The Reason a Tent Smells Musty: How to Fix it!

by Steve King

The reason a tent smells musty – and how to fix it!

With social distancing protocols and travel bans in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are opting for a more traditional getaway: camping. Immersed in nature, sunlight and aromatic campfires, spending time in the great outdoors is a great way to boost your immune system, brain health, and nervous system. With that said, camping is primarily a summer activity, and anytime you combine moisture with a warm, enclosed environment, you are more susceptible to musty odors and mold. It might not be immediately visible, but they can sure put a dent in your relaxing vacation. In this article, we’ll look at some of the reasons why your tent might have a funky smell, how to get rid of it, and how to properly store your tent to help prevent this problem in the future.

What causes a tent to smell musty?

Regardless of how you describe the smell — musty, dank, damp, or just plain BAD — there are many reasons why a tent might smell unpleasant. The most likely reason is because tents provide campers with protection from the [outdoor] elements. As a result of direct exposure, the tents are more likely to get wet from rain or condensation from the damp ground. If you’ve got the whole family snuggled in a tent, breathing the same air and/or sipping hot cocoa, the tent is likely to become damp from excess moisture. Just like at home, if you’ve got moisture, you can get mold. This is the most common reason a tent can have a musty odor, but it takes a bit to get to that point. Tents are designed to repel water (they wouldn’t be very useful as shelters otherwise!) but the problem arises when the tent remains wet for too long. This can cause mold to grow, either on the tent surface itself, or on any dust or debris that may be trapped on the surface. With that said, it might not be mold! Tents can also develop an unpleasant odor from build up of dirt and grime, sweat/body odor from the occupants, or even from a chemical breakdown of the tent’s material itself, but we won’t get into that issue here today.

How to Clean a Tent That Has a Musty Odor

If your tent’s odor seems stale rather than musty, it may just need to be aired out prior to use. This is a good first step in any case. You can set the tent up, or just hang it from a clothesline. The important part is getting every surface exposed to airflow. Fans can help if there’s no natural breeze. The offending smell may waft away on its own after a day or so. If the odor persists, or if there is any visible soiling on any surface, the next step is to wash the tent. Tent fabric is usually treated with various coatings, so take caution when cleaning. Gentle dish soap or castile soap is recommended, but the use of stronger spray cleansers is not recommended as they could strip away any protective coatings. Spray the affected areas and gently scrub with a cloth or soft-bristled brush to remove any visible grime. After all visible grime and/or spots have been removed, mist the tent surfaces with Homebiotic spray to help eliminate musty odors at the source. Then let the tent dry fully, preferably on a sunny day. If your tent has pockets, pouches or flaps, prop them up to encourage better airflow. If necessary, you can also use an ordinary box fan to speed up the drying process. Keep airing out the tent for at least a day after it has fully dried to ensure there is no odor left. Then you can safely pack it up for storage or to go on your next camping adventure.

How to Pack Up a Tent

Once your adventures are over and you’re ready to pack up, be sure to air out your tent as best as you can. If you’re packing up quickly due to bad weather (which many campers often face at one point or another), do your best to keep it as dry as possible. If this isn’t an option, you’ll need to dry it out as soon as you get to your destination by following the previous cleaning steps. If you’re just packing it away for storage, there are a few steps you can take to ensure it stays fresh and free of musty odors:

  • If your tent already has a musty odor, clean it and air it out prior to packing it away to prevent this issue from becoming worse.
  • Lightly spray the tent with Homebiotic if you have not already done so . This probiotic spray helps eliminate the causes of musty-smelling odors and keeps your tent fresher, longer.
  • Always make sure that your tent is completely dry before packing it away

How to Properly Store Your Tent to Avoid Musty Odors

When it comes to storing your tent, there are two primary methods that work best: seal it up or keep it in a climate-controlled environment.

  • Seal it up – This method involves packing your tent into a sealed container, like a snap lid storage tote, to keep moisture or pests out. This is a good idea if you’re storing your tent in an area that might not be well climate-controlled, like a garage or basement. If you are storing your tent this way, be sure to pack a moisture and odor absorbing object in with the tent. Good examples include a bamboo charcoal bag, some rice in a cloth bag, or a box of baking soda that is opened or has side vents.
  • Airy but protected – In this alternative method, you’d leave the tent in its original bag and store it in a space that is climate-controlled. This could be a storage closet, or anywhere else it will maintain relatively stable temperature and humidity conditions. You may still want to add a charcoal bag or other moisture control device just for peace of mind. In either case, proactively check on your tent every few months to ensure that it hasn’t accidentally gotten wet or developed an odor. It’s also a good idea to check it out at least a week before you intend to use it, as that will give you enough time to clean and dry it before camping if necessary.

Conclusion

When a tent is properly taken care of, it should provide years of use. Whether you’re escaping busy city life for a weekend, or you’re traveling cross country, these simple tent care tips can help you enjoy your next camping trip without worrying about musty odors.

Happy camping!


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