Can You Clean a Tent in a Washing Machine?

Most people come home from a camping trip utterly exhausted. Whether it’s from the heat in balmy summer conditions, from the steep hike to the campsite, or from the lack of sleep thanks to your tent-mate’s snoring, campers are rightfully tired after an adventure in the great outdoors.

With this post-trip fatigue setting in, you might think, “I will just toss the entire tent into the washing machine with the rest of my sweaty and dirty camping clothes and sleeping bag.”

Not so fast! Can you wash a tent in a washing machine?

The washing machine might seem like a time saver and a hassle-free way to clean your tent, but it’s the least friendly to your wallet as chances are you will be buying a new tent.

How Machine Washing Can Damage Your Camping Tent

Even though camping tents are typically made of durable materials and built to stand up to the elements, that does not mean they were designed with the spin cycle in mind. A washing machine can damage tent material in numerous ways, including:

  • Ripping the tent seams or mesh areas
  • Stretching nylon or polyester fabrics (increasing the likelihood they will tear)
  • Damaging waterproof and UV coatings on the fabric

This last one is especially problematic: a machine-washed tent might survive to be pitched another day, but you may quickly discover its ability to withstand rain has been compromised as you see water collecting on your tent floor during a summer afternoon downpour.

Damaged seams from the washing machine could mean everything from the tent not cooperating with the tent pole as you try to pitch it to pests making their way in to annoy you as you try to rest in your sleeping bag.

Cleaning your tent properly can be done without the aid of a wash cycle, and it does not take a washing machine to get it done well. All it takes is a little elbow grease and the right technique to protect the life of your camping gear.

Washing Your Tent the Right Way

When it comes to tackling your dirty tent, the first thing you need to do is pay attention to the forecast. You will need to wash it on a warm, sunny day where the tent can be left out to air dry. A wet tent is a breeding ground for mildew, so it needs to be fully dry after cleaning before you store it (and this holds true even if you ignore our advice and use the washing machine).

Spread the tent out on soft grass if possible; if you need to clean it on a hard surface such as a patio or deck, be sure you do not scrub too harshly and tear the fabric. Consider placing something below the tent (like old towels or drop cloths). Before proceeding, double-check the manufacturer’s recommendations for your tent fabric (our instructions are suitable for most tents).

Using a bucket of clean, warm water, mild dish soap (or better yet, Nikwax Tech Wash), a scrub brush, and a hose, gently scrub each section of the tent and then rinse it thoroughly until no soapy residue remains.

Be sure to flip the tent as necessary to clean both sides, and once you have finished, you can drape it over lawn furniture or a clothesline to dry in the sun. As you drape the tent, inspect the fabric for any areas with stains you might want to scrub again and check for any holes or damages. Make sure the seams are all intact.

Taking the extra time to clean, dry, and store your tent properly without the aid of a washing machine will protect your investments for many camping trips to come! Skip the washing machine and opt for our tried-and-true method instead, and you won’t be patching a tent with duct tape to keep the bugs at bay.

Narcis Bejtic

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