Gear Guy

How can I rid my tent of its moldy smell?

I recently unpacked my tent to be hit by a powerful smell of chemicals and mold, so bad that it gives me headaches and I can't sleep in the tent. Could I just wash it with some mild soap to get rid of the stink? I believe that the ses were sprayed with some sort of leakproof sealant, so I think that's why it smells. Janie Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

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Ugh. Mildew, no question about it. I really doubt the smell is due to the seam sealant, although I suppose that’s theoretically possible. But given the fact it has been in storage, your geographical location, and the mention of a “mold” smell, I’d put my money on mildew. This is a mold-like organism that eats organic material (dust or skin cells in the tent fabric) and requires moisture to do its thing. It can cause the symptoms you mention, particularly if you’re a little sensitive to it, as many people are.

Soap likely won’t solve things; it’ll only mask the smell for a while. But there’s an old, reliable anti-mildew formula that works well on tents. I’ve given the same advice before, but there’s no harm in reiterating it.

First, kill the mold with a solution made from one-half cup of Lysol mixed in with a gallon of hot water. Then, rinse the material with a solution comprising a gallon of hot water mixed with one cup of lemon juice and one cup of salt. Allow the tent to dry, then soak the stains in another batch of the lemon/salt/water solution. That should get the stains out. Rinse thoroughly and allow to dry. Do NOT put your tent in a clothes dryer, as the heat will cause the waterproof coating to peel off, and then you’ll have real problems!

The best way to prevent this problem in the future is to keep the tent as clean and dry as possible. Damp-sponge it thoroughly after a trip, air dry, then store loosely in a mesh bag.

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