Exercising good camp hygiene will make your life a lot easier. Besides a faster clean-up, you’ll help keep out stones, branches and other sharp debris that can abrade your tent over time.
Before you go, pack the essential tent cleaning items. You’ll need a dustpan and broom, a soft cleaning sponge, and a little clean water.
Clean as you go.
If you’re camping for longer than a weekend, you should give your tent a sweep every second day. Dirt can still find its way in, especially if you’re camping in a big group, with the kids, or anywhere within sneezing distance of the beach.
Besides protecting the tent floor from abrasion, you’ll keep everything else you store in your tent, such as sleeping mats and sleeping bags, free from grit and extend their lives in the process.
Enforce a no-shoe policy.
Keep your shoes outside or in the tent vestibule. If you need to keep your shoes inside the tent for whatever reason (like bad weather of creepy crawlies), sit inside your tent with your feet out, remove your shoes, clap the soles together to remove any debris, use a toothbrush to clean the soles, and place your shoes inside a bag or container.
Keep a tub of water by the entrance.
If you are hiking in muddy or even areas with fine powder (such as central Australia), keep water at your tent entrance with a mat or towel to clean your feet and to quickly clean your clothes before climbing into your tent.
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Use a tent groundsheet to help keep your tent clean
A tent groundsheet can be as simple as a tarp, but is invaluable for helping to protect the outer floor of your tent from wear as well as any possible tears or punctures from rocks and sticks, while also helping you to clean your tent during pack down by limiting the amount of grit and dirt that you have to brush off and potentially roll up into your tent bag at the end of a trip.
How to clean your tent during pack down
At the end of your camping weekend, you’ll need to clean your tent more thoroughly to keep it in tip-top condition.
Step 1: Sweep the inside of your tent.
After you’ve packed up your gear, use the dustpan and broom to sweep up any dirt and debris from the tent floor. Remove any plastic or nonbiodegradable debris, and leave natural materials (dirt, pebbles) at your campsite.
Step 2: Spot clean with water only.
Spot clean any mud or dirt from your tent and fly with a soft brush or sponge and cold water. For dried dirt, use a soft cleaning brush (like the dustpan broom) to remove any stubborn clods. For mud or mystery stains apply gentle pressure with a sponge and clean water.
At this stage, don’t be tempted to use your household soap and detergent. These products are usually too harsh for tent materials and can damage it over time.
Step 3: Give it a shake.
Once you’ve finished, give your tent a gentle shake to remove anything you might have missed. Once dry, roll it up, and pop it back into its storage sack for the ride home.
If your tent hasn’t dried completely by the time you leave, read below about making sure it’s bone dry.
How to clean your tent at home
Read the cleaning instructions.
Always follow the individual cleaning instructions on your tent before attempting any of the steps below. Not all tents are created the same, so before anything else, follow the label.
Choose a smooth working surface.
Don't wash your tent on abrasive surfaces, such as concrete. Doing so can risk hard-to-see damage occurring to your tent, especially if there are jagged edges on the surface. A good rule of thumb is to use a tarp when cleaning your camping tent.
Handwash your tent in cold water.
For more stubborn stains, you can soak your tent in cold or lukewarm water. If the cleaning instructions allow, use a detergent specifically designed for outdoor gear. Rinse out your tent thoroughly with a clean batch of water or with gentle pressure from the garden hose. While you’re there, remove any dirt or salt water from your tent poles with a damp sponge.
Tip: if using a mild cleaning solution, either for rust or mildew stains, make sure you apply it on a test area first before applying to other areas of the tent.
Make sure it’s bone dry.
Whether you’ve done a spot clean on-site or rinsed your tent at home, make sure it’s completely dry before you store it. Damp tents will quickly develop mold or mildew and can be difficult to remove. Besides damaging your tent, the smell will quickly ruin any impromptu camping weekend.
To dry properly, pop your tent up, and let it air dry for several hours out of direct sunlight. If it’s raining, hang it up inside an enclosed garage or inside the house.
Tip: make use of your windows to avoid a buildup of moisture (and mold) in your tent. Be aware of the direction of the wind so that grit is not blown into the zippers and linings of your windows.
Store your tent properly.
While the stuff sack will protect your tent in the car, it’s best to transfer your tent into something loose and breathable at home. By storing your tent in a pillowcase, you’ll allow the tent material to relax and breathe which can minimise the threat of mould.
Avoid storage in hot, humid areas, like an outdoor garage, and store it somewhere dry and cool, like your hallway cupboard.
How to clean a large family tent
Large family-sized tents can be impossible to lift into the air and upturn to shake out debris and dirt. Instead, carefully use the brush attachment of a vacuum cleaner to clean the floor of the tent. Avoid using other attachments of your vacuum cleaner, as you risk tearing the floor of the tent.
How to clean a tent in the snow
The best way to keep your tent clean in the snow is to prevent it from entering the tent at all. General rules like keeping your shoes outside are obvious, but there are some other things you can do to limit how much snow gets in:
1. Compress snow both underneath and surrounding the tent. Before you set up your tent, pack the snow down as much as you can so that it is a harder surface. Wait 20-30 minutes for the snow to refreeze. Do this in a radius surrounding the tent so that as you walk in and out, you effectively have a lawn of hard snow that won't be kicked or dragged in with your boots.
2. Build a windbreaking wall, if possible. This can help stop snow being blown onto your tent.
3. Dig a trench between the tent vestibule and the entrance. Use this to store more of your things so that you aren't dragging in snow.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Can I put my tent in the washing machine?
Sadly, no. Delicate tent materials are no match for the awesome power of an agitator (or most household cleaners). Instead, follow the cleaning instructions or hand wash your tent.
How often should I clean my tent?
To extend the longevity of your tent, you should always perform a basic sweep and spot clean after each use. You may need to handwash your tent more often depending where you camp. I.E. If you love beach camping, rinse your tent after use to remove residual salt spray.
What other treatments can I do to extend the life of my tent?
Once your tent is dry, you can reapply a durable water repellency (DWR) treatment. Look for a solution that includes UV protection to help reduce fading.