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How to Maintain and Clean a Bell Tent

September 20, 2022 8 min read

Canvas tents can last for a lifetime if properly cared for.  But just like maintaining a healthy diet, tent maintenance requires dedication, proactive measures, and obsessive anxiety over mortality. 

Hopefully you proactively sought this article before stains or fungi have found their way to your canvas.  If not, we have some advice below these tent tips that can help you clean and care for your canvas tent to help give you a generation of use out of your bell tent.

10 Tips to Maintaining a Bell Tent

Prevention is the key to elongating the life of your bell tent.  Below are important steps to take before, during, and after using your bell tent to ensure that it stays in tippy-top condition.

clean bell tent
  1. Do Not Pitch Your Tent Directly Under a Tree Or Against Foliage

    Yes, shade is amazing during the summer time, but trees tend to attract birds, and branches are their outhouse, and your tent is below their outhouse.  Trees also can secrete sap, and for some reason canvas is an amazing attractant for this stuff. 

    Full shade also blocks the sun, which helps to dry any moisture off of your tent walls, ceiling and from around your floor – thus preventing mold.

    You can get away with pitching your tent wall snug against tall grass and plants for a couple of days, but avoid doing so for weeks at a time. This foliage will trap moisture against your tent and is the perfect incubator for fungus growth.

  2. Vent Your Bell Tent

    Canvas is one of the most breathable fabrics for camping, but certain humidity can still create condensation on the inside of your tent.  Open screened windows and doors periodically to allow a breeze to relieve any condensation. 

    If your canvas tent is in a high humid environment, then venting your tent might not be enough. Also consider running a fan of a dehumidifier.  For and even stronger defense, you could benefit from regularly running a wood burning stove or propane heater inside the tent every week to help drive out any moisture, regardless of the heat index outside.

  3. Use a Ground Tarp

    Condensation will get trapped between the floor of your tent and the ground no matter where you pitch your tent.  Using a ground cloth under your tent will not only minimize condensation, it will also protect your floor from sticks and stones – not to mention reduce the amount of wiping when you pack up. Check you our 5M bell tent ground tarp or 6 meter version if you are in the market for one.

  4. Do Not Pack Your Tent Up Wet or Covered With Leaves or Grass

    A wet, packed up tent creates the best conditions for mold to grow.  If you must pack it up damp, dry your tent out within a few days so that you don’t need to read further down in this article.

    Organic material left on your tent, such as leaves or grass, can also lead to mold growth. Do your best to clear these off before rolling up your bell tent.

  5. Sweep & Wipe Your Tent Floor Before Packing It Up.

    Any dirt, hair, and mud on the floor of your tent will end up on your ceiling when you fold up your tent.  We suggest laying down some rugs in your tent and bring along a broom or cordless vacuum to help avoid the difficult task of cleaning your ceiling during your next adventure.

  6. Keep Mud Off of Your Guy Lines

    Muddy guy lines get folded up with your tent.  Guess what happens to that mud?  Yep, it creates lovely mud splatter designs on your canvas.  The best way to avoid this is to carefully pull dirty tent pegs out of the ground and avoid contact with the guy line ropes during removal. 

  7. Wipe Moisture From The Bottom of Your Tent Floor

    The bottom of your tent will likely have some condensation or water on it.  Bring along a towel to dry off this water as you fold up your tent to avoid the possibility of mold growth while your tent is in storage. 

  8. Store Your Bell Tent In a Cool and Dry Location.

    Right next to your wine, street bike, or photo albums should do just fine.  Just make sure that the sun or rodents won’t bathe on it. As added security, store your tent in a rubber or plastic container, off the ground - but again, make sure that the location chosen won't be hot or humid.

  9. Clean Your Bell Tent

    Use a mild soap, hot water, a soft brush, some elbow grease and patience. Brining out your garden hose along with a powerful spray nozzle most likely will be necessary as well.   This is our favorite tool to spray off a canvas tent is this high pressure garden hose wand.  See below for more details on cleaning your canvas tent.

  10. Retreat Your Canvas Regularly

    Your canvas likely comes with an extra waterproofing treatment that helps repel water and mildew.  This will treatment wear off the more your tent is used. You will know it is time to retreat your canvas when water no longer beads up and rolls down the canvas.  Likely this will occur after about 60 days of use.  303 Fabric Guard and Dry Guy waterproofing sprays are two great products to accomplish this.  The below regional map suggest how frequently you should perform this process based on the likely humidity levels in your micro-climate: 

    canvas tent waterproofing map

Check out our article on retreating your canvas tent with a waterproofing spray for more tips.


How to Spot Clean a Canvas Tent

Cleaning a canvas tent takes patience, time, and a little elbow grease.  Not all stains are created equally, and some cleaning solutions will compromise the life of your canvas.  We recommend to always test your treatment approach on an inconspicuous and negligible area of your bell tent (the canvas tent bag is a good option). 

Step 1: Perform a quick “dry cleaning” of the canvas. 

Scrub as much of the dirty canvas with a soft bristle brush, a sponge and a dry rag to remove the initial surface debris that is present.  Optional, hit the spot with a clean vacuum.  The goal is to get as much of the area clean without needing to apply any solvents or scrubbing off pre-existing canvas protectants.

Step 2: Cross your fingers and scrub with soap and hot water. 

Fill a bucket with warm soapy water and repeat scrubbing with the same tools from step one (soft brush, sponge, and rag).  Use a mild detergent or soap (think Seventh Generation, Ivory, Joy, Dawn, Woolite, or even baby shampoo). After a solid attempt, thoroughly rinse all of the soap off with clean water.  Insight:  soap residue is food for fungi growth – so rinse well. 

Step 3: Curse. 

Then take a deep breath.

Step 4: Try again.

Repeat steps 3 and 2.

Step 5: Let dry in the sun.

Smile. 

Congratulations if that worked!  If not, remain calm and be patient - you had to try start there.

If that didn’t remove everything, then hop online and grab some Iosso Mold and Mildew & Stain Remover and apply it multiple times. We find it to the best bet to get out most tough organic strains, safely.  

After scrubbing, we highly recommend applying some canvas guard to add back waterproofing.  303 Fabric Guard, Dry Guy waterproofing spray, and Hawk Tools waterpoofer are 3 safe and effective products for protecting your canvas.

 


 

Removing Mold from a Canvas Tent

mold on canvas tent

Honestly, this is a tough task.  Try to be patient, as the cleaning process could take a couple of meticulous hours. Of note, we have not found a way to remove pink mold from canvas, so you should lower expectations this strand has taken hold.

You will find recommendations to use clean your canvas with a combination of 10% bleach and water to eliminate mold. Don’t.  Bleach will weaken the canvas, and destroy the tent stitching, so only attempt this as a very last resort.  Instead, we suggest the following steps to remove mold from your canvas tent.  And if you need to get to the top of your tent to clean to - place a few of chairs inside before you remove the center pole.

  1. Dry-scrub the area with a soft bristle brush or sponge

  2. Kill the mold with a mixture of 1-part white vinegar (distilled) 3-parts water.  Spray it on and let it dry.  Let rinse thoroughly. 

  3. Use Iosso Mold and Mildew & Stain Remover.  This is our go-to product.  It is gentle on canvas and has historically done the best job.   

    Follow the on-pack instructions.  Follow the on-pack instructions.  Try spot cleaning with a hot-water mixture in a spray bottle, or create a solution in a bucket and apply with a sponge.  Don’t be alarmed if all of the mold hasn’t been removed yet.

  4. Let it dry in direct sunlight.

  5. Apply another treatment and let dry.  You may need to repeat this a third time.

  6. Rinse and let dry.

After cleaning, we highly recommend applying a canvas treatment to add back waterproofing. 303 Fabric Guard, Dry Guy waterproofing spray, and Hawk Tools waterpoofer are 3 safe safe and effective products for protecting your canvas tent.


Soaking Your Canvas Tent Clean

canvas tent mold removal

If your canvas tent is going to need more then a spot clean and is completely covered in mold, then you will want to soak your canvas tent for awhile to allow.  This process is a big (and heavy) job so be prepared to take 2-3 of days to complete it (between prep, soak time, rinsing, drying, and retreating the canvas).

Before you begin, you will need to acquire the tools and watch the weather forecast for a stretch of dry, warm days.

Tools and Products to Gather:

  • 55 gallon capacity container (such as a drum, trash can, a kiddie pool, etc)
  • 1.36 kg container of Oxyclean
  • Access to warm water with a hose attachment
  • A sturdy stick (without sharp edges)
  • Tent "drying rack" (i.e. saw horses, chairs, tables, ladders etc).
  • Hawk Tools Canvas Waterproofer
  • 2 total people
moldy canvas tent cleaning

    Tent Cleaning Process:

    1. Remove the floor from the tent and set aside (might as well clean it).
    2. Fill container 1/4 to 1/3 full of warm water (the hotter the better).
    3. Add all Oxyclean & stir until dissolved.
    4. Place canvas fabric inside of container.
    5. Add more water until canvas is submerged.
    6. Agitate ("stir") the canvas and water with a large stick.
    7. Cover the container (optional to retain the heat).
    8. Let soak for 5-12 hours, periodically agitating the canvas and water with the stick/pole.
    9. Pour out the water (oxyclean should be kind to the soil).
    10. While still in the container, thoroughly rinse off the canvas, and out, the container.  Rinse really well.  Really well.
    11. Inspect.  If necessary, repeat the process a 2nd time.
    12. Bring the container to chosen location and remove the canvas to allow it to dry - avoiding contact with dirt (laying a tarp down is wise).  
      1. Carefully extend the canvas over sturdy support structures (note it will be heavy).  If you use extend it over a vehicle, make sure it is protected with a tarp.
      2. Perform another light rinse if possible.
    13. Allow the canvas to become 80%-90% dry (so a hot day is best).
    14. Place the canvas on top of the tent floor and attach back to the canvas.
    15. Erect the tent and let dry.
    16. Apply Hawk Tools Canvas Waterproofer or Dry Guy waterproofer according to their instructions to add back waterproofing protection.
    canvas tent cleaning gear

    Once completed, the tent should be in good shape.  You will want ensure that interior is also getting good air circulation to ensure less humidity is being trapped inside. 

    Brandy Lamb
    Brandy Lamb

    Father of two aspiring glampers, husband to one inspirational wife, and Co-Founder of Life inTents. Continuiously striving to help make camping more comfortable.


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