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Can you put a tent in the washing machine?

After a recent backpacking trip, my tent was pretty dirty. Even worse, I left it in the stuff sack for weeks without opening it up to air it out. That meant the tent developed a lot of nasty-looking stains and a gross, musty smell. Not good. 

Obviously, it was time to wash the tent, and that got me wondering: can i just stick my backpacking tent in the washing machine and call it a day? I started researching, and here’s what I came up with: 

Can you put a tent in your washing machine?

No – putting a tent through your washing machine’s spin and rinse cycles, with detergent, risks stripping away its waterproofing, which means that the washing machine will effectively destroy your tent. Instead, you should hand wash your tent gently with a bit of gentle soap, then hand-rinse it and let it air dry. It’s more tedious, but it’s the only way to protect the life of your backpacking tent.

Can you put a tent in the dryer?

Also no – while your tent might survive in the dryer in the sense that it won’t fall to pieces, you are risking a lot of damage with that amount of heat. Loss of waterproofing, heat damage, and torn fabric/damaged zippers are major risks from putting a tent in a household dryer.

That said, I don’t see any problems with tumble drying a wet tent to help it air out a bit, especially if you live in an apartment that lacks the space needed to set up a tent to air dry. Similarly, if you just can’t catch a break in the weather for air drying your tent, tumble drying it (with absolutely no heat) isn’t a terrible idea. If you do decide to tumble dry, I’d suggest putting a few bath towels in the dryer alongside the tent. That’ll prevent it from being jostled too much in a dryer with a lot of empty space.

Another method for washing your tent

Obviously, hand washing with gentle soap is the best way to clean a tent at home. However, not everybody has a home that is really conducive to that kind of washing? Or, what if your tent is exceptionally dirty? I do have one alternative method for washing a tent that may help you. 

I was in a similar situation a couple of years ago when i had: 

  • A small suburban apartment with a tiny bathroom
  • A Coleman Skylodge tent that was way too big to wash in any kind of bathroom
  • And the tent was covered in mud on the bottom from 9 nights of camping in Vermont during a very rainy october. 

I didn’t want to lose my investment in that tent, so i came up with a solution: I took it to a self-service car wash. 

If you have a very dirty tent, a living situation that makes tent washing impossible, or both, a self-service car wash might be a good idea for getting it clean. Stay away from any harsh soaps or wax or anything like that, but a little bit of soap + a steady, powerful stream of water will do the job just about every time.

Of course, you’ll still have the problem of needing to dry the tent once you’ve washed it, but, hey, one problem at a time!