Smelly tent

-- Last Updated: Jan-30-09 10:51 AM EST --

I just bought a used tent that has a bad odor to it. I think it is just from being packed away. I've aired it out, I've sprayed about a half of a bottle of febreeze on it & in it and it still has that odor. Any suggestions on how to get rid of the odor? Other than the smell its in excellent shape. I think it was only used once. KK
To my paddling pals:
No, this is not the one I'm bringing to SC.

why bother
Go down to Dick’s Sporting Goods and pick up a very inexpensive Coleman tent and toss the smelly tent.

Sorry, Dude
You know how those gaseous night emissions are…

I had my tent spread out in the garage to dry after a rainy camping trip…the neighbor’s cat used the tent as a litter box…PU! I tried several fixes, and the one that really worked was to soak the tent in a bucket filled with 1 part vinegar 2 parts water. Stink gone!

I don’t use Fabreeze or any other air ‘freshener’. IMO, their purpose is to mask odors, not eliminate them.

smelly coated materials, like tents and tarps and paddling clothes, smell bad from mildew and decomposition of the coating. I’d guess that the waterproofness is less than 100%. Take a cup of water, pour on fly, trap it then wind up the fly around it making some pressure. Bet water droplets will leak thru.


Experience with Cat P**
Many years ago, I lent my Eureka backpacking tent to a friend. For reasons still unknown to me, he put it up in his backyard and his children zipped a cat inside. No big surprise that that significantly pissed off - literally - the cat; and over several days the cat wreaked his revenge on the tent inside and out. My friend gave me back the tent all rolled up in its original stuff sack. I found out about the smell several months later when I took the tent out to use it. No Way!

I called Eureka. Their advice was to go to a public laundry where they had big washing machines and to use the strongest laundry soap that was available. At the time, I believe that was Fels Naptha. I put off doing it for a year and when I did it, I just used Tide with a good dose of Boraxo. It got the pee smell out and I haven’t noticed any residual smell when the tent gets wet.

I haven’t used the tent in a driving rain; but, I suspect that the washing MAY have removed the waterproofing on the seam stitching.

All of our tents with urethane coated
flies and floors eventually developed that odor. I think it is some microscopic critter attacking the coating. I’ve been able to slow it down by unpacking tents when I get home so they can dry out thoroughly.

Washing properly is useful if a tent is really dirty and really smelly, but I don’t consider washing again and again to be good for the urethane coating, either.

If we were always able to air out and dry tents before packing and leaving the campsite, we’d be better off, but face it… that isn’t possible. Airing out and storing loose at home is a nuisance, but possible.

Try . . .
. . . setting up the tent and giving it a good wash down with the garden hose and then let it air out for a day or two. I have not had good luck washing coated materials in a washing machine.

Best deodorizer… Spray with soapy water, rinse, set it out in the sun. Do the same thing on the inside, turn the tent inside out.

From The North Face site:
“My tent has a musty, mildew odor. What can I do?

A musty odor and/or small cross-shaped spots on the tent fabric indicate mildew formation. Mildew requires a dark, warm, moist environment (with dirt as a nutrient) to grow and reproduce. The fungus actually penetrates the urethane coating of the tent fabric, and grows in between the tent fabric and the coating, eventually destroying the fabric. The damage is irreversible, but immediate action can retard further mildew growth and damage.

Should mildew begin to form, set up the tent and clean it with a sponge and warm soapy water, then rinse with a clean sponge. Next, sponge-wipe the tent with a solution of ½ cup Lysol and 1 gallon of hot water. Leave the solution on the fabric and allow it to dry. Then, mix 1 cup of salt and 1 cup of concentrated lemon juice with 1 gallon of hot water. Rub the solution into the visible mildew and once again, allow it to dry.

This procedure will stop mildew growth and eliminate the odor, but it will not remove the stain. Any damage caused by mildew is not covered under warranty. These measures are offered to help you prolong the life of your tent once mildew has set in.”


Yeah, washing machines make me
nervous, too, and it’s hard to trust soaps on someone elses say-so.

That was discouraging, but helpful
or helpful, but discouraging.

Depends on the source of the odor
But, when things stink, washing them is usually what you have to do. Whether it makes you nervous or not, wash it in an washing machine with some detergent meant for waterproof fabrics. What the heck, it’s a backup tent you bought used. Take a chance. Once washed, set it up to dry out. If the waterproofosity (like my new word?) is poor, spray it with some silicon spray. It’s not the greatest thing ever, but it’ll help. Use some seam sealer too. Once it’s good and dry - put on the rain fly and put a bowl full of white vinegar inside it. White vinegar is incredible for getting rid of smells.

If it’s urine odor, you’ve got to use an enzyme cleaner. If you’ve got one, a black light will highlight the nasty area(s). Enzyme cleaners are available at pet stores. You can get them at Bed, Bath and Beyond too, but pet stores are a lot cheaper.

  • Big D

Scent Killer
Another thing that should work is a Scent Killer (Wildlife Research brand) type product. Designed to remove odor from clothes, boots, etc, to hide you from a deer’s nose which is quite sensitive. Pick some up at a sporting goods store and spray it on for less that $10.


Oh, that pukey tent stink
The tent I bought way back in 1982 eventually got that stink. It also developed tent-coating psoriasis.

First I googled “tent stink” and found a treatment involving a mixture of very hot water, salt, and lemon juice. Plus sun-drying.

It helped but not enough to suit me.

Despite sentimental attachment to that small, light, good-in-high-winds tent (it was made by SierraWest, one of the early “ultralight” backpacking companies), I eventually threw it away. I don’t want to sleep in something that smells like puke, however faintly.

remove the grey thing

Front loading machines work fine…
…which is probably why using a commercial machine was suggested. They won’t damage a tent, but a home machine with an agitator could. No typical laundry detergent is going to damage the fabric, but there are mild soaps designed specifically for outdoor gear, if you’re worried about it. Personally, I would just use something gentle like Ivory flakes.

smelly tents & MiraZyme
My favorite tent, a MountainSmith Escape (no longer made) 2man 2 vestible/entrances tent was used by my son last year to take to Boy Scout Philmont Ranch. He and another scout used that tent for 14 days straight backpacking for 80 miles. Trust me, when I got that tent back, It SMELLED!!! What I did was to buy a bottle of “MiraZyme” at my local Sporting/kayak store. I cleaned out a large plastic outdoor trashcan, filled it with water (about 1/2 full) and mixed the whole bottle of mirazyme (2oz) in. Put the whole tent in along with his boots and socks and let them soak for about a half hour. then pulled them out and set up the tent in the sun and arranged the fly over my clothesline to dry. After the tent dried I put the fly over it to finish drying correctly. Then I got a can of tent sealant spray and recoated it. Allowing that to also dry in the sun. Tent doesn’t “look” new but there are no “funny” smells in it and it doesn’t leak. What more could you want in an older tent?!! Oh, my sons boots also don’t smell and we didn’t have to throw away the socks either.

What more could you want in a tent?
What more could you want in a mom!!!

All that and she’s Tina Louise!
A.K.A. “Ginger” on “Gilligan’s Island”.