As warmer weather approaches and we begin dusting off and unpacking those tents that have been stored-away all winter, you’re likely to discover some foul odors or mildew smells emanating from your humble abode.

The following tips will help you deal with tent odors like mold and mildew as well as the infamous vomit smell that can plague many a tent.

How to Clean a Tent with Mold or Mildew

Mold and mildew grow quickly on wet fabrics. To learn why they produce a foul odor requires an education in Microbial Volatile Organic Compounds and fungal metabolism, but to spare you the science lesson, you’re basically smelling mold farts.

The first question we are typically asked is, “how do I remove mold or mildew from my tent?” The answer really depends on how much the mold is ingrained into the fabric. Sometimes you can effectively remove mold with just hot and soapy water. Other times may call for more drastic measures like bleach, which may damage fabrics. Home remedies include a mixture of salt and lemon juice added to water or a solution of vinegar and water. Our recommendation is that you start with just hot water and a specialized cleaner like Revivex  Pro Cleaner, which will not impact the performance or water repellency of your tent.

There are some important tips that you should follow when cleaning your tent:

  1. Do not machine wash tents: the agitator can cause damage to the fabric, special coatings, and seam tape.
  2. It’s typically easier to clean tents when they are pitched and taut.
  3. Hand wash the outer fabrics. Do not scrub the underside of the tent fly as you may damage or remove the polyurethane waterproof coating applied to the underside of most tent flies.
  4. Use a specialized cleaner and rinse with water until the soapy residue is gone.
  5. Allow to air dry completely.

How to Deodorize Tents

Once the tent is clean, mold and mildew odors may still be present. You can deodorize your tent with Revivex Odor Eliminator. It's an all-natural blend of microbes. As soon as you mix our Odor Eliminator with water, the microbes are "activated" and they begin consuming any odor-causing bacteria in your tent fabric.

We recommend the following for removing mold and mildew smells from tents:

  • Fill a tub with just enough water to submerge the tent.
  • For really stubborn odors add 1 oz. of Revivex Odor Eliminator for every gallon of water, for less stubborn odors add about a ½ oz. for every gallon of water. Mix well.
  • Unzip all zippers and open tent flaps.
  • Next, soak the tent in the Odor Eliminator mixture for no longer than 5 minutes. The idea is to saturate the tent with microbes so that they consume the odor-causing bacteria present. Do not rinse the tent because doing so may rinse the microbes away. Do not apply heat as heat may kill the microbes.
  • Ideally, you will soak, remove and allow to air dry. You will not notice a reduction in odor until the tent has air dried completely.

There are some additional tips worth noting as well:

  1. Odor Eliminator is most effective immediately after it has been mixed with water since most of the microbes are still alive. As time progresses they consume themselves and the solution becomes less effective. Make sure that you are soaking the item immediately after mixing with water and you are not using an older mix or pre-mixed solution.
  2. The longer the item is able to air dry, the longer the microbes are able to do their job. Heat will kill the microbes and rinsing will wash them away. Try your best to dry the tent in a cool environment out of direct sunlight.
  3. Odor Eliminator does not utilize any hazardous or harsh ingredients. However, you must take care when soaking tents. Many tents are treated with a polyurethane (PU) coating on the underside of the tent fly and on the tent floor to provide waterproofing. This coating is not permanent and it is common for PU coatings to break down and delaminate, especially if a tent has been soaking in water or is damp. To help prevent coatings from breaking down, do not soak the tent for longer than 5 minutes.

If you do notice that the coating is breaking down, there will also typically be a foul odor similar to vomit or urine present. This is a result of the failing polyurethane coating and is common in older tents. Unfortunately, this is a chemical reaction, and Odor Eliminator will not help as it only removes organic odors. There is a fix, however.

How to Remove PU Odors from Tents

Mold and mildew aren’t always the culprits with foul-smelling tents. Many times tents stink because the polyurethane coating which is applied to the underside of the tent fly or inside of the tent floor is beginning to break down. Many people may notice a vomit smell in the tent or liken it to urine. It is actually a chemical reaction caused by the breakdown of urethane.

To treat these types of odors, we recommend the following:

  1. Ideally, you will need to remove the failing PU coating to put a stop to the bad smells.
  2. Begin by filling a tub or container with enough warm water to submerge the item. Add about 5 drops of liquid soap.
  3. Submerge the tent and soak for 2-3 hours. Remove the tent from the bath and gently scrub the polyurethane coating (typically applied to the underside of tent flies and the top side of tent floors) with a mixture of isopropyl alcohol, water and a couple of drops of soap. Keep a dish towel nearby to soak up excessive residue.
  4. Once you’ve removed the old coating, you can apply a new PU coating using Seam Grip TF. Apply a thin film of this tent fabric sealant onto the tent floor (inside) or tent fly (underside). Allow 24 hours to dry.
  5. Once dry sprinkle with baby or talcum powder to alleviate any initial tackiness.

How to Prevent Tent Odors

Now that your tent is smelling like roses, it’s important that we keep it top condition. We recommend the following storage tips to prevent odors from returning:

  1. Air dry your tent as soon as you get home from your trip.
  2. Do not store tents that are damp or wet.
  3. When storing tents, allow them to breathe.

By following the above recommendations, you can put an end to smelly tents, once and for all. 

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