of moist surface inside the tent. Always probe the inside inch by inch carefully before storing it away.

Step #2: Making your own Lemon-Vinegar mixture:

Vinegar is already known as the mold-killer due to it possessing antibacterial and antifungal abilities. According to researchers, vinegar is able to kill most if not all household molds. Now, combine vinegar with lemon juice, and you got the ultimate mold and mildew killer. Here’s how you can prepare the mixture:

Making your own Lemon-Vinegar mixture
  • Take ¼ cup of vinegar and mix it with warm water
  • Take one cup of lemon juice, one cup of salt and a gallon of warm water and just mix it all up
  • Now take both the mixture and put them in a spray bottle, and you got yourself a vinegar-lemon juice mixture

You can use the spray bottle to spray it inside the tent and wait for the process to happen and after a few hours, wash it off with pure water.

If you want to clean the whole tent, then make the mixture in a huge batch and put it in a tub. Afterward, open up the tent and soak it in the mixture for an hour at least and a maximum of 4-5 hours. After it’s soaked up for hours, take it out and let it dry out in the sun for a couple of hours.

You might think, why not use bleach. Well, bleach does kill horrible entities, but it will weaken the fabric on your tent and cause other problems, so it is advisable to not use bleach when cleaning out tents.

Step #3: How to wash a Pop-up tent:

Couples mostly use pop-up tents. Even though they are different from the usual tents and smaller, they can still get dirty. Therefore, it is ideal to use a liquid-based mixture to clean them out. You can make a mixture of lemon and vinegar. It is easier to clean it this way than using any other method. Make sure you spray the mixture inside the tent and then let it rest for about half an hour before rinsing it off with pure water and letting it dry off in the sun.

Step #4: Regulating Smells Inside the tent:

A tent that stinks of havoc can cause an unpleasant feeling between everyone trying to stay inside the tent. So, let’s put on our cleaning gloves and make sure how we can prevent that.

  • Dirt

Dirt stuck on shoes and clothes can get inside the tent and cause a rotting smell while promoting germs and bacteria growth. So, make sure to keep your shoes outside the tent and pat off the dirt from your clothes before entering the tent.

  • Sweat

Sweating is natural in the case of every human being, and it will happen more while camping as people tend to run, hike, play and perform several other activities since there aren’t air-conditioners in the wild, the sweating process tends to take place more. So, in that case, make sure to wash off the sweat with water and change clothes before entering the tent so that the tent start to smell.

  • Fungi and bacteria

Mold, mildew, are common in the wild, and all they need for growth is a surface and a bit of moisture. They can be easily spotted and aren’t hard to take care of. Bacteria can also easily grow inside the tent and smell bad, could be the breeding ground for more if not taken care of soon.

  • Polyurethane

Breakdown of polyurethane can cause a really bad smell similar to vomit inside the tent but worry not as there is an easy fix for that.

Step #5: Removal of Polyurethane Smell:

Does your tent smell like vomit and urine? If so, then it might be the case of the breakdown of polyurethane in your tent. This breakdown usually happens in old tents. It happens due to a chemical reaction taking place that breakdowns the urethane in the coating of the tent. Well, in that case, don’t worry and let’s get rid of the dreadful smell

  • Fill up a tub with hot water to completely sink in the tent
  • Take 4-5 drops of liquid soap and use your hands to mix it in the water and let the tent soak in there for few hours
  • Take a spray bottle, pour in water, several drops of soap and isopropyl alcohol, mix it in, and turn it into a mixture.
  • After several hours, take out the tent off the water, spray the mixture onto a clean cloth, and use it to brush off the old polyurethane coating from the tent gently.
  • Take the tent outside and dry it out in the sun
  • After the drying process is complete, put on a new polyurethane coating to make the tent waterproof.

Step #6: Avoid Using a Washing Machine:

When it comes to washing fabric, the washing machine pops up onto everyone’s head. However, beware washing of washing your tent in your washing machine, as it’s possibly the worst idea ever. The washing machine can weaken the fabric of the tent and make it very weak. Tents are not meant to combat spinning and turbulence. Another piece of advice would be not even using the dryer for your tent, even on the lowest setting.

Avoid Using a Washing Machine

Step #7: Applying Air Fresheners in Tents:

Air fresheners are a good product to use inside a tent to get rid of foul odors. Make sure to pack one before going on a trip. However, the air freshener’s smell can attract others creatures from outside and might cause problems. So, use it a bit, but not too much, and cause difficulties.


Q1:What do you clean a tent with?

Ans: We prefer to use vinegar as well as bleach for cleaning a tent. Most importantly, we use our hands to clean it properly because cleaning a tent properly is always challenging, so only hands can clean it properly.

Q2:How to clean a tent with vinegar?

Ans: Vinegar is very useful for fast cleaning a tent. Just take one cup of white vinegar and mix it with one bucket of water or one gallon of water. Then put the tent inside the bucket and keep it for half an hour. Then you can use a cleaning brush according to the build quality of the tent, or you can use a sponge to clean it properly.

Q3:Can i use laundry soap to clean a tent?

Ans: Yes, you can use laundry soap to clean a tent. In that case, you have to use soap all over the tent and scrub the moldy area with a cleaning brush, but you have to be careful about tent build material if the material is nylon then you can use your cleaning brush but if it is built with cotton or something else you must use the sponge for it.

Q4:Can you clean a tent in a washing machine?

Ans: Of Course not. You should not use a washing machine to clean a tent, It will reduce the durability of the tent. Moreover, the moldy area of the tent will not clear properly. So you must use your hands other than using the washing machine. It will ensure proper cleaning of a tent.

Q5:Can you clean a tent with bleach?

Ans:Sure, you can use bleach to clean a tent. Bleach is also effective for fast cleaning a tent. It clears dirt and also reduces stains very quickly. To do that, you just take two cups of bleach and mix it with one gallon of water, and then put the tent inside the bucket for half an hour. After that, take from it and rub the highly moldy area with hands, then you will see the magic.


In Conclusion, tents are the most essential item needed while camping, as it literally is the house in the wild. Therefore, if you have a dirty tent, you may be up for a troublesome experience. According to researchers, approximately 40 million people go out for camping every year so, it is not ideal to buy a new tent every time, as tents tend to be costly. Always make sure to keep your tents clean at all costs.

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