How to Clean an Overland Tent
You just bought your shiny new overland tent. You want to keep it in top condition for as long as possible! Cleaning is often – the right way – helps keep it in-use for years to come.
It’s perhaps the most important step to protect it from mold – the number one tent killer. Not to worry - this guide will have you equipped, ready to get maximum use out of your tent.
How Often Should You Clean Your Overland Tent?
After each camping trip, make sure your tent fabric is free of dirt and debris. Sometimes, it will be enough to brush off the debris and wipe the tent down. Other times, you’ll need to be more thorough.
Every season, give your tent a deep clean. This means cleaning the:
- Tent floor
- Mattress cover
- Anti-condensation mat
- Shoe bags and other external storage pockets
- Awnings, poles and other accessories
How to Clean Your Roof Top Tent
Before cleaning, make sure you know which products to avoid and which are safe for your tent fabric.
Avoid vinegar. It damages canvas – don’t use it on a canvas rooftop tent. It also damages netting and polyurethane coating.
Even if it’s well-diluted, it could damage other materials with repeated use. It’s best to avoid it on polycotton and other common rooftop tent fabrics. But, you can use it to remove mildew on uncoated tents.
For general cleaning, wiping with tepid water is enough. For removing stains, use soap or a special tent cleaner. Make sure the product you buy is safe to use on your tent’s fabric.
Don’t use harsh detergents and never use bleach and vinegar together – it produces a toxic gas.
- Remove the mattress, anti-condensation mat and any other items inside the tent.
- Hose or wipe down the fabric from the outside. You might not need to use soap but if you do, gently wipe with a sponge or cloth. Make sure all soap suds are rinsed off before leaving the tent to dry.
- Wipe the fabric inside – with or without soap.
- If you have a soft shell tent, hose down the rainfly.
- Wipe down any show backs/storage pockets. If they’re muddy, hose them down to remove more stubborn dirt.
To remove stains (if the soap isn’t enough), try a tent cleaning product. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to make sure you don’t damage the material.
If you use a hose instead of wiping, use a low-pressure setting. Hosing is helpful now and then because it removes dust buildup.
If it’s time for a deep clean:
- Tent floor – food and dirt can accumulate under the mattress. Hoover or sweep, then wipe with soapy water and leave to dry.
- Mattress cover – follow the manufacturer’s washing instructions.
- Anti-condensation mat – hose it down – no need for any detergent.
- Ladders – brush off dirt and wipe down. (It’s a good idea to wipe it now and then, during your camping trips – you don’t have to save it for deep cleaning. This prevents any buildup which could make it difficult to open and close your ladder).
- Zippers – use a small brush to clean, then use beeswax, 303 Aerospace Protectant, or another suitable product to lubricate the zipper teeth. It’s easy to overlook zippers but keeping them in top condition saves you hassle later on. (Like not being able to open windows or pack up your tent).
- Awnings – if the awning material is the same as your tent material, follow the same steps, avoiding harsh chemicals.
- Awning poles – just wipe them down.
You might want to clean your mattress from time to time. If it’s an air mattress, easy – just wipe it with a cloth and water.
For foam mattresses, see what the manufacturer suggests as different types of foam need different treatment. For example, memory foam doesn’t handle large amounts of water well. That doesn’t mean you can’t clean it – check what’s suitable for yours.
Is Tent Mold Dangerous?
Some strains of mold can be harmful. Tent mold is not usually a health risk in the short-term for most people. Do your best to prevent it or remove it as soon as possible.
Mold can cause problems for people with asthma or allergies. For children, it’s more of a risk – they could have undiscovered allergies.
In theory, adults could sleep in a mildew-ridden tent for the night and have no issue (except for putting up with the smell, which could affect clothes and bedding as well). For children, they shouldn’t’ use the tent at all until it’s mold-free.
Aside from health concerns and the horrid odor, mold and mildew damage tent fabric. It’s essential to prevent it as best as you can. Remove it as soon as possible if it does form.
Thankfully, manufacturers treat tents to protect against many strains of fungus (unless you get a budget rooftop tent from an unheard of company). This reduces the chance of mold problems. But since there are more than 100,000 types of mold, they can’t account for everything. You still need to take precautions.
How to Prevent Mold and Mildew
Moisture causes mold and mildew. Heat makes it more likely. Even if the air is damp but it hasn’t rained, the odds increase.
To prevent mold:
- Clean your tent after each season - dirt contributes to mold growth.
- While camping, air out your tent often, minimize condensation and clean it when needed.
- If it rains during your trip, dry it out as soon as possible. Mold and mildew can develop instantly. You’ll notice it within 48 hours.
- Move to a sheltered area or wait for the rain to stop. When the rain stops, open all windows and vents. Remove the rain cover and use a fan. Or find a breezy spot. Speed things up by parking in the sunlight.
- For longer-term camping, ensure the tent gets a few hours of sunlight per day. Avoid setting up in dark or shaded areas for long periods. Mold is more likely to grow in the dark.
It’s much better to prevent mildew than remove it. Removing mildew is tricky but it can be done.
How to Remove Mold and Mildew
Inspect your tent often for signs of mold and mildew. This means you need to know what you’re looking for. If you see dark spots, wipe them with a wet cloth to check if it’s just mud. If it doesn’t come off, it could be mold.
Mold can be black, blue or green, while mildew is gray, white or yellow. Of course, you’ll notice the smell if there’s enough mold.
Sometimes, mold comes off with warm water, soap and a bit of scrubbing. If the mold is persistent, use a solution of white vinegar or lemon juice, diluted in water. Dilute one part vinegar (or lemon juice – but not both) in 3.5 parts tepid water.
Dip a cloth or sponge in the solution. Scrub the areas of mold or mildew and rinse with water after.
Remember, vinegar should not be used on coated fabrics. Instead, you can use an enzyme spray, which will destroy the fungus. Popular products include:
- Concrobium Mold Control Spray
- IOSSO Mold & Mildew Stain Remover
Acid and sunlight are the enemies of mold and mildew. Sunlight is a natural anti-bacterial – to be extra sure the fungus has gone, leave it to dry in the sun. Make sure all mold has been removed – if any is left behind, it could regrow.
Keep vinegar or mold-removal products with you for long Overlanding trips. You never know what conditions you might encounter. If mold develops, you want to get rid of it as soon as possible. If that means while you’re on the road, having these products to hand will make things easier.
How to Dry Your Tent
Air out your tent after each trip before packing it away. Ideally, dry it outdoors in sunny, breezy weather. This isn’t always feasible – you probably don’t want your tent on display in your front yard. If you’re done camping for the season, unmount the tent and open it in your backyard.
If you don’t have outdoor space, dry it in the garage. If your garage ceiling is high enough, park up and open the tent, leaving it to dry for a few days (saves you shifting that rooftop tent weight). If needed, use fans to assist.
Use the same approach if you’ve just finished cleaning or removing mold – dry it in the sun if possible, otherwise use fans indoors.
How to Stop Condensation
What causes condensation in a tent? Warm air holds moisture. The air inside a tent can warm due to heaters, body heat and poor ventilation.
Any source of moisture increases air humidity, including breath and wet clothes. (Each person exhales around one liter of water vapor every night). The tent fabric is cooler so when the air hits it, moisture condenses.
Situations where condensation is likely:
- Camping near a water source – air is humid near lakes and rivers, increasing the chance of condensation.
- Camping in a sheltered area – air can’t flow as well as in open spaces.
- Wet weather – The greater the temperature difference between the fabric and air inside the tent, the greater the odds of condensation. Rain or snow on the fabric outside reduces the temperature. The temperature also reduces when water evaporates from the fabric.
Prevent condensation from developing on the tent floor by using an anti-condensation mat. Some tents come with them. Otherwise, purchase them separately.
You place the mat between the mattress and tent base. (Body heat transmitted through the mattress contributes to condensation building on the cold base).
If your tent doesn’t come with a mat and you don’t want to buy one, there’s a DIY version – carpet tiles. Some tiles come with adhesive so all you have to do is press them in place.
Tiles come in different measurements. See what size options are available and calculate the square footage of the tent to find out how many tiles you need.
To attach them:
- Take out the mattress.
- Make sure the tent base is clean, dry and free of dust.
- Stick them into place.
Easy. Well, it’s a lot more work than getting an anti-condensation mat, but it’s cheaper and you can do it in an afternoon.
Other steps to limit condensation:
- Open windows and vents as much as you can.
- Avoid camping near rivers and lakes – air is humid near bodies of water.
- Camp in a breezy location or use a fan.
- Take off the rainfly if it’s not going to rain.
- Store wet clothing and belongings outside.
- Don’t cook inside your tent – not even in the annex.
- Get a dehumidifier.
How to Clean Your Hard Shell Roof
With less fabric, a hard shell outback roof tent is easier to clean. But you still need to take care of the roof.
Check often to see if any dirt has made its way onto your roof. It should be easy to wipe down without needing any soap. Keep on top of this during your trip to make the end of season clean easier.
Regular cleaning reduces the chance of dirt spreading onto the body fabric and causing mold. Mold can form on the shell – if so, remove it in the same way as for the body fabric.
Most hard shells have UV treatment, like this one. If you’ve been camping under the sun year in year out, it might be a good idea to boost its UV resistance after the end-of-season clean.
For fiberglass, protective waxes like 3M fiberglass restorer can boost its resilience and make it look good as new.
Now you’re armed to keep your overlander tent in tip top condition. The moral of the story is – mold. All your cleaning efforts are geared towards preventing or removing mold.
Make sure dirt doesn’t build-up, minimize condensation, always dry your tent before storing, and you’re good to go. If mold forms, get out the vinegar or enzyme spray and remove it as soon as possible. That’s all there is to it. Happy cleaning!