Most tents are designed to take a beating, but all it takes is a little bit of moisture to ruin your tent. Packing your tent up wet can quickly lead to mold/mildew problems. All it takes is a little bit of water to destroy your expensive gear. That brings up a very important question. How long can you leave a wet tent before it grows mildew?
Packing up a wet tent will quickly lead to mold and mildew growth. It can take less than 24-48 hours for a tent to start growing mold and mildew in a humid environment. At that point, your tent will still be salvageable, but you need to set it out to dry within the first couple of days(1 week max).
You will probably have to pack up a wet tent at some point in your life. There’s just no way to completely avoid water buildup on a camping trip. It doesn’t matter if you’re caught in a rainstorm or there’s just a little bit of morning dew. Packing up a tent with any amount of moisture will quickly lead to mold and mildew growth.
How Long Can You Leave a Wet Tent Before Mildew Grows?
Nobody plans on packing up a wet tent, but sometimes it can’t be avoided. Anybody that’s had to pack up their campsite in pouring down rain knows the pain. You don’t want to pack up a damp tent, but you can’t just leave it behind. With a long journey ahead of you, how long does it take for a tent to start collecting mildew?
A tent will start growing mildew in the first 24-48 hours. Mold spores are everywhere so there’s no way to get around it. I recommend trying to setup your tent to dry in the first 2 days to prevent mold growth, but that’s not always possible.
Let’s be honest here for a second. Life gets in the way and sometimes you might end up leaving your tent in your cars trunk for a few extra days (maybe weeks). Will the tent be a stinky mildew covered mess? Honestly, you’ll probably be fine if you catch it early.
I left a tent in the trunk of my car for an entire 2 week vacation to Disney World Once. It was a little stinky by the time I got home, but washing, setting it up outside and spraying it down got rid of the smell in a day or 2. I ended up soaking it in a mild detergent (Dr Bronners), because that’s all I had. Looking back I should have ordered an enzyme based cleaner designed for tents (my favorite) since it would have been the same price.
Setup The Tent Once You Get Home To Prevent Mildew
After a long camping trip, nobody wants to setup their tent in the front yard. I understand that you’re tired, but it’s better to stay on top of things and take 20 minutes to take care of your gear. Setup the tent outside, check all your gear for dirt/damage, and get everything ready for the next trip.
Taking care of your gear will save you a lot of frustration down the line. I’ve ruined my fair share of camping gear by being lazy. You’re bound to forget about wet gear if you go inside and ignore the problem.
Leave Your Wet Tent Loose
Don’t even bother folding up a wet tent and packing it up into its storage bag. Unless you’re backpacking, I would just toss everything in the car so it has a little bit of ventilation. It will take longer for mold to grow and you won’t be tempted to just toss the tent into storage. We tend to be much lazier after a long drive home.
Can I Get Rid Of The Mildew Smell?
This really is a hard question to answer. It really depends on how bad the mildew/mold growth is before treating it. I would say that in 90% of cases you should be able to treat the mildew without causing damage to your tent. That won’t be possible with a wet tent that’s been sitting in storage for years.
This is coming from a guy with moderate allergies. You do not want to sleep in a moldy/smelly tent. You’ll sleep terrible and be all stuffed up by morning. It’s not worth it! Try the following treatment methods, repeat the process a few times, and if that doesn’t work just buy a new tent.
If it has only been a few days setup the tent outside and let the sun work it’s magic. Mold can’t survive in sunlight so it will usually kill the spores and get rid of the smell fast. If that doesn’t work you’ll have to take a more drastic approach and use an enzyme based cleaner.
There are 2 main approaches when trying to kill mildew. You can put the tent in a vinegar bath (never bleach) or use an enzyme based cleaner(the best method). I recommend using an enzyme based cleaner like Gear Aid Revivex Odor Eliminator, because vinegar leaves behind a smell which requires additional cleaning. It’s exactly the same as Mirazyme which has been used in diving/fishing communities for decades.
Just fill a 5 gallon halfway with water and add your enzyme wash. Toss in the tent and add water to make sure it’s fully submerged. You may need to way it down with a rock or something. Wait 72 hours and the smell should be completely gone. I’ve cleaned up some nasty wetsuits with this stuff and it always works.
Mildew Can Ruin A Tents Waterproof Coating
The smell isn’t the only problem you’re going to run into. Mildew can quickly eat away at your tents waterproof coating. It may also start fading prematurely in the sun. Your tent is pretty much garbage without waterproofing. You’ll need to reapply a DWR Spray (Durable Water Repellant), unless you want to get soaked on your next camping trip.
Just pick up a can of Kiwi Camp Dry anywhere that sells camping gear. They definitely have it at any Walmart and most sporting goods stores. Nikwax Tent and Gear Solarwash is a much better product, but it’s harder to find in stores.
Setup your tent in the yard and spray it down with your preferred DWR Spray. Spray evenly and let it sit for a bit. After 10-15 minutes hose down the tent and let it dry. I recommend hosing the tent off later to see if there are any leaks. Just make sure you have enough time for the tent to dry out afterwards.