How To Clean Mold From A Tent And Stop Bad Odors

Besides rain, only mold on a tent can put a damper on a camping trip faster. You have viable concerns that the mold problem can spread if unaddressed, so how do you remove mold from a tent?

To clean a tent with mold, use vinegar and baking soda, lemon juice with salt and hot water, or vinegar with dish soap. Using harsher chemical treatments such as bleach or even detergent soap can damage many tent materials, especially canvas.

This guide to tent mold removal will discuss why mold forms on tents, if the presence of mold on a tent is dangerous, and how to remove mold as well as its lingering smell. We’ll also talk about mold prevention, so keep reading.

Remove mold from a canvas tent

How to Tell If Your Tent Has Mold

Do you suspect mold on your tent? There are some ways to confirm, so let’s discuss those now.

Look for Traces of Mold

Mold comes in a whole myriad of colors, far from only white, green, or black. However, those three colors are the most common.

You know what your tent looks like unless you just bought, unboxed, and assembled it this year. Thus, if you spot the presence of black streaks or spots on the tent, and certainly if they’re green or white, you would notice.

Other mold colors to keep an eye out for just in case include red, orange, pink, and purple.

Sniff for It

If the sight of mold alone isn’t enough to confirm its presence, you can always smell the tent.

Stand a good distance away from the tent and give the air a sniff. Although the outdoor air can reduce the intensity of the scent, if mold has propagated readily enough, you will smell it.

The scent of mold is earthy, stale, and musty. Some say it smells like decaying wood and others like wet socks.

How to Clean a Tent with Mold (Canvas)

Canvas is a common tent material. As we discussed in the intro though, a canvas tent cannot withstand harsh chemicals such as detergent soap, and bleach.

That limits your options for cleaning a tent with mold to only the following.

Vinegar and Baking Soda

Vinegar is a powerful kitchen cleaner, as is baking soda. When you combine the two, you can ensure a cleaner tent for future camping adventures.

For fabric surfaces, you’ll need 16 tablespoons of baking soda, one liter of water, and one liter of white vinegar.

Combine the ingredients in a sizable bucket. Dip a clean sponge into the bucket and saturate the canvas tent with the fluid.

Rub until the mold comes off. It might take several repeated attempts before all traces of the mold are gone.

Between cleaning the tent with vinegar and baking soda, fill a separate bucket with warm water and rinse away the residue.

You can also soak the tent in the vinegar and baking soda mixture at least overnight.

Allow the tent to fully dry before you roll it back up.

To make life a little easier, I’ve placed a few links to the Amazon store so you can pick up white vinegar really easily. It’s very effective at killing mold and mildew, it’s cheap and can be used to clean bathrooms and kitchens too. Clicking on the links will take you directly to the store.

Iberia All Natural Distilled White VinegarOpens in a new tab. (US)

Aksoy White VinegarOpens in a new tab. (UK)

Lemon, Salt, and Hot Water

This next method for cleaning mold off a tent involves other common household products such as lemon and salt. You’ll also need a soft brush.

With the brush, scrub as much of the mold off the canvas tent as you can. Then combine a gallon of hot water with a cup of salt and a cup of lemon juice. Apply to the remaining moldy areas.

With a clean cloth, wipe away any lemon juice and salt from the canvas and allow it to fully dry.

Vinegar and Dish Soap

Vinegar also comes in handy for treating mold on canvas tents if combined with hot water and mild dish soap.

As you did when following the steps above, begin by scouring away as much mold residue as you can with a brush. 

Next, mix a gallon of warm water with a cup of distilled vinegar and mild dish soap.

Soak the affected area with the ingredients until the mold is gone, then rinse away any lingering residue with pure water. Finally, give the tent sufficient time to air dry. 

How to Prevent Mold and Mildew formation on a canvas Tent

Treating mold and mildew is effective, but until you cease creating conditions where mold can grow, then the issue will recur.

The following tips will help you prevent future instances of mold in a tent.

Always Allow Your Tent to Dry Before Folding It Up

This is a big one, and it’s a tip we’ve mentioned several times already. That’s only because it’s so important.

When your tent has gotten wet, whether through you cleaning it or from the weather, it must be given time to fully dry before you furl it up. If that takes hours, then so be it.

It’s common to want to get the tent packed up and in the boot of your car once the trip is over, especially if it happens to be raining whilst you’re doing so. If you need to put the tent away quickly whilst it is still wet, it is imperative that when you get home, you open the tent up and allow it to fully air dry before storing it away again.

Keep Your Tent in a Dry, Cool Place

Where you store your tent when you’re not camping matters a lot as well.

The tent should stay in a dry, cool environment without any humidity. 

Don’t put the tent in a confined area, as the tightness of the space can introduce humidity that can then encourage the growth of mold.

Typically, tents are left in either attics or basements, of the two options, an attic would generally be best, as they tend to have more airflow through them, however, the temperature fluctuations could still allow some mold growth through different points of the year.

To mitigate any chances of mold formation during storage, make sure you pack your tent away loosely and try to ensure that there is some airflow, this, when combined with making sure it is bone dry before packing, should prevent mold from being able to grow.

Can You Sleep in a Tent with Mildew?

If your tent is folded, then you might not even realize the mold spread until you reach your camping destination, unpack, and stake the tent.

By then, it feels far too late to turn around and go home, and it’s not like tents at a supply store are readily available either. Is it alright to sleep in a mold or mildew-infested tent?

It’s not the best health decision, but if the tent isn’t overly moldy and you only camp out for one night, you should be okay, especially long term.

That said, we’d only advise that you sleep in a moldy tent if you have healthy lungs. Those with a mold allergy or asthma will find that being in such close proximity to mold will cause symptoms such as congestion, coughing, and difficulty breathing.

Does Mold Ruin a Tent?

Many campers agree that mold on a tent ruins it, but you needn’t always throw the tent in the trash bin.

If after using the above-mentioned steps, you find that the odor of mold persists, or the canvas itself has become stained, it may well be worth replacing, as these stains can be exceptionally difficult to remove. You may also find that if the mold has been able to grow for a considerable time, the canvas may have begun to deteriorate.

In this circumstance, it may well be best to purchase a new tent, as repairs can often be more costly than buying a new one.

Will Sunlight Kill Mold on a Tent?

One of the advantages that a tent has compared to the rooms in a house is that a tent is naturally exposed to lots of sunlight. Will the sun help out in your mold removal methods?

Sunlight can’t kill mold entirely, but it does help dry the mold and put it into a state of hibernation, so, for the best effectiveness, sun exposure should be combined with the cleaning measures above. The sun is also excellent at drying out your tent generally after cleaning.

For sunlight to be effective in preventing mold, it needs to be in direct sun. Most tents are stored and packed away in small areas of the home, so by the time you get your tent out for use, if the preventative measures mentioned in this article have not been utilized, it may be well past the point of saving.


Tents are anything but inexpensive, so throwing away yours prematurely might not be an option. Cleaning a moldy tent is a great way to restore the canvas so it looks and smells fresh and new, but remember, prevention is the best cure, so follow the steps outlined in today’s article and you should have little to worry about when it comes to the summer and it’s time to unpack your tent.

Chris Walker

Chris Walker has struggled for several years with mold after buying his own property. After finding the solutions to several issues around his home, he decided to create this site in order to answer as many questions about mold and mildew as possible to help others dealing with the same problems.

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