Last summer, I stupidly packed my damp canvas tent and when getting it out, I discovered the canvas got so moldy that it ate holes in it. Annoying.
Now, I know most campers can relate to this experience or have faced a moldy tent during their camping trip.
The good news is you don’t have to throw your tent away because of mold. Based on my experience, I’ll share how you can clean a moldy camping tent.
First, remove the excess dirt—Mix 1 cup of lemon juice, 1 cup of salt, and a gallon of warm water. Alternatively, you can go with mold cleaning chemicals such as vinegar.
Use this solution to scrub the moldy area briskly using a soft hair brush or toothbrush. Wash your tent with a soft sponge or cloth before rinsing with fresh and clean water. Allow your tent to dry completely in sunlight.
Of course, this isn’t the only method to clean a tent with mold. There’re a couple of other methods, including the use of warm soapy water, homemade cleaning solutions, distilled white vinegar, and so much more.
Also, I understand many campers don’t give the mold issue the weight of importance it deserves, but I’d suggest you do.
See, mold and mildew are more than just aesthetics or damage to your canvas tent. Depending on the type of mold, it could expose you to harmful spores that may compromise your lungs, immune system, and vision.
With that out of the way, let’s get the rubber hitting the road.
How to Identify Mold and Mildew on a Tent
Spotting mold on your tent isn’t easy or obvious because, in most cases, it could easily pass as dirt or a typical stain.
But several tell-tale signs could help you identify the presence of mold on your tent.
A big one is the musty, stale smells. Remember, moisture and humidity are the biggest causes of mold and are usually associated with musty, funky smells.
But the litmus test, at least in my opinion, is the presence of spots and patches on your tent. Simply any suspicious spots.
Of course, you also want to ensure they’re not dirt marks, spots, or dust, so give them a quick wipe with wet fabrics.
If the spots don’t come off easily, you might have mold on your tent.
Typical mold spots appear as specks on the tent fabric and come in different colors, including black, green, white, gray, or yellow.
Different Methods of Cleaning a Tent with Mold
Now that we’ve seen how to identify a mold problem let’s look at how we can effectively eliminate the mold.
There’re several ways to go about it, and the usefulness of each technique will depend on the availability of cleaning products, the intensity of the mold problem, and ease of use.
Go through the listed techniques, and pick a method you feel comfortable with.
1) Soap and Warm Water Method
Using soapy water is probably the easiest and simplest method to get rid of mold on your tent.
It’s particularly an effective solution when you’re camping and don’t have a lot of options or even the common household ingredients.
Set up your tent, and identify the stained spot with mold accumulation.
I usually prefer pitching the tent, making the identification process a lot easier.
Use a soft-bristle brush or even your regular brush and gently scrub the affected area.
Use a stiff bristle brush if you’re cleaning the canvas, other outdoor gear, or stubborn mold.
Prepare a warm soapy solution, and use it with a soft cloth to scrub the mold and mildew.
Be sure the soap isn’t abrasive and free from any fragrances to avoid attracting insects or harming the tent material.
Rinse the scrubbed area with plenty of clean fresh water.
Allow the tent to air dry completely in a cool, shaded area, away from direct sunlight.
Now, assuming this method doesn’t work, you can step up the cleaning process.
Usually, the methods I’ll list below use typical homemade cleaning mold solutions, so they might not be ideal for days when you’re in the wild.
2) Lemon Juice and Salt
Mix a cup of lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of salt, and a gallon of hot water.
Lightly spray the lemon solution over the affected area using a spray bottle.
Then, gently scrub the affected area with a bristled brush.
Use a clean cloth or rag to wash the scrubbed area.
Rinse the scrubbed area with water and air dry in the shade, away from direct sunlight.
3) Vinegar Method/ Baking Soda
Vinegar is also known as a cleaning powerhouse, and it’s for a reason. It has similar cleaning properties to the lemon and salt combination.
The process of using vinegar to clean your molded tent isn’t any different from that of the lemon and salt process we’ve described above.
You simply need to substitute lemon and salt solution with a vinegar alternative. You can also add hydrogen peroxide to the vinegar mix.
4) Spray-on Treatments
The spray-on treatment methods are ideal when your tent has tougher mold formations that the gentler options we’ve discussed won’t remove.
As their name suggests, the spray-ons are simply mold-removal products that come in a spray bottle.
There’re a couple of different brands for spray-on for mold removal, and each product has specific application requirements.
But generally, they follow simple steps, which is as follows;
- Spray the affected region with the product
- Allow the section to dry completely
- Use a brush or cloth to scrub the mildew gently
- Reapply the product and allow it to dry. This should help solve any future problems while providing a seal.
These spray-on products include Concrobium, Mirazyme, and Tea Tree oil.
5) Deep Cleaning
Now assuming all the above techniques of how to clean a tent with mold failed, you should take some more drastic measures.
Here’s how to go about it;
Fill your bathtub with hot water, and add an enzyme-based cleaning product.
Be sure to check on the product’s manual to determine the quantity you require and the instructions to follow.
Turn your tent inside out before dipping it into the tub.
While at it, ensure you’ve unzipped the flaps and removed the screens.
Soak the tent.
The exact amount of time will depend on the product manual.
If possible, identify the affected area and scrub with a soft brush.
Rinse the tent and dry it in a shaded region.
Now, you’ve it; these are some of the techniques I’ve been using to remove mold.
Keep in mind that some of these techniques, while still effective, may compromise the integrity of your tent’s fabric, especially the underside waterproof coating. It’s particularly true for those that use chemicals. So, be sure to use them with discretion.
How to Remove Odor from my Tent
Even after eliminating the tent mold, you might still notice a foul odor similar to vomit or urine. Disgusting.
The musty smell is usually caused by the odor-causing bacteria such as tent mold and mildew that penetrate your tent’s pore.
Fortunately, it’s easy to eliminate the tent odor using an odor eliminator such as Revivex or Mirazyme.
Here’s how to eliminate the mildew smell;
Fill your bathtub or any other large basin with hot water.
Mix the water with the Revivex solution.
While at it, be sure to check the specifications to mix the product appropriately.
Open tent flaps & tent fly and soak your tent.
Again, the time you’ll save for soaking it will depend on the user manual.
But generally, the longer you soak it, the better. Soaking your tent for a longer period gives the Revivex microbes enough time to get into your tent’s pores.
The microbes consume the odor bacteria, even those in the most hidden location, such as the seam tape.
Don’t rinse or clean your tent after the soaking session.
Instead, simply remove the tent from the solution and let it dry in a shady location.
And now that your tent is smelling fresh, store it in a dry place.
Handy Tips for Cleaning a Moldy Tent and Eliminating Odors
- Exercise discretion when using detergents and commercial cleaning supplies. Don’t use it if you notice it’s causing harm to your tent. I recommend non-detergent soap or mild soap.
- Don’t overuse the detergent. Always follow the product’s manual
- Be sure to read the product’s user manual before using the cleaning product.
- Don’t scrub the underside of the tent fly to avoid damaging the waterproof coating.
- Be sure to clean your moldy tents outside, not to release the harmful mold spores in your living room.
- If the mold persists, repeat the same thorough cleaning process until all the mold goes away.
- Never machine wash your tent or even use a dryer.
- Use a stiff-bristled brush on the thick canvas and stubborn stains
- Store your tent dry.
Why is Mold Growing on my Tent?
Understand mold isn’t growing on your tent only but can grow on pretty much anything else, provided there’s a conducive environment.
Usually, the mold will grow in an environment with moisture and humidity.
For example, if you store your damp and wet outer fabrics, outdoor gear, and other camping gear in a non-breathable bag, then it’s mold will start to form.
And as we mentioned in the introduction, mold is a health threat, especially if you’re allergic to it. It can result in a myriad of health issues, so it’s important to solve the issue immediately you spot it.
Even worse, the repercussions of mold in a tent are far worse than those in a house because canvas tents are generally smaller and have less airflow.
How Do I Prevent Future Mold Growth?
The best way to avoid the need for cleaning a moldy tent is to prevent mold from growing in the first place.
Typically, mold prevention revolves around eliminating the causes of mold: humidity and moistness.
So, if you can keep your tent from these two elements, you can effectively keep the mold and mildew growth.
One of the simple ways to prevent mold growth is through aeration. Air drying your tent, especially before after long camping trips, is a nice way to keep the mold out.
By allowing the tent to dry and free itself from any dampness or moisture, you’ll have effectively curtailed mold growth.
Another important step to keep your tent from mold is storing it loosely.
A stuff sack may not be probably the best way to store your tent. Instead, choose the tent storage bag made out of mesh material.
The meshed tents storage bags have plenty of breathability and allow the free flow of air. In addition, the large breathable bag will also help in quicker drying of your tent, which again will keep the mold and mildew at bay.
Your storage location also plays an integral role in determining whether the mold will spread or not.
You can do all we’ve listed above, but it’s all in vain if you decide to store your tent in a moist location. It’ll spread the mold.
Instead, I’d suggest storing your tent in a cool, dry place. Your storage location should also have proper ventilation to prevent the chances of moisture build-up.
While proper storage is the most effective way of preventing mold growth, the right usage will also help alleviate the problem.
Treat your tent-like as your home. Whenever possible, open ten flaps & tent flies, dry the tent floor, and leave the entrances open for free airflow.
Simply put, promote as much ventilation and breathability in your living space.
How to Clean a Tent with Mold Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q: Is mold harmful?
A: Yes, mold is dangerous and may cause harm to your health, especially if you’re allergic to it.
Q: Why is mold growing on my tent?
A: Usually, mold will grow on your tent if the conditions are damp.
Q: What’s the best bag for storing my tent?
A: Avoid the stuff bags that most tent flies come with.
Instead, choose the breathable option that allows the free flow of air. Breathability is a key element of keeping the mold and mildew away.
Q: Is bleach a good solution to mold growth?
A: Yes, bleach is an effective way of removing mold and mildew.
But the problem with this solution is that it has some far-reaching side effects such as damage to your tent and discoloration.
However, if it’s the only anti-mold solution in your arsenal, I would suggest that you first dilute it with water.
It’s a wrap for our guide on how to clean a tent with mold.
I’ve highlighted some of the techniques I’ve been using to get rid of mold. Plus, I’ve also added a section on removing the mildew odors.
And while still at it, I continue to reiterate that proper storage is by far the most effective way of saving your tent from mold and mildew invasion.
Store your tents in a cool and completely dry place. Use breathable mesh storage bags, and always keep your shelter ventilated.
Also, if you’re a frequent camper, consider keeping your tent well-ventilated.