THE golden rule for avoiding mould and mildew in your tent is to always ensure it is dry before being packed away for storage.
Even if it means pitching in your garden on a dry day after your trip, always make certain it has been aired thoroughly before putting it away.
If not, by the time you come to using your tent again, it might be peppered with the familiar dark spots of mildew and giving off an unmistakable musty scent of mould.
However, things don’t always go to plan, and even the most diligent of campers can allow their fabric to succumb to mildew.
But all is not lost. There are plenty of methods, tips and tricks you can use to rescue your tent – including getting rid of the odours that inevitably come with any form of mould.
First and foremost, do not put your tent in a washing machine – even at low temperatures, the fabric and seams can be easily damaged. The same applies to tumble dryers.
The vinegar method…
The great thing about vinegar (we recommend white distilled vinegar) is that, although acidic, it won’t harm fabric while destroying the bacteria that caused the mould or mildew.
Dilute one part vinegar with four parts water, and decant into a spray bottle.
Spray on the affected area and leave it to work in for five minutes. Wipe with a cloth or sponge, then spray again before leaving for five minutes.
If the dark spots are lifting as you wipe, continue with this method until the mould is removed.
If mould or mildew remain, repeat the process several times, and even use a soft-bristled toothbrush to work at the cause. Remember to continually wipe away the residue with a damp cloth.
Using the vinegar method means it won’t be necessary to rinse the area. Instead, once you’re satisfied you have removed the problem areas, keep the tent pitched to air dry.
The bleaching method…
If the vinegar doesn’t work, you can resort to substituting it with bleach. However, beware, this comes with other problems – possibly discolouring the fabric or burning your skin or damaging your eyes. Wear protective gloves, goggles and ensure you are wiping away residue and rinsing the area as you go.
Apply in the same way as the vinegar method, but obviously with more dilution (one part bleach to nine parts water) and care.
Again, let it thoroughly air dry.
The lemon and salt method…
Mix up a cup of lemon juice with a cup of salt, and dissolve the mixture into a litre jug of hot water.
Use a sponge to generously rub the solution into the affected area. The lemon juice and salt will kill off the spores, and rubbing the solution in should remove most of the marks.
This method is also useful for tackling musty aromas.
However, make sure you use a damp cloth to wipe off salt residue that could leave tide marks on the fabric.
The bicarb method…
Mix half a cup of bicarbonate of soda with half a cup of lemon juice, then add a half a cup of vinegar.
Sponge the solution onto the affected area and allow to work for five minutes.
Wipe off the residue with a damp cloth, then rub the solution into the mould or mildew until it lifts.
Rinse or wipe away excess with a damp cloth.
Sometimes, it’s possible to remove early stages of mould with soap and water, or even a damp cloth. And, while this may remove the visible signs, it may not get rid of the spores or eliminate odours.
By far the most effective method – in our experience – is to use Milton sterilising fluid.
Dilute one part Milton fluid with 10 parts water, and simply wipe over the affected area using a cloth. Allow it to air dry, and any lingering musty smells should be neutralised.
If the odour isn’t too strong, you can simply wipe down the entire tent with soapy water, rinse, and allow to dry thoroughly. If that sounds like a bit too much effort, you can also pitch the tent a couple of days before you plan on using it, spray the inner with an odour neutralising spray like Fabreze – or even a shoe odour spray – and then pack away after 10 minutes. It should smell fresh when you unpack in the coming days.
Why can’t I wash my tent in a washing machine?
Unfortunately, while the fabric of your tent may be capable of withstanding high winds and rainstorms, it isn’t tough enough to face the elements inside a washing machine drum.
Washing machines will damage the fabric, strip out the waterproofing and compromise the all-important seals.
Other tips on mould and mildew…
- Always try to use a footprint. It won’t just protect the underside of your tent from sharp rocks or spikey roots, but it will also keep it clean. And keeping it clean will help to maintain the lifespan of your tent.
- If it’s raining when you need to dry your tent out, either try to find some space in the house or garage, or even rig up a tarp over it. You can also hang most small tents over the washing line, but make sure you regularly turn them to ensure every part is getting aired.
- Don’t feel the need to clean your tent after every use. This will, in time, break down its waterproof capabilities. Generally, a minor wipe here and there every few trips should do the trick.
- If the grime on your tent is beyond the help of the usual washing methods (vomit, or worse, etc), then you may be able to rescue the situation by filling a bath of warm water. You can use waterproofing additives such as Nikwax to help restore its properties when drying. Most camping shops will have a variety of products like this, so don’t be afraid to seek their advice.