Clean Up That Old Dirty Tent


I have a 20-year-old dome tent. It still keeps me and my things dry, but it is looking very dirty. What is the best way to clean it? Could it go into the washer?

Marilyn, Illinois


Never, never put a nylon tent in the washing machine! The flexing and abrasion will destroy the coating on the floor and fly of nylon tents. Here's how to clean the tent:

1. Remove all loose dirt, pine needles etc.

2. Then try hosing with clear water and gentle rubbing with a damp cloth or soft brush - one of those car-washing brushes that go on the end of a hose is quite good. That should get the worst off the outside and inside of the floor, and off the fly. Using any soaps or detergents makes the job much bigger because you have to be very thorough to rinse off all traces afterward.

You could wash the tent by hand in the tub at home, especially if the tent is not too large. Don't use a lot of detergent. Powdered laundry detergent will do but Nikwax Loft Tech is supposed to leave less residue.

3. Rinse very thoroughly, which is tricky because the waterproof fabrics create "pockets" of soapy water that are difficult to get rid of.

4. Set the tent up in your backyard or basement to dry completely. After this soaking, the webbing, zippers and seams will take a long time to dry.

5. Treat the coated fabric on the floor and lower side walls of the tent (not the sides) plus the entire business side of the rain fly (the side facing the weather) with a spray-on water repellent. I've used Nikwax Water Shed with success. Note: Water Shed must be applied while the tent fabric is wet.

6. Dry the tent very thoroughly before storing

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