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How to Air Out a Smelly Tent

12.09.20

The weather is changing. The crisp, cool nights are beckoning you to plan your next camping trip. But, when you release your tent from storage, you immediately smell something that comes straight from the garbage can, and you consider placing that tent in the same garbage can. 

Wait. Before you throw your tent away, consider the idea that you can save that smelly tent.

A smelly tent can ruin the best camping trip. No need to worry, though, because we have you covered. I will share my tips on how to clean a tent that smells and how to prevent your tent from being the smelly kid at the campground. 

Let’s get started and get you to the great outdoors! 

Tip #1 – Preventing a Stinky Tent

Preventing a stinky tent is the first step to giving your tent a long life, and you many years of happy camping.

 There are several items that should be on your prevention check-off list. After each camping trip, you should do these things to prevent gross organisms from growing and keep smells at bay. 

  • Clean out any debris inside the tent.
  • Be sure the tent is completely dry before packing it away. If you think it’s dry, wait a little longer for extra security. 
  • Give your tent a thorough inspection. Look for any problems that could lead to unpleasant smells. 

Tip #2 – Determine Why You Have a Smelly Tent

There are several reasons your tent can develop a smell that doesn’t scream peace and tranquility. Because of this, it is important to determine why your tent is smelly in order to eradicate that smell effectively. 

Dirt and grime are prime suspects for nose wrinkling smells. Camping trips leave us with dirt and grime because they include many outdoor activities. There is dirt on our shoes and clothes. You may have even stepped in an unwanted gift from your pet. 

Then there is the sweat that accumulates on our bodies from hiking, kayaking, or any other number of outdoor activities. The dirt and grime naturally accumulated while camping can cause a tent to become stinky. 

The second reason your tent is smelly could be fungi. I am talking about mold and mildew here. 

Mold and mildew are the most common cause of smelly tents and grows in the presence of moisture. Mold and mildew develop on the surface and are easily spotted, along with the musty odor wafting under your nose. 

It is essential to learn how to clean a tent with mold and mildew because it can make you sick. The CDC website lays out the dangers of inhaling mold and mildew spores. No camping trip should leave you sick. 

Thirdly, you may have a bacteria issue. Bacteria will spread through your tent when your skin comes in contact with the tent itself. Bacteria, like mold, can grow on any surface. The fabric of your tent can become the perfect home for ugly bacteria to grow. 

Lastly, your smelly tent could be experiencing a breakdown of polyethylene. While this is not a common occurrence, it can be a game-changer for your camping trip. The breakdown of polyethylene will make your tent smell like vomit or urine, but there is an easy fix to this problem.

Tip #3 – How to Air Out A Smelly Tent

I have found that air can be an incredible cleaning tool for getting rid of a gross tent smell. It is free and often does the job perfectly.  Here’s how to air out a tent.

A few days before your next big adventure, I recommend getting your tent out and letting air flow through the fibers, releasing any unpleasant aromas that might be hanging out in there. 

The best way to accomplish this is by placing your tent on a clothesline. Don’t have a clothesline, then lay your tent over an outdoor patio table or chairs. Just be mindful of any sharp edges that could potentially weaken or tear your tent’s fabric. 

Airing out your tent usually takes only a day or two with cooperative weather, and you can complete your camping prep list at the same time. 

Tip #4 –  How to Clean a Tent with Vinegar and Lemon Juice 

Vinegar mixed with lemon juice is a perfect DIY hack for ridding your tent of smells from fungi like mold and mildew. You will need vinegar, lemon juice, a tub big enough to submerge your tent in, and a little time. 

Mix the lemon juice, vinegar, and warm water in your tub. Submerge your smelly tent in the mixture and let soak for at least an hour. Two to three hours is even better. 

After rounding up a few friends to help, remove the tent from the cleaning solution. Be sure to let it dry completely. You can lay the tent on a clothesline or table at first. After the majority of the tent is dry, set it up to finish drying. 

Vinegar is a mold and mildew killing machine because of its acidity. Pair it with lemon juice, and you have a lethal mixture ready to eradicate any smells and harmful bacteria. The lemon juice will also help your tent not to smell like pickles.

If you only need to spot clean for mold and mildew, you could use one of these two cleaning solutions. 

  1. ¼ cup of white vinegar and one cup of warm water
  2. One cup of lemon juice, one cup of salt, and one gallon of hot water

Both solutions are mixed and placed in a spray bottle. 

I have to add that most people will associate bleach with killing mold and mildew. Bleach will indeed kill those nasty organisms in their tracks, but you should not use bleach on your tent.

Bleach can weaken the fabric of the tent and cause more problems in the future. 

Tip #5 – Saving a Tent that Smells like Rotten Eggs and Vomit

Sulfur and vomit are not smells that should be associated with camping trips. If your tent smells like sulfur or someone that lost their lunch, don’t worry. You can save it. 

As stated before, tents that are experiencing a breakdown of polyethylene will have a putrid smell. To eradicate this aroma, you will need a few things: a large tub, warm water, and a hefty amount of mild dish soap. 

Mix your warm water and mild detergent in a large tub. Submerge the tent in the mixture for an hour or maybe longer. Take the tent out and use a soft brush to scrub the tent’s surface gently. By doing this, you will remove the polyethylene coating.

Lastly, rinse the tent thoroughly and let dry completely before packing it up for your trip or storage. 

Tip #6 – Cleaning a Smelly Pop-Up Tent 

Pop-up tents are popular for the lone camper or couples. They can also become smelly. Cleaning these tents is important, but different from bigger ones.

The most effective way to clean your pop-up tent is to pop it up and use a spray bottle cleaning solution. You can mix your own solution, such as vinegar and lemon juice, or purchase a cleaner designed for tents. 

Spray the cleaning solution on the tent and let it sit for about 30 minutes in a well-ventilated area. After that, rinse the tent with clean water and let dry completely. 

Tip #7 – Always Hand Wash Your Smelly Tent

We have discussed several ways to clean your stinky tent. But I feel it’s important to note that your two hands are the necessary tools for washing your tent. 

Tents cannot handle harsh scrubbing. Hand washes using soft scrub brushes are ideal. You can gently swirl your tent in the large tub of cleaning solution, but be careful. You don’t want to risk damaging any of the fibers or mesh components of your tent. 

Tip #8 – Never, Ever Use A Washing Machine

Washing your tent is important for extending the life of the tent. A quick way to end the life of a tent is by using a washing machine. Tents cannot withstand all the spinning and agitation associated with a washing machine. 

They simply were not made for machine washes. 

Even if the manufacturing instructions suggest the use of a washing machine, don’t do it! Another piece of advice is never to put your tent in the dryer. Even in the gentlest setting, we do not recommend it. 

Tip # 9 – Use a Tent Air-Freshener

There will be times during your incredible camping adventure that your tent begins to smell. Instead of packing it up early, try an air freshener. 

Be careful, though. Using an air freshener that is scented could attract unwanted visitors. My advice is to stay away from the Lysol or Febreeze. 

It is best to use an odor eliminator designed for camping tents. These products have enzymes that are activated when mixed with water. The enzymes work to eliminate the foul odors.

Eliminating the odor is the goal, not just masking it. 

Tip #10 – Implement Post – Clean Treatments

Fellow campers, we don’t want to put all our elbow grease into cleaning our tents and forget to pack them away correctly.  Proper tent storage should be part of any camping checklist.

After you have washed your tent thoroughly, make sure to dry it completely. This tip cannot be stressed enough. If you pack your tent up with any moisture present, mold and mildew will begin to grow, and all that hard work was for nothing. 

Any debris left inside the tent can cause mold to grow. Crumbs are hard to see with the naked eye, so it’s essential to sweep and clean out the tent thoroughly. Clearing your tent of debris is quickly done with a soft bristle broom or water hose. 

When storing your tent, don’t stuff it in a bag. It is best to roll it up after you make sure it is bone dry. Store your tent in a cool, dry place, and it will be ready for you to enjoy on your next camping trip. 

Long Term Care of Your Tent Dwelling

Smelly tents are no fun. They can quickly dampen the mood of a great camping trip. I have given you a few tips to rid your smelly tent of odors but cannot leave you without additional advice for your tent’s long-term care. 

There are steps you can take to lengthen your tent dwelling’s life and ensure many more camping trips in your future. 

  • Waterproofing is a critical step you cannot skip. While you will not need to waterproof after every washing, you should take the time to check the seams and fabric for any spots that need attention. The rule of thumb is to waterproof your tent every two to three years. 
  • Store your tent in the original bag, or you can use a pillowcase. Pillowcases are great because they are loose and breathable. As mentioned before, don’t be in a hurry and stuff the tent in the bag. Rolling the tent up places stress evenly on all seams and parts of the tent. 
  • Choose a suitable spot to set your tent up while on a camping adventure and use care during setup. 
  • Before setting your tent up the first time, read all the manufacturer instructions. You may even need to reacquaint yourself with them from time to time. 
  • It is best to do a mock set up at home first. You will have less stress figuring out your tent at home than in the wild outdoors.

Rid Yourself of a Smelly Tent and Start Planning Your Next Camping Trip 

Camping is a past-time for many families. It is a time to experience nature to the fullest, sleeping under the stars and enjoying your favorite camping recipes. Stepping out of your tent and breathing the fresh air each morning is amazing. That feeling of amazement is what makes caring for your tent worth it. 

Smelly tents can destroy the memories you can make while camping. It could cause you to become unwell. There is no need to suffer. Using these 10 tips to clean your smelly tent can change everything. 

So, start prepping for your next great outdoor adventure, and don’t worry about a smelly tent.

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