clean tents with mold and mildew

How to Clean a Smelly Tent with Mold and Mildew

Camping is a ton of fun, but things can also get dirty really quickly! It’s important to make sure you take care of your tent and keep it clean and dry to ensure that it stays in great condition for as long as possible. Mold and mildew are common issues that pop up with tents, especially if they’re infrequently used or improperly stored.

This article will help you identify mold and mildew problems, delve into a few options for removing them quickly and easily, and give several tips for how to prevent mold and mildew issues in the future. All of the options below will help with issues on the inside and outside of your Tent.

Identifying Mold and Mildew

First of all, it’s recommended to inspect your tent after each use to identify any mold or mildew that needs to be dealt with, especially if you’re a frequent camper. You don’t want to be unknowingly inhaling mold particles on your next camping trip! Much like why you wash your sleeping bag you will want to ensure your tent is both clean and hygienic for sleeping in.

If you notice any suspicious spots, make sure they are not simply dirt or dust by giving them a quick wipe with a wet rag. If the spots don’t come off easily, you may have a mold problem. It usually appears as small black, blue, or green specks on the fabric of the tent. Sometimes, these specks may be fuzzy. Mildew is similar and usually white, gray, or yellow. Because moisture and humidity cause mold and mildew, you may notice a musty smell as well.

5 ways of Cleaning Mold and Mildew from a Tent that Smells

If you find mold and mildew in your tent, it’s time to get cleaning! Here are a few options you should try. If you have a small or very minor case of mold then the first two options will more than likely be enough. That being said if you come to use your tent after a few months and significant mold then I would recommend doing all of the options to ensure you have a clean and safe tent for your camping trips.

Soap and Water Method

For any of these methods, you should spot test somewhere on your tent to make sure that the solution you’re using won’t stain or damage the material of your tent. The first step is to pitch your tent, as it will be much easier to clean when it is set up.

Next, brush off any mold that you can with a soft-bristled brush or a cloth (you will want to do this outside, so you don’t get mold spores in your home). If you have a canvas tent, use a stiff-bristled brush, but still scrub gently. Then you will use a mixture of warm water and non-detergent soap (free of any fragrances, which can attract insects) to gently scrub at the mold or mildew. Rinse with clean water and allow it to dry in a shady area.

Nikwax Tent and Gear Cleaning, Waterproofing, and UV Protection
  • Great for use on tents, fly, backpacks, awnings, boat covers, umbrellas, patio furniture, and panniers
  • Water based, biodegradable, and contains no PFCs, VOCs, optical brighteners, or added scent
  • Adds UV protection to prevent sun damage and double the lifespan of gear; works best after application of Nikwax Tent & Gear SolarWash
Nikwax Tent & Gear, Tent & Gear Solarproof, 500ml, Spray Waterproofing and UV Protector, Rain Protector, Restores DWR Water Repellency on Outdoor Fabric, Rain Fly, Canvas, Covers, Tarps, Backpacks
  • Restores and adds water-repellency to weather-proof fabrics
  • Adds UV protection to prevent sun damage and double the lifespan of gear; works best after application of Nikwax Tent & Gear SolarWash
  • Spray-on application

If I am using this method to clean and wash my tent then the products I turn to are Nikwax Tent and Gear Solarwash, Nikwax Tent and Gear Solarproof, and either a soft bristle brush or a normal hard bristle brush you would usually use for cleaning a kitchen.

For most smelly tents this will do the trick for both the tent’s inner and the outside. If this doesn’t work though, it’s time to move on to some more homemade cleaning solutions.

Clean Tent Mildew with Vinegar

Your next step is to try using vinegar. Mix a cup of warm water and a quarter cup of vinegar in a spray bottle and spray the affected area. Allow the solution to sit before you start to scrub gently, and finally, allow the tent to dry fully.

You can also try the above method, but substitute lemon and salt for the vinegar. You will need a gallon of hot water, a cup of lemon juice, and a cup of salt. Follow the same instructions as the vinegar method and repeat if needed.

If you don’t have success with these solutions, you can move on to more serious cleaning products. There are several options to consider.

Spray-On Treatment Method

Concrobium is one example of a mold removal product that makes it easy to spot and treat, specifically the Mold Armor mold killer. According to the instructions on their website, you should spray the product on the area affected by mold and allow it to dry. Then, soak a brush or cloth with the product and use it to scrub the mold or mildew gently. There is also a Concrobium Mold Stain Eraser that can help to deal with stubborn stains. Finally, reapply the product and allow it to dry, leaving a coating to prevent problems in the future.

MOLD ARMOR Mold and Mildew Killer + Quick Stain Remover, 32 oz., Trigger Spray Bottle, Eliminates 99.9% of Household Bacteria and Viruses, Ideal Bathroom Mold and Mildew Remover
  • KILLS MOLD, MILDEW AND MORE: MOLD ARMOR Mold and Mildew Killer + Quick Stain Remover kills mold, mildew, bacteria, and viruses.
  • KILLS & CLEANS: MOLD ARMOR Mold and Mildew Killer + Quick Stain Remover is a broad-spectrum germ, bacteria, virus, and fungus killer that cleans mold, mildew, algae, dirt, and grime stains.
  • FOR USE ON hard, non-porous surfaces including bathtubs, shower doors, toilet seats, countertops, sinks, and sealed grout.

Another spray-on product you can use is Iosso’s Mold and Mildew Cleaner. This product comes as a concentrated powder and will need to be diluted with water and poured into a spray bottle. It doesn’t contain bleach and will not damage the colors or fabric of your tent. It can also be used for other materials, such as tarps, boat covers, and awnings.

IOSSO Mold & Mildew Stain Remover - Concentrated Makes 3 Gallons
  • Removes Mildew Stain, Leaf Stain, Tree Sap, Bird Droppings, Grease & Oil
  • Will Not Harm Fabrics or Colors
  • Non-Chlorine, Biodegradable, No Harmful Vapors

These options are great for when you have tough mold that gentler solutions won’t remove, but also don’t have large areas of mold or mildew to remove. Like the methods above, they are most effective for simple spot cleaning.

Deep Cleaning Method

If all of the above techniques are ineffective, it’s time to take more serious measures to get your tent back in camping condition. This method should remove all mold and mildew issues.

Your first step is to spot clean any problem spots as best you can with the methods listed above. Next, fill your bathtub with lukewarm water and ad an enzyme cleaning product, following the instructions to know how much cleaner to add. One tent cleaner product you can use is Nikwax’s Tech Wash.

You should unzip any screens or flaps on your tent and then turn it inside and out before submerging it in the tub. Soak your tent for as long as the instructions indicate. Finally, rinse the tent with fresh water. You may have to fill and refill the tub several times to get rid of all the residue from the cleaner. Spot clean your tent again after soaking it with a cloth or brush.

Fully dry your tent before storage by pitching or hanging it up in a shady area. After using any of these methods, you should always check the waterproofing of your tent, as certain products may damage the coating, especially if left on the tent for longer than recommended.

How to clean a tent that smells

If you had a serious mold or mildew problem in your tent, the musty smell might linger even after cleaning. If this happens, some products will help to eliminate the odor.

Revivex Odor Eliminator is another product that must be diluted. Fill a large tote up with cold water and use the cap the measure out half an ounce of formula. Fully saturate the tent before pitching it or hanging it to dry. The product will also help prevent future odors and can be used on other outdoor gear, and it can be used as a spray to spot treat as well.

GEAR AID Revivex Odor Eliminator, All-Natural Formula for Tents, Footwear and Sports Gear, 2 fl oz
  • Remove strong and smelly odors from fabric with this effective, all-natural, concentrated formula
  • Use this gentle wash to treat multiple garments at the same time with just half an ounce in 20 gallons of water
  • Soak outerwear, tents, athletic clothes, shoes, and pet gear with this multipurpose solution; also effective on neoprene, nylon, polyester, and GORE-TEX fabrics

How to Prevent Mold and Mildew

The most important thing you can do to keep your tent mold and mildew-free are to keep it dry as much as possible while camping and while storing it. Test your tent’s waterproofing regularly to make sure it is still effective, and reapply as necessary.

When storing your tent, you should keep it in a large, breathable bag. A mesh bag or pillowcase works well, but the bag the tent came from is normally not the best option. Never store it while it is wet — always allow it to dry first when possible, or if you are unable to do so, dry it as soon as possible afterward.

While camping, keep the flaps and screens open to prevent moisture from collecting. You should also regularly sweep and mop the floor of the tent just like you would a regular floor. You can sweep the floor out after a trip, then mop and let the tent dry before storing it again. If you are camping for a long time, it’s also a good idea to clear out any foliage near where your tent is pitched and to regularly brush off any debris that might fall on it.

If you are a light camper, who doesn’t go out very often, cleaning your tent once a season should be sufficient. A thorough cleaning should follow longer camping trips from which the tent becomes visibly dirty.

You may think that you should set your tent up in the sun if it is outdoors for an extended period of time, but the opposite is actually true — while the sun will keep the tent drier than the shade will, it can also cause UV damage that will hurt the materials. Pitch in a shady area for long camping trips.


There are plenty of ways to remove mold and mildew from your tent, and it’s up to you based on the severity of the issue which method you should start with. For small mold problems, spot treatment with soap and water is likely to be the only technique you need to try. For a tent that has been stored for an extended period of time in a moist location and has grown a significant amount of mold and mildew, it may be the best option to go straight for a deep clean.

Remember always to follow the instructions on whatever cleaners you use to avoid damaging your tent and always allow it to dry in a shaded area before storing it again fully. Keeping all these suggestions in mind will keep your tent looking and functioning at its best!

One thought on “How to Clean a Smelly Tent with Mold and Mildew

  1. Robin Roberts

    My Cocoon Breeze has only been used once then been stored for 2 seasons as Ill heath , When taken out of storage it smelt mouldy and damp covered in mildue will try white vinigar first . But am little concerned about the spaws and reinfection .

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