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Can You Wash a Camping Tent in a Washing Machine?

A man washes his black tent with a pressure washer.

A good quality, sturdy camping tent makes for a great home in the outdoors, but you’ll have to treat it well to keep it that way. Part of proper camping tent care is ensuring you clean it correctly. As a seasoned camper, I find I have to clean my tent about as frequently as I go on trips. 

Sometimes that means a good thorough wash. Though it can be a hassle getting it clean and dust-free, it’s well worth it to avoid the moldy smell.

So, when it comes to washing tents, a common question I often come across is whether to chuck them into the washing machine. That would certainly take care of the dirt, dust, sand, bugs, mud, and debris (depending on the terrain of your camping ground).

But unfortunately, it’s not a highly recommended option, though it sounds like the perfect solution.

Here’s why washing your camping tent in a washing machine is not the best idea

Your camping tent is built to withstand the outdoors, but it may not hold up well after a rough spin inside a washing machine. In other words, it’s not recommended to wash your camping tent clean using a washing machine. Is that an absolute rule?

Well, if you feel there’s no way around it, it’s best to wash the tent in an industrial-sized front loading washing machine (avoid washing in a top loader) and be sure to use a gentle cycle and treat it with some sprays for weatherproofing and UV proofing afterward.

However, you may still not like this idea once you find out how a washing machine can damage your camping tent. For starters, your tent has a waterproof coating that makes it the ideal lightweight and protective shelter away from home. 

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During those rainy and muddy camping trips, you’re able to keep yourself and your belongings dry, all thanks to that protective coating. Unfortunately, a washing machine is not so kind to this protective coating. It will eventually strip away this layer of security, even if you’re always careful to use the gentlest of cycles. Without its waterproofing features, your camping tent would quickly become useless.

Over time, the tent’s mesh and seams (seam taping) also suffer, which is a bad thing because you need the mesh on your tent for proper airflow and venting, while the seams ensure your tent does a pretty great job of keeping out rain.

The last thing you need are large holes in your mesh and burst seams that render your tent ineffective. It would also make it difficult to keep the bugs away, not to mention having your trip ruined because of a wet sleeping bag.

So, what’s the best way to wash a camping tent?

A boy plays inside a green tent at the backyard.

Given the information above, the only way you would be ready to wash your camping tent in a washing machine is if you’re planning to buy a new one soon after. But, if not, there’s still good news, because there are ways to keep your tent clean without affecting its integrity. Often, the best way is to avoid getting it dirty in the first place.

This can be accomplished by “cleaning as you go.” For instance, while on your trip, always ensure you keep the interior clean, hose the tent with water on the outside, use protective sprays regularly, and allow the tent to completely air dry before storing it away. Other ways of keeping your tent clean include:

  • Always leave boots outside to avoid leaving dirt on the tent floor.
  • Make sure food or anything fragrant that may attract bugs is stored safely in a locked container.
  • Don’t leave unsupervised pets in the tent.
  • Don’t store your tent or put it away unless it’s completely dry to prevent a smelly tent.
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When you do this, you’ll find that you don’t need to “wash” your tent after all. But, if your tent is already in dire need of cleaning, no worries! I have some good, old-fashioned tent cleaning tips for you.

First, prep your camping tent for washing

Before you wash your dirty tent, start with a quick and “dry” clean. For instance, you can sweep or vacuum to remove foreign items or camping gear from the inner tent. This is best practice even when you’re not planning to wash the tent. Typically, you’ll find that things like dirt, dust, rocks, and other debris can easily make their way inside the tent. 

Besides sweeping and vacuuming, you could also unzip the tent, turn it out, and then give it a thorough shake. This works better if you have another person to hold the other end. Also, be on the lookout for any stuff that’s stuck or caked to the tent floor. Getting rid of some of the dirt will make washing the tent much more effortless.

Wash your tent outside with a hose and a sponge

This is easy and simple enough because all you need is a garden hose, mild soap or detergent, and a soft sponge. If you can find a soap made specifically for tents, all the better. Otherwise, any non-abrasive hand soap will do the trick. Please resist the urge to grab everyday household cleaners, as they often contain harsh chemicals that may damage your tents. 

Besides that, some cleaners, like bleach, dish soap, and laundry detergent, contain perfumes that will attract instead of repelling insects and bugs. Anyway, when cleaning your camping tent with a hose and a sponge, you can follow this simple procedure: 

  • Give the tent’s fabric a good spray with the hose, so it’s entirely wet.
  • Apply soap or detergent to the sponge and start by spot cleaning extra-dirty areas, especially the coated areas on the tent carpet.
  • Then move on to scrub all other areas of the tent with the soft sponge.
  • After scrubbing, use the hose to rinse off the soap thoroughly.
  • Hang the tent on a clothesline or drape it over any suitable surface.
  • You can leave the tent to dry in the sun.
  • Store the tent away once it’s completely dry.
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Alternatively, you can wash your tent in the bathtub

A girl prepares to clean the tent while in the camp.

Again, you’ll need a mild detergent that’s gentle on your tent, as well as a soft sponge. Here are the steps to follow:

  • Fill the bathtub with cool or lukewarm water.
  • Add the cleaning solution, then immerse the entire tent body.
  • Let the tent soak for a while.
  • After a few minutes, use the sponge to rub the tent’s fabric all over.
  • If the tent fabric is moldy, you might want to use a commercial cleaner to eliminate the funky smell.
  • Drain the tub, refill it with clean and warm water, then swish the tent around to rinse off the soap.
  • Once all the soap is rinsed off, hang, drape, or pitch the tent somewhere suitable outdoors and let it dry for several hours.

With both methods, remember to give the tent some finishing touches to keep it in tip-top shape. Once it’s dry, inspect the tent and check if the tent’s seams, zippers, and mesh are still in good condition. It’s possible to patch any holes and rips with a sewing kit and apply quality tent seam sealer products to maintain waterproofness.

Replace any damaged mesh and clean the zippers and add lubricant or any other repairs that may be needed. When all is done, carefully roll the tent and fold it before putting it away. Cover it with a dry cloth to prevent dust build-up, but don’t keep it in a sealed bag, as this might encourage the growth of mold and the development of mildew stains.

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So, can you wash a camping tent in a washing machine?

A white cloth soaking in soapy water.

Sure, you can wash your tent in a washing machine, but it’s not good practice, though it’s probably time-saving and requires less effort on your part. There’s always an exception to the rule, of course. For instance, some professional-grade camping tents can withstand a good spin or two with no problem. 

However, overall, it’s wise to avoid using a washing machine because you want to keep your tent in the best shape possible, so it can serve you well during your adventures outdoors. Besides, your washing machine may not be able to accommodate a decent-sized camping tent without difficulty. 

As for how often you should wash your tent, there’s no set rule. It all depends on how often you use the tent, the quality of the tent fabric, whether it’s a canvas tent or nylon and polyester tent, and the type of terrain you’ve been camping in, plus other factors.