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Gutterbird

Musty Tents

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It is that time of year when we take all the equipment out of the troop trailer and clean and look for damaged gear. One thing we do is set up every tent, clean them and look for damaged poles, zippers, etc. so we can make these repairs over the winter months. We just completed a camping trip this last weekend and noticed a few of our Coleman dome tents had a musty smell and even a few spots of mold. After each campout we do dry out our tents to prevent this, but moisture may have snuck in during storage, who knows. So, what is the best way to clean these tents to rid them of the mold without damaging them?

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Your first impulse will be to toss the tent into a washing machine. Don't. It destroys the waterproofing and can damage the fabric of the tent.

 

The first thing (after setting the tents up, of course) that needs to be done is to deal with the mold/mildew issue. Mildew (mold) is a living organism. Ignoring it won't make it go away, and just washing it off with soap and water won't kill the organism - you'll get rid of the surface spots, but you'll just annoy the creatures living in the fabric of the tent and make them grow bigger (ok, maybe you won't annoy them, but you will be giving them an opportunity for greater growth). The organisms must be killed - and the best way is to use a sterilizing solution. This may seem odd, but a good source is sterilizing solutions for baby bottles and breast pumps. Or you could use a dilute solution of chlorine bleach in water - pretty much in the dilution formula you might use for sterilizing dishes - that just enough balance of sterlization vs. making the next food you eat taste like bleach. However you do it, make sure to test it on a small part of the tent to see how the tent fabric reacts.

 

The next step is to wash down the mildewed areas, and any other dirty areas, with a mild fabric cleaner and water solution. I recommend Nikwax Tech Wash, which is a non-detergent cleaner specifically formulated for outdoor and recreation gear. It's available at REI and should be available at other good camping gear stores (I don't think you'll find it at Walmart). You'll want to hand wash (esentially give the tent a sponge bath), rinse, then let dry thoroughly.

 

After the tent is clean, I'd probably add some waterproofing, just to be safe - expecially where the mildew was located.

 

Now that may (or may not) help with the odor. Unfortunately, I don't think Febreeze will help. One suggestion would be to open and check the tent in a month (after it's been dried and put away). If you still have a musty odor but are confident that there is no new mildew growth, consider tossing in a cedar block - the type used in closets as alternatives to moth balls to mask the odor. If there is no new mildew growth, the odor should go away eventually - it just may take a few camping trips out in the air (setting it up in the summer sun for a few days would help too).

 

Edited to add: Oh, and don't forget to check the tent's stuff sacks. Check and clean if needed the tent stuff sack, the sack for the poles (if it has one) and the sack for the stakes (again if it has one). If any of these are infected with mildew, and they aren't cleaned, they could reinfect a tent with mildew like fleas jumping from a dog to a cat.

 

(This message has been edited by CalicoPenn)(This message has been edited by CalicoPenn)

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Try and get hold of some sachets of silica gell, lots of goods come packed with them in the box. Pack a few of these in with the tent and they will absorb any excess moisture.

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Borrow or rent a large Ozone Generator. I use it on my boat. Kills the critters, the odors and leaves a fine white powder in its wake. Set up your tents in an enclosed area, turn it on and leave the room. Will take several hours.

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Agreed. Ive used one for about 10 years now. I wouldnt stay in the room with it. The EPA warning is using an ozone generator as an air purifier. Im not sure what damage ozone can do to tent fabric. Car detailers use these devices. Compared to the caustic effects of chlorine bleach Id say its safer.

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