After spending a few days camping, you can expect a bit of dust and dirt build-up on your tent. Everything just starts to feel like it needs a good scrubbing. You probably don’t need to wash your tent after every camping trip, but it’s a good idea to catch the mess before it gets really bad.
Without the occasional wash, your tent will start to look grimy, build up ugly stains and maybe even start to smell a bit. Would you rather spend ten minutes spraying down a tent with a hose and soap every once in a while, or 5 hours thoroughly scrubbing out dirt and mildew?
Just a little bit of basic upkeep will save you a lot of stress down the road. That leads to the question how do you wash a tent? Can you throw a tent in the washing machine and hope for the best?
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Can You Wash a Tent in The Washing Machine?
After a few days on the trail, everything starts to feel like it needs a good scrubbing. Your hairs a mess, there’s random dirt caked everywhere and a thin layer of dust covering all your gear. Everything just seems like it needs a good wash down.
To make matters worse I’m usually exhausted after a long backpacking trip. The last thing I want to do is unload my gear from the back of my truck and start scrubbing it down. Sometimes I just wish I could just toss everything in the washing machine.
Tents should never be washed in a washing machine. Tent fabric just isn’t strong enough to withstand a full wash cycle. Washing machines will tear the fabric and wear down the waterproof coating and seals. However, if it’s between washing your tent in the washing machine or throwing it out you might as well try the method below.
Sometimes Tents Just Need to Go in a Washing Machine
Unfortunately, sometimes tents get so bad that simple scrubbing just won’t seem to help. My son once came down with a pretty serious case of pneumonia on a family camping trip and before we knew it there was puke and diarrhea everywhere.
He went from having what seemed like a slight cold to waking up with a severe fever and puking over all the gear and needing hospital care. Luckily after a few days, he was perfectly fine, but our gear was downright nasty. Faced with the harsh reality that my tent would need to be thrown away I decided to toss it in the washing machine and hope for the best.
How to Wash Your Tent in a Washing Machine
Before you try washing your tent in the washer make sure you realize that this process could and probably will destroy your tent. This should only be used as a last ditch effort to clean a tent that would otherwise be thrown away.
- Never put a tent in a top load washing machine that has an agitator. The agitator will quickly tear up the thin fabric on a tent. If you don’t have a front load washer head down to your local laundromat.
- Toss a couple of old towels in with your tent that you don’t mind throwing away. When paired with cold water and a gentle cycle these should help minimize the risk of tearing. After washing the towels will have a waterproof coating embedded in the fabric so you can throw them away or find an alternate use. Mine turned into shop towels used for wiping down my truck after a wash.
- Pour in a capful of laundry detergent made for technical camping gear. I’ve always used Nikwax Tech Wash on all my gear. It both cleans and waterproofs everything that’s in the wash.
- Set the washing machine on Cold Water and run a gentle cycle. Hot water will melt the fabric on your tent and ruin all the waterproof seams.
- After the wash cycle inspect the tent and set it up out in your yard to dry. Putting your tent in the dryer is guaranteed to melt it and you might even catch the dryer on fire.
- Once you set up the tent in your yard inspect it and decide if it’s still in good enough shape to keep. Small tears can be patched using a tent patch kit. With larger tears you will probably just need to throw out the tent and start fresh.
- You will need to check over all the seems and spray it down with a waterproofing spray like Kiwi Camp Dry. At this point you can either go over all the tent seams with Gear Aid Seam Grip or wait 24 hours for the waterproofing spray to completely dry.
- After waiting 24 hours for the waterproofing spray to dry try hosing down your tent to check for leaks. If you notice water leaking in double-check nearby seams and apply Gear Aid Seam Grip.
- Once you feel confident that all the seams are waterproof and your tent is good to go wait a few days for the tent to dry completely. Make sure you wait until all the morning dew dries to pack your tent back up for storage.
The Usual Way to Wash a Tent
The vast majority of people should never toss their tents in the washing machine. At least 99% of the time you should just hose down the tent and wipe it down with a microfiber cloth and mild soap.
Eventually, you will want to switch over to a specially designed tent washing spray, but it’s not really necessary at first. I really like Nikwax tent and gear solarwash. You just spray it on, wipe it off and let her dry. Plus it adds UV protection to extend the life of your tent by an advertised 50% life expectancy.
How Often Should I Wash My Tent?
If you need to wash your tent after every camping tip you either have a screw loose or suck at planning trips. You shouldn’t need more than a simple spray down or spot clean 99% of the time.
I know your OCD brain means well, but washing a tent regularly will do more harm than good. Aim for the occasional light wash 1-2 times per season or as needed depending on how often you go camping.
If you only go camping once per year your tent might dry rot before it ever actually needs to be washed. Try to get by washing your tent as little as possible to prevent premature erosion of the waterproofing spray.
How Would You Wash a Canvas Tent?
Washing a canvas tent is actually really easy. Although it’s durable enough to hold up in a washing machine it could be too heavy. You can probably take a small canvas tent to your local laundromat, but you’ll want to double check weight limits.
You can also directly treat dirty spots with any laundry detergent that works on cotton(basically all of them). Just pour some detergent in a bucket of hot water, grab a scrub brush and go to town.
Unless the canvas is old and dry rotted, there’s really no risk of damaging a canvas tent. You can even use a pressure washer if you have the right nozzle and stay far enough away. Just be careful because you can easily cut a hole right through the side.
Drying Your Tent After Machine Washing
As tempting as it might be to just toss your tent in the washer it’s a terrible idea. Even if you don’t use heat (burn nylon) you run the risk of tearing the fabric.
You’re much better off just pitching the tent outside and letting the sun go to work. On a sunny/windy day your tent will most likely dry within 24 hours. Just make sure it’s completely dry before putting it away. Make sure you wait until the early morning dew dries.
Drying a Tent Indoors
If it has been raining for weeks on end and the grass is covered in mud you will have to dry the tent indoors. You will have to find somewhere that has enough room to put up the tent to dry. Might have to park your car in the driveway for a few days so that it can go up in the garage.
It can also be set up in the basement or draped over your shower rod, but this can quickly turn into a pain in the butt. You don’t want to have to move a tent everytime you need to take a shower.
Wherever you decide to put your tent make sure you circulate the air so that it dries faster. Don’t be tempted to speed up the process by putting a heater nearby. You run the risk of melting the nylon fabric. All it takes is a well placed fan to create the circulation you need.