Can Tents Be Machine Washed (A Tent Care Guide)

Young couples set up outdoor tents to successfully relax and tag their hands to celebrate hiking and camping in the autumn forest path.

After a long weekend of camping with dirt, sand, water, and other outdoor materials, tents can get pretty messy. So, how do we properly clean them?

Tents should not be machine washed. Washing machines can damage the tent, or the tent could damage the washing machine depending on the size and material of the tent. Washing a tent in a machine will also ruin the lamination, deeming it no longer waterproof.

Even though tents can’t be machine washed, they still need to be cleaned and taken care of. Tents can be hand washed just like a car, with soap and water.

Reasons for Washing a Tent

There are several reasons you should wash a camping tent. It’s impossible to keep a tent perfectly clean, considering that camping occurs outdoors. The weather is also unpredictable sometimes. You may plan on having a sunny weekend in the outdoors, but then get rained on in the middle of the night. Tents are bound to get messy from rain, dirt, mud, sand, rocks, dirty shoes, food, and so many other factors.

Once you get back from the trip you will either end up washing the tent or decide that it has to lay out and dry from the unexpected rain. Sometimes camping tents get put away before they are fully dry, creating the perfect environment for mold to develop. The next time you take out your tent and realize, it is too late unless you properly clean your tent.

It’s important to properly dry your tent so that it doesn’t happen. Even if it doesn’t rain, there could be morning dew still on your tent when you pack it up. If you have to pack up your tent while it is still wet, make sure to let it air out and dry as soon as you get home, whether you lay it out in the backyard or hang it up in the garage.

Materials of a Tent

There are a few different options for how to clean your tent, but you must first figure out what materials your tent is made out of. There are three main different types of materials for tents; canvas, nylon, and polyester.

Canvas tents are made out of cotton and last a long time, as well as insulate properly. However, they cannot be scrubbed clean. You can either shake all the dust out and vacuum the inside, or soak it inside a bathtub.

Use a mild soap and gently spot clean the dirty areas. If your canvas tent already has mold in it, you will need to create a special solution with vinegar. Mix one part vinegar with four parts water and apply to the mildew areas. Let it soak for a little bit and then gently scrub it off and rinse with warm water. Avoid scrubbing hard, as it could damage the material.

Nylon and Polyester tents are much lighter and can probably be cleaned with just a hose. If they do need more cleaning, you can get some mild soap and a washcloth to gently scrub certain areas. If it is much dirtier and needs a deep clean, it can always be soaked in a tub. For both kinds of tents, make sure that the tent is completely dry before you store it away, especially if it is the end of the camping season. By taking extra care of your tents, they will last a long time.

It’s also smart and highly recommend that you read the tent’s manufacturer’s instructions. They know the tent better than you do and will know better how to properly clean and care for the tent. (Source)

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No Machine Washing

Technically, nothing is stopping you from throwing your tent in the washing machine and calling it good. This may be the easy way out, but you could end up losing your tent in the process. It depends on the tent, but most likely a washing machine will ruin your tent. Think of it like this, do you put your nonstick pans in the dishwasher? No! At least I hope you don’t.

Just like the dishwasher ruins nonstick pans, and takes off the outer coating, laundry machines could ruin the waterproof aspect of tents. They have an outer lamination on them to protect them from water getting inside your tent, so you don’t want to take any risks of destroying that much-needed and important aspect of your tent. (Source)

Besides, most tents are much too large to fit inside your washing machine. Older Tents are very fragile and could end up in pieces after being put through the washer. The material is already worn out, the steams aren’t as strong, and it has been through so many camping trips. The washer is the last thing it needs. A washing machine will tear, stretch, rip, or break the materials and seams of the tent. Do not wash your tent in a normal washing machine, no matter how dirty it gets.

On the flip side, a brand new tent that is still strong and durable could ruin the washing machine. If the tent is too big for the washing machine that also becomes a problem. Washing machines are meant for clothes and bedding, not your outdoor house.

Commercial Washing

There are a few exceptions that some professionals permit, but some still forbid it. If you go to a laundromat and use a commercial washing machine for your tent, you may be successful. Commercial washing machines are much bigger and can possibly withstand the size and weight of the tent, without ruining it. If tents are washed they should be washed on low tumble, with less detergent.

Another exception is using a front-loading machine instead of a top-loading machine. Top loading machines aren’t gentle on the fabrics and can wear and tear much quicker. Front-loading machines are much more gentle with the laundry and can fit more bulky items, like a tent. (Source)

Hand Washing

Hand washing is the best way to wash your tent. There is no machine to stretch it out, and you can make sure the dirtiest spots will be cleaned. However, make sure to use the right kind of soap when washing your tent. Don’t use normal dish soap. Dish soap was created to get oil and grease off of dishes, so they are more intense.

If dish soap is used on a tent it could strip the tent of its outer counting, making it no longer waterproof. Instead, use soap like Nikwax or Sportwash. These soaps aren’t as strong and are made for waterproof products. Washing a tent is like washing a car. We need to use special soaps made for the tent so that it doesn’t strip the necessary outer materials or layers. (Source)

Sometimes you may not even need soap. If the tent isn’t too dirty, a simple hose down may be able to get off the dirt from the camping trip. Just lay out the tent on the driveway and spray it down with soap and water, just like a car.

You can then use a rag or sponge to lightly scrub areas that need extra cleaning. Then, leave it on the driveway to dry or hang it up in your garage. Just make sure it is completely dry before folding it and putting it away. Storing the tent and putting it away before it is dry would deem all your recent cleaning pointless.

Some other ways to clean involve soaking the tent in a storage bin or bathtub. This is a good alternative if you live in an apartment and don’t have a driveway to lay the tent out on. If the tent has been dirty for a long time, it may need extra soaking before it can be cleaned properly with a sponge or rag. Washing it in your backyard on the grass is another option, but grass can be very messy, itchy, and simply annoying when it gets wet. You may end up making your tent messier than it was before.

Drying Your Tent

There are some times when your tent could survive the washer, but it will never survive the dryer. The dryer will warp the materials and ruin their shape, possibly breaking seams and causing the tent to shrink or fall apart. It is in your best interest to air dry your tent if you don’t want to end up buying a new one.

After washing your tent, you could lay it out on the driveway in the sun, hang it over your porch railing, hang it somewhere in the garage, or just leave it pitched. Leaving the tent pitched at the end of your camping trip until it is completely dry would be the easiest way. The next best thing would be to lay it out in the sun once you get home or after you clean it.

Either of these ideas could work, depending on if you washed it at home or at the campsite, the weather, and how much room you have in and outside of your home. It also depends on if you have a UV-ray-protected tent. Drying your tent outside in the sun is much better than inside. The sun will dry it much faster and thoroughly. Drying the tent inside works as well, it will just have to be rotated and the drying process will take much longer. (Source)

Keeping It Clean Throughout The Trip

In order to prevent having to wash your tent after the camping trip, there are some things you can do during the trip to make sure it stays as clean as possible.

First, make sure to eat all of your food outside of the tent. It is so easy to make a mess with crumbs and who knows what animals the crumbs could attract during and after the trip. It is also a good rule during the trip to allow no shoes inside the tent. This prevents outside dirt and mud from coming inside and makes the tent your safe place from the outside.

Even if you keep food and shoes outside of the tent, it is still bound to get dirty. It’s a good idea to bring a mini broom with you camping, for easy sweeping and removal of dirt from the tent. Sweeping your tent out before you put it away is a great practice that will keep the tent lasting a long time.

Other Tent Care Practices

Tents are a huge investment depending on the size, cost, and material, so it’s important to take extra special care of them. You can really get your money’s worth if you take care of the tent and are able to use it for a long period of time. Besides keeping the tent properly clean and making sure it is dry before storing it away, there are other ways to make sure your tent stays in top condition.

Be careful with the zippers! Some zippers can be very fragile so don’t rip the doors open quickly or else you could break the zipper off, rendering the door very difficult to close and use. If the doors can’t properly close, the tent may as well be useless. It won’t be able to keep the hot air in during the cold months, and during the summer months, it will be even hotter than usual.

View from tent to Koscieliska valley in winter

Make sure to not create any holes in the tent. Before setting up your tent, clear the ground of any rocks, sticks, or anything else that could damage the tent. Be careful with the knives or other sharp objects that you bring with you camping. Don’t let them get near the tent. Fixing holes in tents can be annoying, and even once they are fixed they won’t be good as new.

Make sure that you don’t lose any pieces! A tent may look simple from the outside, but there are many working parts that all serve their purpose. Keep track of all the pieces during setup and takedown. Your tent will lose value if you don’t have the complete set. The instructions are also extremely important. You may become an expert in setting up your tent, but what if you let someone borrow it, or decide to sell it? Keeping the instructions on hand is very important.

Tents come in all shapes and sizes, but none of them should be put in the washer or dryer. They need to be hand-washed and air-dried.

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