Let’s face it – tents are expensive, and most of the times they grow mold or mildew, the first act would be trying cleaning it up. When I first encountered the issue, I decided to improvise and ended up with a ruined fabric with no water resistance at all (that is one of the reasons why your tent might be sticky). To find the best solution, I began to research the internet deeply; reading guides and watching Youtube videos. Three days of work have brought up 15 efficient ways on how to remove mold & mildew from a tent canvas.
To remove mold and mildew from a tent, you may use chemical substances such as Mirazyme, Fabric Guard, Concrobium, Hydrogen Peroxide, Lysol, Ammonia or even Tea Tree Oil. You could also try household products such as vinegar, bleach, baking soda, Borax alcohol, lemon juice (mixed with salt) or a non-detergent soap.
For each method, I will describe the exact instructions you have to follow. For some of them, I will present you with detailed Youtube videos I’ve found useful, so you get a better visual understanding.
As the name refers, Mirazyme contains an active enzyme that eliminates the fungi spores and gets rid of its smell. Besides that, you may also use it to remove mold from other pieces of equipment, such as your hiking backpack and clothing.
- Fill your bathtub with lukewarm water
- Add half an ounce to it (the ratio is ½ ounce for 20 gallons of water)
- Dip your tent in and soak it for 15 minutes
- Take it out of the water and DO NOT rinse it
- Hang it outside until it is dry and no longer smells
2. Fabric Guard
If you are facing some mildew and mold issue, you’ve probably heard about Fabric Guard. What I like about this product is that you can use it on almost any kind of product you can think of; sofas, cushions, umbrellas, jackets, outdoor equipment and so on.
The deal with the Fabric Guard is that it improves water and oil repel which protects the fabric and prevent it from developing mold in the future. However, if dealt right, you may also use it to remove existing fungi.
- Clean the mold by using any technique mentioned in this article (bleach, Mirazyme, baking soda and so on)
- Once the canvas is dry, spray it with Fabric Guard
- Leave it out to dry again without rinsing it with water (the Fabric Guard would eliminate remaining colonies, prevent them from recurring and restore your tent water resistance)
3. Concrobium Mold Stain Eraser
Frankly, this product is magic. By penetrating to the mold roots, Concrobium can eliminate it without using bleach, ammonia or any other organic compounds.
When it gets dry, the powder begins to work by compromising the fungi foundations and creating an invisible antimicrobial barrier to prevent future colonies from taking place.
- Pour 2.75 tablespoons into a spray bottle and mix it with warm water
- Shake the container so that the powder entirely dissolves
- Spray the solution on the infected areas until they are thoroughly soaked
- Leave it on the surface to dry – DO NOT rinse it with water
- You may repeat the steps if some residues remain
4. Lysol & Hot Water
Lysol is a member of the bleach family and requires the same precaution before using it – gloves, goggles and even a nose mask if in reach.
I will say here that eye protectors are useful in protecting your eyes from fumes; however, they also work great in preventing flying spores from landing on your eyes.
Before making the following steps, you may try diluting the Lysol with hot water so it won’t harm the fabric. If that didn’t get the spores out, increase the concentration gradually by diluting it with less and less water.
- Spray Lysol directly on the molded areas until they are soaked
- Let the solution sit there for at least 30 minutes
- Scrub the area roughly to remove any residues
- Wipe up the canvas; this time use a soft sponge or a clean cloth
- Rinse it with water and hang it out to dry entirely (do not fold it back again in a damp condition)
Frankly, ammonia is probably not the way to go in removing mold from a tent canvas since it is best to use it on a plane, non-porous surfaces (such as countertops or glass).
Nevertheless, I’ve decided to include that technique in my article because if you do have ammonia at home, it would be a waste not to give it at least one try.
You should also take into considerations that the ammonia fumes are toxic on high concentration, so I wouldn’t recommend using it along with bleach.
- Cover your eyes, mouth, nose, and hands appropriately before getting into work and ventilate the area (perhaps it would be better to do it outside)
- Create an ammonia solution by mixing 50% clear ammonia with 50% water in a spray bottle
- Spray the mixture on the infected spots and leave it as it is for a few hours
- Rinse the canvas and wipe it thoroughly with a clean cloth
- Ventilate it outside, preferred under the sun in dry air conditions
6. Hydrogen Peroxide
Hydrogen peroxide is a unique solution since besides being a fungicide, it also performs well in the bacteria and viruses section.
I believe that it is a proper alternative for bleach since it doesn’t leave any fume residues behind which might be irritating. If you wish to try that technique, please purchase one with 3% concentration (could be found in drug stores for around one dollar per bottle)
- Pour 3% hydrogen peroxide to a spray bottle
- Spray the infected areas until they are well saturated
- Let it kill the mold by leaving it as it is for approximately 10 minutes
- Scrub the area roughly and leave no mold residues behind
7. Tea Tree Oil
Comparing to other natural solutions for dealing with mold, perhaps the tea tree oil is the most effective (although a bit more expensive).
Being both antifungal and antibacterial, the oil is well capable of cleaning mold and mildew from fabric and can prevent them from recurring.
Since it is made of natural ingredients, it is safe to use it when kids and animals are nearby. If you’ve decided to buy one, make sure that you choose the one which is derived from the Melaleuca Alternifolia – that would be the technical name for tea tree.
- Pour water into a spray bottle, using cups
- Add tea tree oil to the water at the ratio of 1 teaspoon for every cup you’ve poured
- Shake the bottle and spray the solution on the infected areas
- Leave it as it is – DO NOT rinse the fabric since the material would prevent mold from returning
8. Baking Soda
Just like vinegar, using baking soda to wipe off mold and mildew infected areas is an excellent solution if you wish to use some home products.
Unlike bleach, baking soda is a gentle solution which allows you to clean things without using harsh chemicals (it is entirely safe and wouldn’t harm your family or pets). That technique is also beneficial in removing smells and preventing mold and mildew recurrence by absorbing moisture.
- Fill ¼ tablespoon with baking soda and add it to a spray bottle
- Fill the bottle with water and shake it for a complete dissolve
- Spray the infected areas with the solution
- Use a scrubbing brush or a sponge to remove mold residues
- Rinse the surface
- Spray the fabric once more – this time without rinsing it (this will kill residual colonies and prevent moisture in the future)
9. Household Bleach
Bleach products feature some hard fumes, so I suggest you keep your working area well ventilated. I also recommend that you wear some gloves to protect your hands and perhaps even a mask to cover your mouth and nose.
Note that this technique is more aggressive than the previous two and might compromise your tent fabric, especially synthetic ones. For that, please follow the steps strictly.
- Make a solution by diluting bleach with water in a ratio of one cup of bleach per gallon of water (approximately 1:10 ratio)
- Apply the mixture on the mold or mildew by using a spray or sponge
- Let it ventilate outside, however, do not rinse it – the active material would prevent mold growth in the future
What I like about borax is that it doesn’t emit chemical fumes which may be dangerous, although it is toxic if you swallow it. Most commonly, it comes in a powder form and used to deodorize toilets and drains.
While being a fungicide, borax may kill mold and mildew spores and inhibit it from growing again in the future. You may use it by adding it to your washing machine, although I wouldn’t suggest that you do so with tents.
- Create a borax-water solution in the ratio of 1 cup of borax per gallon of water (make sure that the water is quite warm, and the borax has been entirely dissolved)
- Dip a scrubbing brush into the water and scrub the mold off the surface
- Wipe up the surface with a dry sheet, leaving no moisture or mold residue behind
- Leave the fabric to dry completely and DO NOT rinse it with water
11. Lemon Juice & Salt Paste
Let’s admit it – mold and mildew are among the most difficult things to clean, and for that, we are so often tempted into using bleach.
Well, before pulling out the heavy guns, I suggest trying mother nature natural weapon – starting with lemon juice and salt. Combine lemon with salt or borax and create a powerful paste that might eliminate the spores and prevent further growth.
- Fill a small plate with salt
- Cut half a lemon and squeeze its juice upon the salt
- Blend the mixture using a teaspoon
- Put a gentle amount of paste on a toothbrush and scrub roughly the infected areas
- Rinse the fabric with warm water and repeat the steps
- Do not rinse it on the second time (you may warm up the lemon juice beforehand to increase its effectiveness)
If you wish to stay with home products, you may try using the vinegar in your kitchen. Acting as a mild acid disinfectant, vinegar can kill approximately 80% of mold species and might even prevent it from recurring.
- First, make sure to wear gloves, goggles and a mask so that you won’t get irritated by the fumes
- Pour the vinegar into a spray bottle without diluting it
- Spray it on the mold and let it sit there for at least an hour (avoid rinsing and scrubbing it)
- Rinse the area with clean and warm water to remove the smell
- Repeat the previous steps once more to eliminate the mold entirely
13. Alcohol Spray
Alcohol is an excellent alternative to complex chemical solutions, although it doesn’t stand on its own in preventing mold growth – you should also take care of moisture independently.
Frankly, any form of alcohol will do the trick as long as you do it right. You may use denatured alcohol, rubbing alcohol or even Vodka for that matter.
- Mix alcohol and water in 1:1 ratio (I recommend using a spray bottle)
- Spray the solution on the fabric (use a cloth or a brush if you don’t own a spray bottle)
- Leave it out to dry, preferred under sunlight in a dry air
- Repeat the previous steps if you’ve noticed that some colonies are still there
14. Heated Soapy Water
Another way to deal with mold is using hot water mixed with soap. If you are willing to eliminate it from a tent fabric, you should be cautious and use a non-detergent soap – otherwise, it would compromise the tent Polyurethane coating layer, which ensures its water resistance.
Therefore, you shouldn’t use laundry soap, dishwashing liquids or pre-soaking detergents (they also contain a strong perfume which would attract insects when you are camping).
- Warm up water in your bathtub to about 104° F (40° C)
- Pour soap into the tub and mix it until it is equally dissolved
- Place your tent into the tub and scrub the infected areas roughly
- Rinse the tent in clean water and hang it outside to dry
- Repeat the previous steps until you can no longer notice the fungi
15. Leave it Under The Sun
I consider using sunlight as a conservative solution which is based on the fact that mold relies on water and damp to grow. If the fungi have no water to consume – it would eventually quit growing and start to decay.
Still, this solution wouldn’t work if your fabric is widely infected – it is better to do it when the colonies are relatively small and just recently grown.
- Spread your tent entirely under a sunny spot (make sure the air is dry – humidity would compromise this process significantly)
- Leave it this way for the rest of the day and fold it back in on sunset
- Spread the sheet again in the following day – this time expose the other side of the fabric
- Wipe the areas with a sponge soaked with hot water
What do Mold & Mildew Look Like?
Before you try any of the methods I’ve described above, it is crucial to determine whether or not the suspected spots are indeed mold or mildew.
If it is one of the two, you can take any action from above – it would work the same on both types. Mildew is, in fact, a type of mold and they both thrive in moist areas.
If you’ve noticed some patchy, white spots on your canvas, perhaps in a powdery shape – it is most likely mildew (although it could also be grey or yellow).
In general, mildew gets darker over time and in severe cases which hadn’t been taken care of – it might turn black.
Mold is a little more difficult to characterize since it comes in different shapes and colors – green, blue, yellow, brown, gray, black or even white – like mildew.
If your tent had damp and stored this way – they aren’t many options; it is either mold or mildew.
Another clue which supports the presence of a fungus is when your tent begins to stink. If that is the case, please read my article which describes why do tents smell and how to solve the issue – I’ve spent hours pouring through the data to provide you with the most accurate solutions.
How to Restore my Tent Water Resistance?
The techniques I’ve described are useful in cleaning mold and mildew from your tent, although in some cases they might compromise the waterproofness of the fabric.
The typical case is when you feel the fabric is sticky – that would be due to the PU coating degradation.
To restore its ability to repel water, you may use products such as Nikwax – I’ve spent hours writing how to do so in this article, which also discusses other reasons why your tent might leak.
What is The Right Way to Clean it?
It doesn’t matter which method you choose; it wouldn’t be useful if you don’t do it the right way.
When you approach cleaning your tent, I first suggest that you pitch it up entirely – do it on your back yard or outdoors.
If you try cleaning it when folded – you are going to miss infected areas which could be found when the tent is set up.
Second, do not use a washing machine – it might ruin the tent fabric, mainly when you cycle it on high temperature and use a detergent soap. The right way is to use a brush, a sponge or a clean cloth and wipe out the mold or mildew gently and manually.
When you are done cleaning (by following one of the instructions above), make sure that you ventilate the tent outside until it is entirely dry.
If you repack it while the fabric is still damp – fungi would grow back quickly, and the entire cleaning process has been a waste of time.
How to Avoid The Issue in The Future?
When you are done camping and ready to pack things up – make sure that your gear is entirely dry. It doesn’t matter if it’s your tent, backpack, sleeping bag or shoes – if you store it wet for an extended period – mold would grow upon it.
When you put it at your house, make sure not to pick a moisture place such as your basement or garage. Stick to dry spots instead, perhaps use your room closet or an attic.
Mold and mildew are common issues, especially among those who go camping. It mainly happens when you store your gear inappropriately, packing it up wet – for instance.
If you’ve discovered mold on your tent (or frankly – any other piece of equipment), you may use the techniques described genuinely in this article, ranging from household products to unique chemical compounds.
When you clean it, make sure that you set up the tent first, so that you won’t miss any spot. Once you’ve finished – leave it out to dry completely – otherwise, the issue may reoccur.
I hope my article helped you deal with your mold & mildew issue. If it hadn’t, or if you have hanging questions or insights – let me know all about them by leaving a comment below!