How to Clean a Tent that Smells

Camping is one of the best things to do when you’re aching for a break from all the hustle-bustle of city life and just want to breathe a little – spend some time with mother nature.

However, a camping trip can surely turn into a nightmare if you end up with a smelly tent. While tents can stink due to a lot of reasons, all of them will definitely take the joy out of your camping trip.

Usually, you can soak your tent in a tub or container with the solution of lemon juice, white vinegar, and warm water. While this simple homemade solution can remove any pungent scent, and even getting rid of mold or mildews – things aren’t always that simple. In case of tough stains, you may need to handwash your tent.

Having a clean fresh tent is a must for an adventure. So, in order to thoroughly learn how to clean a tent that smells, you need to know how to clean it properly as well as remove any odors from tents.

Finding the Source of the Smell

Before going all out and start deep cleaning your trusty old tent, it is helpful to know the source of the smell in your tent. There are a lot of factors that can make a stinky tent, but sometimes it just means that your tent is getting ready to be put down. Here’s why your tent has been giving off a foul odor.

Dirt / Debris

One of the most common factors that can stink up tents is dirt or debris that gets stuck from camping trips. Sometimes foods eaten inside the tent can be a reason for the foul odor.

Mold / Mildew

Either of these fungi can be a reason for the stink as well as damage your tent fabric. Mold/mildew occurs due to the condensation of moisture on the tent surface and usually gives off a strong musty scent.

Polyurethane Layer Degrading

The polyurethane coating can degrade after a decade or two – causing urine or vomit like odor coming off your tent! (not joking – it can sometimes smell worse)

Cleaning the Tent

Now that we’ve figured out the reason behind our stinky tent, it’s time to get down to business. There are a ton of ways you can follow to clean your tent properly. Among those, we’re going to present you with some of the most effective methods out there.

Air Drying

Before going all-in with detergents and commercial cleaners, sometimes a thorough air-drying can be enough to take off the musty smell.

It should be noted that the tent needs to be pitched in order for this method to work most effectively. Using a clothesline also helps a lot – as the air can move freely and let the smell drift off with it.

This method can also be put to use when you’ve washed the tent and want to completely dry it off.

Soaking vs Handwash

Your smelly tent can be cleaned and be cleared from the awful smell just by simply soaking it in soap/vinegar mixed water. Just dry it in the sun and you’re good to go.

However, sometimes the cause of the stink can be a bit sturdy, and the best way to clean is by handwashing it or using commercial cleaners. Here are the three most effective methods you can follow.

Handwashing: Using Detergent Soap

One of the most convenient ways to clean a tent is using a mild detergent soap. If you want to use a dish soap that’s fine as well. We’ve used both of them and didn’t notice any significant differences.

Don’t spend too much time or money on soaps, any brand will do fine. Just make sure your product doesn’t have any fragrances. Because there is a working theory that fragrances can attract small bugs and even mosquitos (and that’s a big NO for all of us).

Now let’s see how you can use the soap to clean your smelly tent:

  • Pitch your tent. That way it’s easier to identify the affected areas.
  • Take a bucket of cold/warm water and mix it with your preferred soap.
  • Make sure to test the mixture on a small area before going all in -to make sure it’s not harmful to your tent fabric.
  • Use a sponge/soft cloth to clean your tent. If you’re using a sponge, use the non-abrasive side (the smooth side)
  • Repeat 1-2 times if you still see any spots.
  • Rinse your tent thoroughly with fresh hot water.
  • Completely air dry the tent (as explained above)

Handwashing: Going Au-Natural

If you’re reluctant to use the soapy method, we have an easy homemade solution for you that will get the job done! All you need is white vinegar and some lemon juice. Here’s how you can use them to make your tent as good as new (well, almost).

  • As we’ve already mentioned before, set up your tent.
  • Make a mixture of vinegar and water (1 cup with 4 tablespoons).
  • Put the mixture in a spray bottle and use it on affected areas.
  • Mix 1 cup of salt, lemon juice, and a gallon of water, and then rinse off the affected areas.
  • Wait for an hour or so to let the mixture soak in properly.
  • Scrub with a soft sponge.
  • Dry it off completely.

Soaking: Revivex Pro Cleaner

If you prefer not to use your hands to clean tents and the basic soaking solution isn’t working for you – then you can give your tents a well-deserved deep-cleansing with commercial enzyme cleaners. We would recommend the Revivex Pro cleaner in this regard.

  • Fill up a tub with warm water and mix half an ounce of the cleaner.
  • Make sure the pockets, doors, flaps, etc are all open.
  • Soak the tent fully and wait for 10-15 minutes.
  • Drain out the filthy water and fill it up with clean water to rinse.
  • Air dry properly.

Removing the Smell

After cleaning tents, they can still often give off bad odors. To prevent this, you should use the following odor eliminators for best results:


Mirazyme (aka Gear Aid Odor Eliminator) is one of the products out there. It contains all-natural ingredients and is eco-friendly.

Revivex Odor Eliminator

This is another effective alternative to the Mirazyme. Same as the above-mentioned soaking methods – all you need to do is create a mixture and soak your tent.

Better to be Safe than Sorry: Storing your Tent Properly

Now that you know about the best methods on how to clean a tent that smells, let’s give you a few tips that can help tents not stink at all.

  • Make sure you always air dry your tents before putting them away.
  • When you do store tents, make sure they’re in a dry and breathable environment.
  • Make a habit of not entering tents with shoes on. Trust me, this is a game-changer.
  • If you can afford it, buy a tent footprint and set it beneath the tent properly. This can reduce the risk of moisture affecting the bottom parts.


Why can’t I wash my tent in the machine?

That’s because tents are not made to sustain all the things that happen in washing machines and can be severely damaged. However, a lot of new tents can be washed using machines. Just make sure to contact the manufacturer so you’re absolutely sure.

What if my tent has Mold or Mildew?

If your tent has mold or mildew, then you have to put some more effort into cleaning the tents. Our separate article on ‘how to clean a tent with mold’ will definitely help you out.

How to remove sap from tents?

It’s pretty common to have tree saps on your tent surface from your adventures. To remove them, use isopropyl alcohol or rubbing alcohol and wipe down the affected areas.

What if there still is a vomit like scent?

In that case, your polyurethane coating has been worn out and you need to remove it and then re-coat again.

Can you use bleach to clean a tent?

Sadly no. Bleach is a strong chemical that is suitable for sturdy objects. Using it on tents can damage the tent fabric badly.


By now you should’ve become an expert on cleaning dirty tents as well as removing stinks from them. If you’re thinking about using chemicals to clean your tents make sure you read the manual lest you might damage them. Trust me, they can help out a lot. Last but not least, make sure to properly store your tents so you don’t have to clean them often.

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