How to Clean a Tent That Smells?

Whenever you plan a trip to the great outdoors, the only thing you think about is having the most incredible adventure ever. That would include having the perfect hike, finding the best camping spot you can, having good weather throughout your trip, making memories that you will be happy to look back on, and so on. There are quite a few things that I could add to this list, but one thing that no one would ever think to add to it is having to deal with a stinky tent.

Unfortunately, it does happen that some people go on a camping trip only to find that their tent has adopted a funky smell that makes it impossible for them to sleep in it. There is only one thing that you can do in a situation like that. You can do your best to air out the tent during the trip and then give it a thorough clean once you return home!


Many things can cause foul odors in a tent. Smelly tents are usually caused by dirt, grime, sweat, bacteria, but the most often cause is moisture on the fabric that allows mold and mildew to form. Also, storing the tent the wrong way can lead to it adopting a stale smell.
If by any chance, you have a smelly tent on your hands and you are wondering how to remove the odor, I am here to tell you all the ways that you can do that. So, keep on reading, and you will find out exactly how to clean a tent that smells bad!

how to clean tent

How to Clean a Tent That Smells?

As I mentioned briefly before, several things can cause a bad tent smell. Something as simple as leaving food in the tent or keeping sweaty clothes in it for an extended period can leave you with a stinky tent on your hands that you have to clean before using again.

As someone who goes camping often, I have had to deal with my fair share of smelly tents. The experience was always far from pleasant, but it gave me enough knowledge on the topic that I now know how to remove odors from a tent simply and effectively. It takes only a few steps and no longer than a few hours to bring back your tent’s old glory.

camping tent

Prevent your tent from adopting a faulty smell

The first thing that I would like to point out is that preventing the tent from getting smelly should always be your priority. That way, you can save yourself from the trouble of cleaning the tent. In case you are wondering how to prevent the tent from adopting a faulty smell, here are my few tips that would help you out with that:

  • Always place your tent on a ground cover. Having something under it will keep it dry for as long as possible.
  • Wipe your tent after it rains. It is also a good idea to wipe it with a dry towel in the morning after the morning dew accumulates on the tent's surface.
  • Do not put all your belongings in your tent. By this, I mean that you should find a storage space to put dirty shoes or sweaty clothes. You should also keep food away from the tent because leaving food in the tent could lead to you having a stinky tent.
  • Finally, it would help if you cleaned your tent after every trip. Sometimes, the tent might seem clean, but even the smallest dirt particle could lead to a faulty smell. This is why you should always clean the tent after taking it on a trip.

Cleaning a smelly tent

I would like to elaborate further on this final point that I made - the part on how to clean a tent. Cleaning a tent is much more complicated than throwing it in the washing machine. A real camping pro will always tell you that you should not wash your tent in a washing machine but hand wash it!

I know that some of you might not be up for that task, but trust me - giving your tent a thorough scrub after each trip and leaving it to air dry for as long as it needs is key to keeping it in the best shape possible. So, here is a complete guide to cleaning your smelly tent:

1) Set your tent again

I know how drained you feel when you get back home - cleaning is the last thing you think about then. Still, I encourage you to find the strength to set your tent up again and give it a thorough clean before it starts smelling bad. You can set the tent in your yard, on a balcony, in a garage, or somewhere around the house where you have enough space.

Once you set the tent, check to see if you have left anything in it. Any debris that is still in the tent can lead to it having a bad smell. When you finish that, move on to the next step.

2) Remove dirt and grime

Dirt and grime usually do not cause odors, but you will still need to remove them from the tent. So, before you start scrubbing, you should remove all existing dirt from the tent. Then, you can move on.

3) Prevent the growth of mold or mildew

Leaving your tent wet can lead to mildew or mold growing on the fabric. As a result, your tent will start smelling bad and you will need to clean and disinfect the fabric before anything else. For that purpose, I recommend using a mixture of water and vinegar.

In a spray bottle, you should mix equal amounts of water and white vinegar. Then, spray over the entire tent - this will kill any bacteria or fungi that might be present.

4) Check for remaining stains

What if you step in animal poop and bring some in the tent? That will lead to a bad smell and even stain the fabric, right? Well, in case you find any tough stains, no matter what caused them, you need to clean them.

To clean stains, I recommend using a soft sponge that you soak in water and detergent. Make sure that the detergent you use does not contain any bleach or fragrance. The bleach will damage the fabric, while the fragrance can attract bugs and animals to the tent.

So, using soapy water, scrub over the stains that you find. If the tent is too dirty, you can also soak the entire tent in a tub filled with warm water and detergent. Also, you can add a few drops of lemon juice to the water if you want to give the tent a fresh smell at the end.

5) Let the tent dry out

Once you have cleaned the entire tent, all you can do is hang it or leave it as it is so that it can dry. You will need a place that has enough sunlight and a constant airflow if you want the tent to dry faster. If you have the perfect conditions, the drying process will take about an hour for it to dry. In other conditions, it could take two to three hours or maybe even more.

Another thing you need to know is that you should not put the tent in a drying machine and you should not blow dry it under any circumstance. It would be best if you let it air dry and then store it the right way. Anything else could cause harm to the fabric.

6) Store your tent the right way

Before you store your tent, please make sure that it is completely clean and dry. Inspect it again and only when you are sure it is in perfect condition, store it somewhere dry and out of sunlight.

Musty Smell

How to Get the Musty Smell Out Of a Tent?

If you have a tent that has a musty odor, the chances are that that odor is the result of mold and mildew growing on the tent. Since both of these fungi are harmful to the health of the people staying in the tent, you need to clean it as soon as possible.

To remove the musty smell from the tent’s fabric, I recommend using a mixture of white vinegar and some warm water. If you do not have vinegar, you can also use a fragrance-free mild detergent soap or even some lemon juice. The combination of each of these and water will kill mold and mildew spores.

Go over the steps that I mentioned above when cleaning the tent, and you will be good to go. Remember to use a spray bottle or non-abrasive sponge and to avoid scrubbing too hard. Also, let the tent dry completely before you pack it up, or those fungi will come right back!

How to Clean a Tent That Smells Like Vomit?

One of the worst things that can happen to your tent is for it to start smelling like vomit or urine. Yet, some people have to deal with these bad smells that can result from an unfortunate accident or polyethylene breakdown.

The latter is usually the result of high temperature, exposure to UV irradiation, or the accumulation of bacteria on the tent. All these things combined can lead to your tent smelling like vomit. If that happens to you, there is a simple trick that can help you deal with it.

There is something called Odor Eliminator - it is like air fresheners, but it is suitable for tents! It does a great job eliminating all kinds of odors, and it comes at a very affordable price. Some cleaning solutions might cost a bit more, but you can always go for the cheaper ones and use them besides cleaning the tent.

In any case, you should not rely only on the eliminator spray when cleaning your tent. I recommend using it only after you clean the tent using the guide I mentioned above. If you do that, then you will remove the odors and disinfect the tent, not only mask the odors and then have to deal with them after some time.


Smelly tents are never a good thing. It would help if you did not let the foul odors keep you away from your tent. You should do your best to remove them and prepare your tent for the next great adventure!

With this guide I gave you, you should have no problem keeping your tent clean and odor-free. Let me know if you tried the guide out, and if it helped you remove the odors, I cannot wait to read all about it!

Andrew Mullen

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