You pitch your tent and pound in the stakes only to climb inside and realize that you have a mold problem. As tents spend their lives alternating between becoming damp in the outdoors then being packed away for weeks to months, mold is a common condition.
So, can you sleep in a moldy tent?
Mold is generally not considered poisonous though there are some species, like black mold, that can produce toxins. In most instances, you can sleep in a moldy tent for a short period of time. However, you may experience unpleasant symptoms as a result of the mold causing your allergies or sensitivities to flare.
If your choices are either sleeping outside in the elements with the bugs or sleeping in a moldy tent, you should be fine in the tent overnight. However, there are ways to prevent mold from attacking your tent and methods to clean a moldy tent.
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What is Mold?
Mold is a fungus and that is very prevalent all over the globe. Mold comes in a variety of colors and can be relegated to a small area or pervasive. These microorganisms love moisture and it is the damp that helps them to grow.
They reproduce by releasing spores that are carried through the air. When the spores land on a wet spot they can multiply. This is not an issue in the great outdoors where mold actually helps to break down dead and decaying plant and animal matter.
But in your tent or home, mold spores flying through the air can really irritate your body. The more mold you have, the more spores. If the spores are inhaled you can experience coughing, wheezing, and other respiratory issues.
For most people, the symptoms caused by mold are just an annoyance, but for those with a compromised immune system or ongoing illness, a surplus of mold spores can be life-threatening. This is especially true for those who are asthmatic.
Therefore, if your health is compromised, it is probably best to avoid sleeping in a moldy tent altogether. If you are in good health, you can spend a night or two in the tent, just expect to experience a host of allergy symptoms.
How To Identify Mold The Mold In Your Tent
Mold can be black, orange, green, grey, brown, white, or even purple. It usually appears as spots or patches that may look fuzzy. Another telltale sign of mold is a musty or damp odor.
On your tent, mold should be easy to spot. However, it does prefer dark and moist places. If you smell mold but can’t see it, be sure to check along seams, and in between flaps.
How To Clean a Moldy Tent
How you clean your tent, and how well it works to keep the mold away, depends on when you notice the mold problem. If you realize that your tent is moldy while at the campsite, your cleaning options may be limited.
Cleaning at the Campsite
The sun and dry conditions are certainly your friends when it comes to getting rid of mold. One of the most basic cleaning methods involves soap, water, the sun, and elbow grease. Hopefully, you will have all of these things at your disposal while at the campground.
You will want to have your tent completely set up, but have the rain fly removed. Then add some mild soap, such as dish soap, to warm water. With a sponge or a rag scrub the mold to remove it as best as you can.
When you feel that you have cleaned all the mold, rinse the tent and leave it in the sun to dry. The sun acts as a natural bleaching agent and will help to kill any remaining bacteria.
Additional home remedies may be tried depending on what solutions you brought with you camping. Generally, soap and water are the safest for use on your tent and it will not break down the fabrics. However, some individuals prefer a slightly harsher cleaner.
You can try a mixture of lemon juice and salt or white vinegar diluted with water. Either of these solutions should be scrubbed onto the moldy areas and then rinsed clean. Once you are sure that you have rinsed away the residue of any cleaner used, leave the tent in the sun to dry.
Using too abrasive of a cleaner could harm your tent’s fabrics or shorten the tent’s lifespan.
Cleaning at Home
If you are at home and happen to notice the mold, your options are less limited. Some people turn to commercial cleaners. However, it is not advised to put your tent in a washing machine or dryer as they could destroy the tent fabrics and any waterproofing.
A favorite mold removing product of those who camp frequently is Lysol. This commercial-grade cleaner is excellent at killing bacteria. The Lysol will need to be diluted first.
It is suggested that you mix a half cup of Lysol into one gallon of warm water. Then use the solution to sponge or scrub the mold. Some people will then rinse off the Lysol dilution with water, while others will rinse the solution with a gallon of water combined with one cup of lemon juice and one cup of salt.
Then you should let your tent air dry in the sun. After drying, if you want to take an extra measure of cleanliness, you can use a diluted solution of non-chlorine bleach applied to the mold stain. Once applied allow to dry completely.
Other commercial mold cleaners include Simple Green disinfectant, mold bomb foggers, and sanitizers. However, these cleaners can be damaging to your tent fabrics. Be sure to read all precautions prior to using them on any materials.
Getting Rid of Mold and Mildew Odors
Once you have removed the mold, the odor should dissipate. But, if you find that the smell has seeped into your tent fabrics you may want to deodorize.
One way to get rid of funky smells is to submerge your tent. Fill a small pool or tub with warm water and add a deodorizer. These are usually sold in outdoor stores, one example is MiraZyme.
Once you have your solution, submerge your tent and allow it to soak for about ten minutes. Make sure that all the zippers and flaps are open. The deodorizer should work to kill any spores or microbes causing a smell.
Once your tent has soaked in the solution, allow it to air dry. You can either hang it or set it up. Most manufacturers of deodorizers do not recommend rinsing it off.
If your tent is only mildly smelly, try a commercial fabric reviver in the form of a spray. Just spray your tent thoroughly and allow it to remain open in a ventilated area. You will likely not want to spray it just before turning in for the night as the fragrance could be overwhelming.
Whether scrubbing your tent, submerging it, or using a spray, there is a chance that you could compromise its water resistance. If you are worried about your tent’s ability to deflect water after a mold incident, you could re-waterproof it using a sealant or spray found at any outdoor store.
How To Prevent a Moldy Tent
Preventing mold in the first place means that you won’t have to deal with the removal and clean up later.
Always making sure that your tent is put away dry is key. Since mold thrives in wet conditions, storing a wet tent can be detrimental.
If your tent is dry when you leave the campsite, and you have had fair weather conditions with no rain or dew, then it should be safe to store. You will want to thoroughly check your tent for wetness before packing it up.
If your tent has battled rain, snow, or dew and is still damp, or if you want to err on the side of caution, take your tent out at home. After your trip unpack your tent and let it air dry in the sun or at least indoors. When it is completely dry, then it is safe to store.
Storing your tent in an airtight bag is not recommended. When you pack your tent away you want to keep proper ventilation in mind and allow your tent to breathe. Some campers find that their tent remains mold-free if stored in a mesh bag.
If you are storing your tent in a basement, crawl space, or another area that can be prone to dampness you will want to watch it for mold. You will want to check your tent somewhat frequently and at least a few days in advance of when you plan to use it.
You can also try to control the humidity in the area where the tent is being stored by using a dehumidifier or by using moisture absorbing hangers or blocks.
The 411 on Mold and Your Tent
Even though mold likely won’t harm you, you don’t want to be breathing in mold spores. Unfortunately, when you are sleeping in a moldy tent you can be sure that you will be inhaling more than a handful of spores.
In addition, mold can slowly deteriorate your tent fabrics. Once it is deeply embedded in your tent materials it can be hard to kill. Therefore, any mold should immediately be taken care of.
Depending on the severity of the mold situation, you can use soap and water or a stronger commercial cleaner. Be sure to sun dry your tent and deodorize and re-waterproof if necessary.
If you always put your tent away dry and take steps to ensure that it stays well ventilated during storage mold should not be an issue.
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