GT: How to Clean Tents and Sleeping Bags
Tents, sleeping bags, and backpacks were born to live the rock’n’roll, rough-and-tumble life of trail adventure. Naturally, they end up covered in dirt, sand, mud, tree sap, spilled sunscreen, sweat, and, in the case of this post’s unfortunate author, the contents of a collapsible bottle that was, pre-explosion, full of yummy whiskey.
Not only does your gear get gunky and smelly, but features like tent fabric breathability start to get compromised when the fabric is caked.
Fortunately, all these items are washable, and you can get the job done with simple items like a bottle of tech wash, a sponge or rag, and a bucket or bathtub.
Cleaning a tent
There are two accepted ways to wash a tent. One involves assembling it and cleaning it while it’s standing, or you can leave it disassembled and soak the tent fabric and rainfly in a bucket or tub.
We like the set-it-up first method so you can get a good sense of where any stains are and what needs repair or patching.
- Set the tent up, sweep it with a broom, and shake any last dirt out.
- Grab a bottle of Nikwax or other brand of tech wash. Pour half a cup into a bucket of water and mix it in.
- Dip a sponge or rag in it and gently wipe down the tent, giving stained or soiled parts a little extra scrub.
- Rinse the whole thing off thoroughly with a hose until the water runs clear and all the tech wash is rinsed clean from the tent.
- Let it dry completely before you put the tent away. If there’s any moisture left you’re setting yourself up for mold and mildew.
If you want to give your tent an added measure of protection from UV rays (which can help it last many years longer), you can pick up a bottle of NikWax SolarProof and treat the tent with it while it’s clean and wet. Then you can let it dry stronger than ever.
Cleaning a sleeping bag
A clean sleeping bag is much nicer to sleep in, but it can be a bit of a time investment to clean it. (The darn things take forever to dry in the dryer, and you need to use the dryer so the insulation doesn’t dry flat.) You can prevent a dirty sleeping bag by sleeping in a change of clean clothes, and, even better, using a sleeping bag liner that’s easy to wash between uses.
But, once it’s dirty, here’s the scoop.
- Read the manufacturer’s official washing instructions. If the tag isn’t still on your bag, the brand almost definitely has washing instructions somewhere on their site. That’s your bible.
- Pick up a bottle of the appropriate gear wash for your type of bag (down or synthetic). Nikwax makes a Down Wash, or you can use their Tech Wash on synthetic bags.
- Unless you’re blessed with a mega-sized front-loading washing machine at home (who are you?), spend an afternoon at your local laundromat using an oversized front-loading washer.
- Your bag’s manufacturer instructions will probably tell you to unzip it fully and wash on a warm, gentle cycle.
- Make sure the bag gets rinsed at least twice so your insulation fibers, whether down or synthetic, are squeaky-clean.
- It’s going to take forever to dry. If you can, use a commercial-sized dryer at the laundromat on very low heat, which might take several cycles. If your bag is down insulation, throw a couple tennis balls into the dryer to help the down clumps break up.
- Go the extra mile and let it hang overnight after it seems dry. Don’t risk putting it in a storage bag while there’s any moisture left in it.
Cleaning a backpack
Take your backpack from scruffy to shiny by giving it a proper clean-up. First, empty it completely of all the stuff you’ve been toting around in there. You might be surprised by how good it feels just to clear your pack out.
- Look up any manufacturer instructions on how to clean your pack. Some brands are super specific in their recommendations.
- If you can’t find specific instructions, remove anything that comes off your pack—the hip belt, shoulder straps, and frame or back panel might be removable.
- Fill a large sink or tub with warm water and a mild soap. (Castile soap works great.) Swoosh the pack around and use a rag or sponge to gently scrub dirty spots.
- Rinse well in cool water. You don’t want soap residue left on there.
- Hang to dry. Backpacks and dryers don’t mix! But backpacks and drying racks or clothes lines are just great.
Now that your camp gear is all spruced up, you can hike with a little extra spring in your step, knowing you’re taking great care of your gear and prolonging its life so you can keep taking it on ever-greater adventures.
As always, tag and send us pics of your adventures in your UnNew gear. We love seeing it out there having a great summer with you rather than sitting in the back of someone’s closet or warehouse. Follow us on Instagram + Facebook: Tag us @geartrade with the hashtag #unnewoutdoor #wearitout on your post or story for a chance to be featured on our page.
See you out there!
Beth Lopez is a seasoned writer and creative director who loves to tell tales of adventure and discovery—and finds writing a powerful way to give a voice to people, causes, and places. Beth runs amok in the Wasatch mountains when untethered from her computer. She believes there’s no such thing as a bad ski day and considers animals her favorite people. Don’t tell her mother about her Instagram mountaineering photos.
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