How Do I Clean a Canvas Tent?


canvas fabric tent
Good example of a fairly modern standard canvas tent.

My interest in how to take care of canvas tents almost certainly started during my scouting days. At Camp Wakonda we’d sleep in basic canvas tents that had two cots per tent. One summer we were to help clean them on the last day, which was rather fascinating to be. A “simple” piece of canvas, but with just a basic cleaning that a bunch of 10 to 15 years could be trusted with could keep them in good enough shape to keep working for years. Then again being the overly inquisitive kid I always was (to a fault many would say), I wondered “Is this really was the right way to clean a tent or just a ‘close enough’ solution?”

A little research went a long way. Turns out to properly clean a canvas tent you want to sweep off as much dust as possible then use a soft brush to scrub the dirty canvas lightly using a mix of lukewarm water and a lemon/salt mixture (preferable) or a very weak soap (use cautiously). Rinse with cold water, then sun dry thoroughly. Repeat as needed.

Of course if there are any issues with deep stains, mildew, or mold then other steps need to be taken!

Read on to get the full run-down on how to clean your canvas tent.

How to Clean a Canvas Tent

The best way to explain this process (and there are a few of the finer points that people apparently disagree on) is to give the basic step by step bullet points and then dive deeper into each step as needed. These first steps are assuming no mold or mildew. Skip down to the next section if these are a problem.

How to clean a canvas tent step-by-step:

  • Lay out in a bright sunny spot of ground (if possible)
  • Use a soft bristle brush to wipe any dry dust or dirt off of your tent
  • This is the step where mold removal takes place – skip down to the next section for more
  • Scrub the canvas tent with a water-delicate soap solution or water-vinegar solution
  • Rinse with cold water
  • Repeat the steps as needed
  • Dry out completely

Step 1: Lay tent out on a sunny patch of ground

Finding a sunny patch of ground is crucial because even as you clean the canvas tent you want it to dry as quickly as possible. You don’t want the canvas to stay damp or in shade. You want it to dry out quickly.

Step 2: Dry brush the dust or dirt off your canvas tent

Before touching your canvas tent make sure to go over it with a soft bristle brush to wipe off loose debris, dirt, or dust. Basically anything dry that could be considered dirt or debris you want to get rid of before any water touches the canvas. Very important that the brush is soft bristle and not hard thistle.

Go over the tent twice if you need to but make sure to clear it all off before you go to the washing phase.

Step 3: Check for mold, mildew, or deep stains

This is important. Canvas can be a bit prone to mold, mildew, or damage-inducing stains, especially over long periods of use over time. The older the tent, the more likely this will become an issue at some point. If you find any signs of mold or mildew jump down to the NEXT SECTION and follow those steps here as part of the process.

In this case this will blend with step 4 as one extended part of the cleaning.

Step 4: Wash using lukewarm water mixture 

Wash the tent by scrubbing with a soft bristle brush and the mixture we recommend is lukewarm water combined with white vinegar. This tends to work really well and avoids potential issues that can come with detergent. While it is possible to use a liquid soap and water mix, if you are going to go this direction use a weaker end soap. You don’t want anything harsh or strong. Avoid bleach, avoid harsh soaps or detergents and use lukewarm at the most – you don’t want hot water.

Step 5: Rinse with cold water

After a thorough washing and scrubbing, rinse with cold water. You don’t want any soap or residue on the canvas. You want to thoroughly rinse off any of that stuff and make sure  there’s nothing left but water on the canvas.

Step 6: Dry in the sun

The quicker it can dry out the better, and having a patch of dry ground in direct sunlight is absolutely ideal in this situation. Drying out these canvas tents helps protect the cotton and prevent mold or mildew from taking hold. Don’t skip or cut this step short!

Step 7: Repeat as needed

If there are still signs of mold, mildew, or dirt, then repeat this process as needed. Keep in mind that canvas tents aren’t renowned for keeping a perfect appearance over the long run but it holds up when properly cared for. A little smudging won’t bother you if you’ve been using the same heavy duty fabric tent for 10+ years!

Recommended Step 8: Apply waterproofing

Once the cleaning is done this is a great time to apply waterproofing and especially bring care to parts of the tent that may have been damaged by mold or time.

If you’re looking to buy a canvas tent, CLICK HERE for our #1 pick on Amazon.com.

How to Clean Mold & Mildew Off a Canvas Tent

Step 1: Don proper safety gear

Upon seeing mold and mildew you should make sure to don proper safety gear. Put on a breathing mask to make sure you’re not inhaling spores. After all, safety first.

Step 2: Kill it with a spray bottle mixture

Generally we use distilled white vinegar, though we have also heard from some pretty good sources that hydrogen peroxide is also an outstanding choice for this step. While we use straight up, at least one person we talked to said to mix a quarter cup of white wine vinegar with water. Whatever you go with, put in a spray bottle and thoroughly spray each section of the tent showing any signs of mold, mildew, or fungus.

Let sit for a few minutes to let the mixture soak in.

Step 3: Scrub the treated areas

You will want to use a soft bristle brush to scrub at the mold. The vinegar or hydrogen peroxide will help kill the mold and you are mixing it further in at this point. You may have to then wash the area with your soapy water or lukewarm water/vinegar mix for general washing. Let sit for 2 hours.

Step 4: Check your work 

At this point you are checking the mold to see if it is still alive. Once dry a smell test might not be pleasant but it is a good indicator of whether or not anything remains. If any signs of mildew or mold exist repeat steps 1-4 again until it is gone.

Step 5: Wash the rest of the tent using the steps from part 1 of this article

Finish up your washing.

Step 6: Rinse with cold water

When in doubt, rinse with cold water, dry the tent out, and repeat any steps necessary.

If you’re looking to buy a canvas tent, CLICK HERE for our #1 pick on Amazon.com.

Clean & Repair Canvas Tent Video

Big Alaska Dayton

I've always loved the outdoors and have heard the call of the wild, so to speak, since a young age. Big-time camping, hiking, backpacking, and traveling enthusiast, I'm always up for another adventure or another activity that gets me away from the desk and out to enjoy the world. An Eagle Scout with an incurable case of outdoor wanderlust, this blog was a natural labor of love and personal expertise. Hope you enjoy it!

Recent Content