How To Clean A Stinky Tent | What Really Works

After some years of use, our tents tend to stink, wear-out and sometimes they might even get useless. But there are things that we can do to increase the lifetime of our tent.

If you are reading this article it is not because of anything but your tent is smelling bad lately right. These would have happened if you have taken care of it, anyways I am not here to blame you lets go to the point and that is how to clean your smelly tent and make it smell great.

Table of contents

What is causing the smell

There are many causes that can cause our tent to smell bad but these three are the common cause of a smelly tent. the first one is fungi, fungi are the cause for many different kinds of smells from smelly feet to the point of this article that is stinky tents and many more. The second one is the breaking down of polyethylene that is used to waterproof the tent and the last one is caused by odor-causing bacterias. wether it is fungi or bacteria you can clean it without any trouble


There are many kinds of fungi that can cause bad smell but we are going to talk about them, what we are going to talk about are molds and mildews. Both mold and mildew are surface fungi that grow by moisture and in wet places and can cause a bad smell.

What kind of smell do they have? moldy and musty, musty odors are not as strong as moldy smells they both have the same characters and they are the most common smell that occurs to tents, the nice thing is that they can be removed easily but depending on the time of stay on the tent fabric it might get harder.

Odor-causing bacteria

If your tent has direct contact with your skin for example if you walk on your tent barefoot, bacterias and fungi transfer form your skin to the tent which in a long time causes your tent to smell bad.

there are different kinds of bacteria that cause odor which can take another full research and time to talk about them. But the main thing is these bacterias can also be easily removed by anti-odor powers and antibacterial soaps which I will come in a moment.

The breaking down of polyethylene

I am not a chemist but the breaking down of the polymers of the polyethylene can give a very stingy and nasty smell. Commonly people identify the smell to the smell of vomit or the smell of urine I would say the same but this smell is not as strong as the above ones.

The second thing is that this is not a very common thing to happen, breaking down of polyethylene is not a common thing most smell is caused by fungi but if this is the problem, it is not a big deal you can fix this too.

How to clean and deodorize your tent

Method 1

  1. Fill a tub with clean water– The tub must be big enough to submerge your tent.
  2. Add odor remover to the water– Any kind of strong odor eliminator works like the Rocco & Roxie works very well or if your tent is big, or if the smell is very bad you can use this one Mold Killer.
  3. Soak the tent into the mixture– Make sure the tent is fully submerged in the mixture for at least 5-10 minutes.
  4. Let it sit– After you take it out from the mixture let it sit for some time
  5. Rinse it they wash it with lukewarm water and a sponge.

This method is ideal if the problem is from mold and mildew. make sure all the zippers are open so that the mixture has access to the inside as well as outside.

The last thing is you have to know this odor eliminator works for problems that has arisen from organic things like for example in our case fungus and they are strong so don’t let your tent stay for more than 20min in the mixture.

Method 2(DIY)

  1. Fill a tub with vinegar and water– Fill a tub big enough to submerge your tent with water and vinegar.
  2. Wash it with a sponge– Very softly scrub your tent with a sponge with circular motions until it feels cleaner.
  3. Add baking soda– After you wash it with the sponge with the vinegar solution and baking soda to the water and vinegar solution which creates sodium acetate which I good for cleaning purposes.
  4. Let it sit– After you add baking soda let it sit for at least 2 to 3 hours then rinse it with clean water
  5. Let it dry– After you rinse it let it dry.

This method is nice for both for odor-causing bacteria and fungi. When you wash it you should not do it forcefully that will damage your tent so do it as soft as possible.

Method 3(for polyethylene)

  1. Mix warm water with dish soap– The water has to be anything above 110Β°F (43.3Β°C) add good amounts of dish soap then mix it well.
  2. Soak it– Soak the tent for an hour or so
  3. Get a brush and wash it– Get a brush it can be a toothbrush but that would take millennia so something bigger would be nice. Then wash the tent with the bush as if you are washing any other thing but a little bit softer. this would remove the polyethylene coat.
  4. Rinse with clean water– After you have washed it rinse it with a cold clean water.

Method 4 (for popup tents)

  1. Pitch the tent– Pitch the tent as you normally would.
  2. Spray odor eliminator on affected areas– Get sprays like this one on Amazon, then spray it on bacteria or fungi affected area.
  3. Let it stay for 30 min– After you sprayed the odor eliminator let the tent sit in an open area for about 30 minutes.
  4. Wash and rinse– Then rinse it with clean water.

How to apply a new waterproof layer

waterproof spray

There are many ways to make your tent waterproof but the easiest way is to make your tent waterproof again is to apply a waterproof spray on it. like this spray which is sold on amazon. These sprays are water phobic which then you spray them on your tent which makes it 100% waterproof, simple as that.

The problem here is that this spray won’t last forever you will have to apply a new film after some time of use. Anyways waterproofing sprays are not expensive so it is worth doing it.

How to prevent tent odors for the future(keep your tent new)

  • Make sure your tent is dry when you store it
  • Don’t pitch your tent on a wet or dumpy ground
  • Use tent-footprint
  • Allow your tent to breathe when you store it
  • Never machine wash your tent

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