After cleaning and re-proofing too many tents, I realised that there aren't many good, up to date guides on what you're meant to do, so I figured I'd write my own simple and easy to understand guide on How To Clean and Re-Proof Your Tent. If you've just been camping and your tent is wet and muddy, dry it out as soon as possible.
You will need;
- A bucket of water
- A sponge
- A soft brush
- Tent wash or pure non-detergent soap
- Rubber gloves
- Clean but old tea-towels
- Waterproofing products
- Good weather
- Washing line
1) Wait until summer.
Now, I know summer might be a long way off, and there are only 2 weeks of good weather anyway, but waiting until summer is usually the best option. Your tent will need to completely dry out, and this could take up to 3 days. Depending on which proofer you use, you may need to let your tent dry twice (taking up almost half of those 2 weeks of summer). Of course, if you really can't wait, you can always check the weather, and hope it's actually right.
2) Pitch your tent, slowly.
If your tent has an outer which you can pitch on it's own, do that. Pitch it slowly so you can check all the seams, joins, stitching, zips, elastic, Velcro, eyelets, poles, guy lines etc. Make any necessary repairs. Remove the guy lines to be washed separately.
3) Wash your tent.
If there are any big clumps of mud, get rid of them using a soft dry brush. Get the hosepipe out and wet the tent. Using a soft sponge, go over the tent, section by section to remove any dirt. If you don't have a hosepipe, a bucket of warm water and a sponge will do. If your tent is being particularly naughty, and insisting on keeping it's muddy stains, you're going to have to tackle it a bit harder. Don't use bleach or any strong detergents, the clever people at Nikwax and Fabsil have developed a tech wash and a Universal Cleaner for cleaning things just like tents. Handy! Follow the instructions on the bottle; dilute in a bucket and apply with a sponge. If you don't have this, or can't be bothered to go and buy it because you are already soaking wet from washing your tent with water, you can also use a non-detergent soap, or 'pure soap' if you happen to have any! Don't forget to wash the inside of the tent too!
Get the hose back out, and give the tent a really good rinse. It might take a few gos to get all the soap out, but make sure it's all gone! Leave to dry, preferably in the shade.
It's time for Questions and Answers!
Q. Why can't I just put my tent in the washing machine?
A. Firstly, would your tent actually fit in the washing machine? Secondly, you shouldn't put your tent in the washing machine because it is waterproof. The fabric would get full of water and when it spins, it would put far too much tension on the seams, and you wouldn't want busted seems! Thirdly, unless your washing machine is brand spanking new, it will have bits of detergent and fabric softener left in it. These will all break away the protective coating already on your tent, and we don't want to do that! Although we will be re-proofing the tent, it is best to just 'top up' the original proofing, rather than start from scratch.
However, if you really must fulfill your urge to put your tent in the washing machine, please don't let it spin, clean the drawer out fully before hand, only use a cool wash cycle, and stick some Tech Wash in there too. Happy now? Is your tent OK? Is it?? IS IT??? Mine was :D
Q. My tent is moldy!! Will that wash off?!
A. Eewww! That's what happens when you pack your tent away when it's wet and then leave it, packed away, all wet, I bet you put it next to a radiator too, hoping it would dry out, when really you've just created the perfect breeding ground for mold. Lovely.
Mold and mildew are alive! No matter how much you 'wash' it, it won't be gone unless you actually kill it off (sorry mold & mildew).
This is the ONE and ONLY time you can use BLEACH. Don't go overboard, just dilute a little bleach with some water, and get scrubbing that mold. The bleach will kill the mold & mildew and it should also remove that lovely stain. Wash the area as soon as you're done, don't let the bleach sit there for any longer than it has to. Warning: Bleach might damage the colour of the fabric and it will strip off a lot of it's original protective coating. Prevention is better than treatment. There are also some more natural methods, but bleach kinda works best :)
Back to the tent!!
Is your tent all nice and dry? Is it all clean? Inside and out? Is the mold/mildew gone? Yes? Sure? OK.
There are many different products on the market for re-proofing your tent. What you are wanting to do, is to waterproof and protect your tent so it is back to being as good as new. Please be aware that not all tents are actually meant to be 100% waterproof, and if your tent has an inner and an outer, you really don't want to be proofing the inner. If your tent has a single skin (i.e. no inner), when you re-proof it, you need to make sure the fabric maintains it's breathability or else you'll end up with a very sweaty tent.
I recommend Fabsil Aerosol, Fabsil Liquid, Fabsil Gold (applied to dry tents) and Nikwax Tent & Gear SolarProof (For double wall tents i.e. tents with inner & outer) or Nikwax TX. Direct (for single walled 'breathable' tents i.e. no separate inner). Both Nikwax products are applied to wet tents. Always check the bottle before you buy.
- UV damage is the biggest tent killer (after drunk people and really bad weather I'm guessing) so make sure your proofer has UV protection too.
- Wear either old clothes, or waterproof clothes when re-proofing your tent.
- Wear rubber gloves (waterproofing your hands is just too weird)
- Have at least 2 old yet clean tea-towels to hand (these will end up waterproof too and of little use!)
- Check the weather before you do it, your tent will need to dry for at least 3 hours.
- Oh and you only need to re-proof the outside of the fabric!
- Re-proof one section at a time
- Use the old tea-towels to remove any droplets and also to give each section a wipe over after spraying, but check specific instructions first.
7) Let it dry and clean the other bits which you removed in step 2.
I washed all of my guy lines and tent pegs in a bucket of hot soapy water. Make sure you wash all of the soap off as you don't want it leaving a residue on your tent next time it rains when camping. Sort our your tent pegs, are any of them too bent and rusty to be used again? Now might be a good time to chuck them out and get some new ones. I also washed the bags from the tent poles and pegs, and also the bag my tent lives in. It is a good idea to pad-out your tents bag with plastic bags, and re-proof that as well. Once your tent outer is completely dry, you can pack it away.
8) Cleaning the inner and groundsheet.
If your inner and ground sheet are separate, great! It is fine to wash the inner in the bath, with some warm water and your feet. If there is any mold/mildew, follow the Q&A bit to remove it. If you can pitch the inner to let it dry, do so. If not, hang it on the washing line. The groundsheet can be hosed down quite easily (do this outside, don't try to hose it in the bath!). Hang the ground sheet on the washing line to dry it off, remember to turn it over to dry the other side too! If they aren't separate, clean as much mud off the ground sheet as possible, before getting the inner wet. Once the groundsheet is clean, you can clean the inner fabric with some universal cleaner or tech wash, or even just some mild soap. Make sure you clean the inside too. Don't waterproof the inner!
9) Check your groundsheet.
You can often spot any holes in your groundsheet just by having a quick look. If there are any obvious ones, you'll see them. If not, it's a good idea to have some friends hold up the groundsheet while you tip some water over it. Check for leaks. If you find any leaks, you can patch them up with your tent repair kit.
Your tent doesn't have a repair kit?! You can often buy or 'obtain' small samples of groundsheet fabric from outdoor shops or army shops or by contacting your tent manufacturer. Alternatively, you can patch it up with duct tape! Put duct tape on both sides of the area in need of repair so you aren't left with any sticky bits. You can re-proof your groundsheet (I'd recommend re-proofing the side that goes on the ground) but this isn't always necessary.
10) Check your tent poles
Clean all the tent poles and pegs as you are putting them back in their bags, look out for broken poles. If you have any broken poles, they might be covered under your tents guarantee, so check with the manufacture before you go buying new ones. Split poles can be repaired with good duct tape, but are best replaced with new ones. Just make sure you get the right thickness, the length can be cut down with a junior hack-saw. I have found some in Millets and also all over the internet. Reattach your guy lines.
11) Pack tent away and....
go camping! Don't let that tent get too muddy this time! The new waterproofing awesomeness of your tent should help keep the mud off, so it shouldn't get as dirty for at least a year. Happy camping!