Even with the best preparations and the most careful protection of your equipment, accidents and uncertainties are bound to happen in the wilderness. When your tent gets dirty, wet, and smelly, it needs to be washed thoroughly before setting out on another expedition. Machine washing a tent may seem like an easy way to get your stuff clean and ready without taking the time to hand-wash everything, but you should think twice and reconsider before chucking your things into the machine.
Should you Wash your Tent in a Washing Machine?
Don’t Damage Your Tent
Washing machines, even on their gentlest settings, are not designed to handle items as delicate as a tent. Lightweight backpacking tents are made from materials that, while durable and weather-resistant, tear easily when exposed to the pressures and turbulence of any home washing machine. Even heavier tents made from stronger materials should be kept away from washing machines as the soapy water may pull apart or break down the seams and sealants holding different pieces together.
No settings on your home washer can be used to clean your tent, and the addition of detergent products cannot help to protect anything. However, there are still some very effective ways to clean your tent that don’t involve hand-scrubbing every little part.
Hosing Down the Tent
Depending on where you went and how long you stayed there, you may be able to clean your tent with nothing but a hose-down. Hang the tent up from a fence, clothesline, or other outdoor fixture and spray it thoroughly with a bit of pressure. Use a pressure-altering nozzle or place your thumb over most of the outflow to create a powerful stream that can scrub off more dirt. Make sure to rinse both the inside and the outside of the shelter to get the best results.
If your tent is exceptionally filthy, a quick hosing may not do much to alleviate its problems. However, you should always start with this step so that all the dirt and mud can get wet again, making it easier to remove by other means. Depending on how dirty the tent is, I may hose it down for anywhere between five and fifteen minutes, or sometimes slightly longer if I think I can get the whole thing clean in one step.
I tend to use a large towel or even a mop to clean out my tent to save on time. These tools should be delicate enough not to tear or damage any part of the tent while still cleaning as many surfaces as possible in the shortest amount of time. I prefer to start from the inside of the tent and move out, but that’s up to you.
Try to use delicate soaps that don’t include many fragrances since added smells could attract insects out in the wilderness. I tend to take a bar of soap, shave some of it off into a bucket of water, mix it up, and use that as my water source when scrubbing off any contaminants on the tent. This method is inexpensive, easy, and effective, but there are many different ways that you could go about cleaning your tent.
Be gentle with your camping gear. Lightweight tents are designed to stand strong against the weather, but the pressure and contact that comes with a thorough scrubbing may be enough to damage your tent, especially in vulnerable areas such as the seams and mesh windows. Always use soft brushes and realize that some stains may not come out no matter how many things you try.
As you finish cleaning your tent, spray it down with a mixture of water and enzyme cleaner if you noticed any smells of mold or mildew before washing. Make sure to also wash the poles, stakes, rainfly, and other accessories before putting your stuff away. I usually give everything a final hose-down before hanging it up to dry, but sometimes (especially when I’m trying to work out stains) I may instead soak my gear in water before rinsing it out. Don’t soak it for longer than a few minutes, as this could start to degrade some materials, but no tent worth its salt will end up worse for wear after a short bath.
Should you wash your tent in a washing machine? Absolutely not. Doing so is practically begging for it to become a torn, leaking mess. Even when hand-washing your tent, take care not to scrub too hard, as many of the materials inside may be delicate and not designed to hold up under intense cleaning. For most trips, a quick hose-down should suffice, but don’t be afraid to put in the extra effort to take care of your tent when it really needs you to.