Does your tent smell like vomit? It doesn’t matter if it was because a pot of chili that just didn’t quite sit right on your stomach or you had a few too many beers before bed.
Puke happens, there’s nothing that you can do about it! Narrowing down the source of the smell is half the battle. Sometimes a tent will smell like puke for seemingly no reason at all.
So how do you get the vomit smell out of a tent? Should you just throw the tent away and buy a new one? What else could cause a faint vomit smell?
How to Get The Smell of Puke Out of A Tent
Did you have a few too many beers around the campfire and accidentally puke all over the inside of your tent? Don’t Worry, we’ve all been there! You don’t have to throw out your tent.
You can wash the smell of vomit out of your tent by washing it with soap/water and soaking it in a 3:1 vinegar solution. Just wash scrub off as much as you can and let your tent soak overnight. You can further remove the smell with an odor-eliminating spray to kill the remaining bacteria.
Soap alone probably won’t solve things, it will only temporarily mask the smell. You will have to create a bacteria based solution and fully saturate the tent.
Getting The Stink Out
Getting the puke smell out of your tent will require a mixture of scrubbing and soaking.
Everything You Need
- Enzyme Based Odor Eliminator(my favorite) or 3:1 water/vinegar bath
- 5 Gallon Bucket or Clean Kitchen Garbage Can
- Tent Cleaning Spray (Nikwax Tent and Gear Cleaner)
- Garden Hose and Soft Sponge/brush
1) Scrub Off The Puke
Do you know for sure that somebody puked in your tent? Sometimes older tents just start to smell like puke as bacteria starts to build up. If you don’t remember somebody puking in the tent you can just skip over this step and start soaking the tent.
Once you find the source of the smell start off by spraying it with Nikwax Tent and Gear Cleaner. Scrub down the area using a soft sponge or brush. Using a hard brush or the backside of your sponge can cause serious damage to the waterproofing layer.
You can also use mild dish soap, but it will quickly eat away at the waterproof coating. If you already used dish soap use KIWI Camp Dry to reapply a thin waterproof layer. You should probably apply a waterproof spray at the start of each camping season anyway.
2) Soak The Tenet in Enzyme Cleaner or Vinegar
I regularly soak all my gear in enzyme-based cleaners. Whenever they start to get a little funky I bring out a bottle of Gear Aid Odor eliminator. It can be used on just about anything to get rid of mold, mildew and other nasty smells.
Just mix up your choice of enzyme-based odor eliminator with the recommended amount of water and fill up a bucket. Dunk your tent into the water for a bit making sure it’s fully saturated and take it out to dry.
If you’re short on time and can’t wait for an enzyme cleaner you can try soaking the tent in a vinegar/water bath. Just fill up a 5-Gallon bucket with about 2-3 gallons of water and 1 gallon of vinegar.
Place your tent in the solution and let it soak overnight. Let the tent dry and repeat if necessary. This should kill all the odor causing bacteria.
3) Dry Out The Tent
Just set up your tent outside to dry in the wind/sun. On a nice sunny day your tent should dry completely within 24 hours. Make sure you open up the doors and let the breeze in.
If there’s a rainy weather forecast for the week ahead you can either wait or set your tent up inside. Set your tent up in the garage or basement and use a fan to speed up the drying process. Heaters can melt/damage your tent so you’re better off just using a regular old fan.
4) Check For Smells and Repeat if Necessary
This cleaning process should work as long as you tried to clean the puke out within a couple of days. With older odors, you might night to repeat the cleaning process a couple of times. It might take a while to completely kill the bacteria causing the smell.
If brushing your tent down and soaking it a few times in an enzyme-based odor eliminator doesn’t help I doubt anything will. At this point, you need to seriously consider buying a new tent.
Once you get to the point where you’re gonna throw the tent away anyway might as well try tossing your tent in the washing machine by following this guide. Just keep in mind that washing your tent in a washing machine will probably ruin it.
Is The Tent Smell Actually Vomit?
Are you sure that somebody actually puked in your tent or could it be something else? The way you wash the tent remains the same, but so it really doesn’t matter what caused it. Just don’t go blaming your teenage son for drunkenly puking in the tent if that’s no what caused the smell.
Old Waterproofing Sprays Can Smell Like Puke
How old is your tent and when was the last time you applied a waterproofing spray? As old waterproofing sprays start to break down they start to get a weird baby vomit smell. It’s really hard to explain, but it’s vaguely vomit-ish and really nasty.
You can strip off the old spray with a vinegar bath and wipe it down with soap and water. Just spray the tent with a 3:1 mix of water to vinegar and wipe it down with soapy water. After you’re done spray it down with Nikwax Waterproofing Tent Spray.
Just keep in mind that it’s going to be a huge pain and probably won’t perform as well in the rain. You will then need to respray the tent with waterproofing at the start of each camping season.
Sometimes It’s Not Worth Cleaning Out Puke
I’m not going to lie and say getting the puke smell out of your tent will be easy. Even with a thorough wash you could smell the faint vomit smell for years. Every time the wind blows and the humidity rises you could get a noseful of nasty.
Before setting off to wash your tent you need to think about whether or not it’s worth the hassle. Of course you’ll want to wash your Big Agnes, Mountain Hardwear or Black Diamond tent, but it might not be worth it with a cheap $20 Walmart special.
You might be better off tossing a cheap tent in the washing machine on a gentle/cold cycle and rolling the dice. For more info check out my post explaining the safest way to wash a tent in the washing machine. Just keep in mind that there’s a chance it will rip up your tent.