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Tent Care: Cleaning, Washing, & Waterproofing


Article Categories: Gear
Article Tags: Backpacking | Camping Tips

When it comes to keeping your tent in tip-top condition, routine cleaning and maintenance is essential. Though you may think that a tent should be able to survive the elements on its own, regular care will ensure that it remains waterproof and does not get too worn out or damaged. After all, no one wants to suffer through an uncomfortable camping trip because their tent isn’t up to snuff.


Finding The Right Spot

The first step in keeping your tent clean and waterproof is taking care of it during the setup process. Be sure to lay down a tent footprint before placing the tent, and make sure that any rocks or other hard objects are removed from beneath the tent. This will ensure that no debris can puncture through the tent floor and ruin its waterproofing. If you can find a grassy or soft dirt area, that’s a bonus. Avoid direct sunlight when possible. UV rays can decrease the life of your tent by degrading the fabric and the waterproofing.


Tent Care During Use

While using your tent, you should do your best to follow these practices:


Remove Footwear Outside The Tent

Footwear carries debris, and debris causes rips, tears, and weakening of fabric. You especially don’t want to walk inside the tent. We generally sit down with our butt in the tent, and our feet hanging out of the tent, remove our footwear, and then slide our feet in the tent.


Keep Any Smells Outside The Tent

This includes any food, deodorant, toothpaste, or anything with scent. It isn’t just bears that may come snooping, but rodents have frequently chewed up gear on campers, and the less smells you have going on, the less critters will be snooping around.


Avoid Any Pets

Pets can quickly do damage to tents. If you plan on sleeping with a furry friend, don’t leave it unattended in the tent, keep the nails dull, or provide a protective surface for your pet.


Be Careful With Poles, Zippers, Stakes & Rainflies

Poles cna get stuck, zippers get stuck, the rainfly can be a pain, and stakes are sharp. When things go wrong, it is easy to get frustrated. Yanking on a stuck zipper or a pole can result in quick damage. Practice mindfulness by being slow and methodical with anything that gets stuck. It is frustration or lack of patience that often results in a quick tear in the tent, or a completely broken zipper.


Avoid Fires

Camping is often associated with having a fire. Be very careful about tent placement near fires. Embers can travel, and heat can cause damage quickly. Make sure you are placing the tent in an area in which a nearby fire can’t cause damage, even if the wind changes directions.


Tent Care While Packing Up

Be aware of the ground you are packing up the tent on. Rocks can cause tears in fabric, and other sharp objects can rip holes in a tent floor if you aren’t paying attention. Be mindful, methodical, and slow with the tear down process. Rushing often results in mistakes.


Clean The Tent As Much As Possible

Before packing away, shake down the tent, brush dirt off with your hand. We will also often pick up the entire tent while it is assembled with the doors open, and shake out any internal debris before closing the zippers and getting any debris off the outside.


Dry Your Tent Before Packing

This can be difficult during certain weather, but you really want your tent to be as dry as possible. If necessary, drape your tent over a tree, rock, or bush to dry out.


Have A Stuff Sack

Use a stuff sack in order to keep your tent safe from other items in your bag.


Tent Care Back At Home

If your tent is dirty, you should clean it (see below). If your tent is clean, you should make lay the tent out and a shady area until it is completely dry. Do not store a tent that has any moisture on it. Setting up your tent is the best way to dry it out. Try a shady grass area, your deck, or even your living room. A fan could speed up the process. Moisture creates mold, and moisture and mold can damage the tent, hurt waterproofing, and quite simply make your tent nasty.


Cleaning the Tent

If you find that your tent has become dirty or stained, it can either be washed by hand, or in a washing machine. This can be especially a good idea if sap from trees drips down, or a good amount of mud or dirt is on your tent. It is important to read the manufacturer’s instructions first, as some tents cannot be put in the washing machine and will require hand washing instead. But if you can put your tent in the wash, this is the easiest and most effective way to make sure it’s properly cleaned. We highly recommend brushing off as much debris first, and spot cleaning with soap, and a cloth sponge or brush on the most stained areas. When washing a tent in the machine, be sure to use a light setting, a gentle detergent and a cold water setting. It should also be placed in its own bag or pillowcase so that it is not damaged by other garments during the wash cycle. After washing, it is important to hang the tent while wet so that it can fully dry out.


Tent Storage

It is important to ensure the tent is completely dry before storing it away. Try to use the original bag, or if not available, a pillowcase or other breathable fabric will do (never plastic). Make sure you store your tent in a cool, dry place away from any direct sunlight. This will help maintain its waterproofing. Tents should not be stuffed tightly in a stuff sack for long term storage. It should be loose, and should only be packed tightly for when packing for a backpacking trip.


Waterproofing Tent Seams and Coatings

After a many trips in the rain, you may notice that your tent is not staying as waterproof as it did when new. This can be due to many factors, such as seams separating or waterproof coatings wearing away. To keep your tent waterproof, you should regularly check all the seams and look for any signs of wear. If necessary, you can reseal any seams using a seam sealer or waterproof spray, and treat your tent with a waterproofing product. It is important to note that most tents come pre-treated for water resistance, so you should only use products recommended by the manufacturer. By properly caring for and maintaining your tent, you will be able to extend its lifespan and ensure it can provide you with a reliable shelter during your outdoor adventures. It is well worth the effort to make sure it remains in good condition for many years to come!


Extra Care


Waxing Zippers

Waxing your tent zippers will help them run smoother and can prevent them from snagging. Rub paraffin wax along the teeth of the zipper, then use a toothbrush to distribute it evenly. This should be done at least once a year to ensure they remain in good condition.


Checking Tension Lines

It is important to check the tension lines of your tent regularly to make sure everything is in good condition. If any of the lines become worn or frayed, they should be replaced immediately.


Checking Pegs and Guy Ropes

You should also periodically check your tent pegs and guy ropes for any signs of wear or damage, as these can weaken the structure of your tent. If needed, replace any damaged pegs or ropes with new ones.


Cleaning Poles

To ensure your tent poles remain in good condition, it is a good idea to occasionally clean them with warm water and soap. This will help prevent any dirt or debris from accumulating on the poles, which can cause rust, corrosion, or damage to the internal band system over time.


UV Treatments

The sun’s ultraviolet rays can be damaging to tents, so it is best to avoid direct sunlight as much as possible. If your tent is left in the sun for extended periods of time, you should consider applying a UV treatment every few months to prevent fading and wear.


Repairing Rips and Tears

If you find rips or tears in your tent fabric, they can often be easily fixed. Depending on the size of the damage, you can use a patch kit or some strong adhesive tape to repair the fabric. If the damage is too severe, you may need to replace your tent altogether. Most tent manufacturers can even supply you with a patch kit that will match your tent nicely, making a patch hard to notice.



With only a small amount of effort, you can improve the lifespan of your tent significantly.

Regular care and maintenance will result in the lower likelihood of a catastrophic gear failure in the wilderness, all while making your gear last significantly longer.

Max DesMarais

Max DesMarais

Max DesMarais is the founder of hikingandfishing.com. He has a passion for the outdoors and making outdoor education and adventure more accessible. Max is a published author for various outdoor adventure, travel, and marketing websites. He is an experienced hiker, backpacker, fly fisherman, backcountry skier, trail runner, and spends his free time in the outdoors. These adventures allow him to test gear, learn new skills, and experience new places so that he can educate others. Max grew up hiking all around New Hampshire and New England. He became obsessed with the New Hampshire mountains, and the NH 48, where he guided hikes and trail runs in the White Mountains. Since moving out west, Max has continued climbed all of the Colorado 14ers, is always testing gear, learning skills, gaining experience, and building his endurance for outdoor sports. You can read more about his experience here: hikingandfishing/about