De-stenching a canvas tent for one final voyage.
October 27, 2015 7:04 PM   Subscribe

So, I've ruined my Kodiak canvas tent. What steps can I take to make it usable for one more trip?

I bought the incredible Kodiak Canvas Tent 6051 last year for Burning Man. it survived the rains on the Playa, but then got lightly rained on during a December camping trip in Joshua Tree. Without the benefit of a week's worth of desert heat to dry it out, I packed up the Kodiak and promptly threw it back into storage until its next adventure, now nearly a year later.

Unfortunately, like a grand idiot, I neglected to read the very clear instructions on the last page of the manual which read:
So, now I have a stinky and mildewy tent which has degraded beyond the point where I can use it in the long term. The instructions indicate that ordinary cleaning can be done with water and a cloth, but that's not going to do the trick in this case.

I've already set it up in my yard to air out over the next week, but I'm wondering what else I can do to make this thing usable for one more weekend trip until I can afford to drop $400 on another. They counter-indicate for soaps and abrasives of any kind, but I dunno if vinegar / baking soda / etc., would have any effect. Or should I just burn the thing?
posted by mykescipark to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (8 answers total)
Soaps or abrasives are bad long term, but you don't have to worry about long term. I would spray it with dilute bleach (5% or less) for an hour and then rinse well and let dry well. If there's a bleach smell make sure to air it out some more. Tilex and other anti-mildew cleaners typically contain about that level of bleach, and while I wouldn't normally advocate it, you probably could just use Tilex in this case, again assuming you rinse.
posted by wnissen at 7:40 PM on October 27, 2015

If you can immerse it in water--in a kiddie pool or bathtub, for instance--I'd try soaking it for 24 hours or so in a strong, hot solution of OxyClean before resorting to bleach, which is much more likely to weaken the fabric (it would be a drag if you de-stenched it only to have it tear after setup). Costco sells the ~8 lb. boxes for as little as $15, if you have one in your neck of the woods. Rinse well and dry in full sunlight.
posted by pullayup at 7:46 PM on October 27, 2015 [3 favorites]

If I were on a similar mission I'd likely:
Soak with a vinegar/dish soap solution, scrub well, then dry in full sunlight, ideally on a windy and low-humidity day;
Maybe follow with an enzyme cleaner soak if there was still a lingering smell;
Finish with a waterproofing spray to undo any damage from scrubbing.

I would go ahead with a brush scrubbing when cleaning. They don't want you using anything abrasive because this tent is supposed to last decades, but these are extenuating circumstances, especially since you're only expecting to get a few more uses out of it.
posted by veery at 7:48 PM on October 27, 2015

Without seeing how degraded your canvas has become, this is what I would do, but first:
a) First, accept that no matter what you might have a slight smell and you will have staining.
b) Be willing to re-waterproof your tent if any kind of rain or snow will be a problem. It looks like Kodiak does have a water-proofing recommendation with silicon, so that's good.

The reason why the cleaners/abrasives are a problem is that they abrade/affect the waterproofing. Once you accept that and are willing to re-waterproof, more cleaning solutions become available. If your canvas hasn't significantly degraded, I would try a mixture of vinegar/dish soap/water with a soft bristled brush. Soak it for a few minutes. Then scrub. Make sure you rinse it out well. If it seems to be working, you might have to do it twice.

Next up (after a thorough, thorough rinsing) would be a marine canvas cleaner like this or a heavy duty mildew remover like this. Or one of the solutions offered above.

Personally, I'm a risk taker, so if the canvas wasn't too bad or I thought that the tent was lost regardless I would try throwing it in the washing machine with a cup of vinegar, not detergent, first. Whether or not you want to try is up to you. While you'll still need to scrub afterwards it might help with the smell and "low hanging fruit" for mildew removal. A front loading washer at a laundromat would be the best option if you decide to do this. It could also ruin your tent, so. . . .

If at some point you're happy with the cleaning, rinse well and apply waterproofing - make sure you get the seams and zippers - and then leave some baking soda in the tent while it dries and then for some time afterward. You might still have a smell. This sounds crazy, but I've found one of the best "cover-ups" for mildew is a strong smelling, loose leaf tea leaves wrapped in some cheesecloth hanging in the tent - but only if wild animals aren't a concern.

Oh, and don't leave your tent out in the sun for too long- UV rays can degrade the already weakened canvas.

Best of luck. Mildew's a crapshoot.
posted by barchan at 7:50 PM on October 27, 2015

You can try a cleaning with dilute bleach followed by a scrubbing with pure vinegar. If you still have good sunlight where you are, it may help. It all depends on how bad your bad is.

Here's REI's guide to cleaning and de-mildewing tents. Note that it indicates that harsher cleaning substances will affect the waterproofing, so you may wish to consider bringing tarps to throw over top in case of rain.
posted by Candleman at 7:58 PM on October 27, 2015

I'm going to assume you are in California? I don't know where....

Sunshine will sorta not so much work. Also, check out Big 5 and Target - cheap tents that will do you are on clearance right now. If any are left, check a few stores. I got an awesome $60 tent 7 years ago, and I'm still using it. It's an off brand, but I love the design and will be sad when it goes. I think the brand is Compass?

I would buy a cheap tent and commit the old one to the outdoor gods of the past. I like projects and have a lot of outdoor equipment, have been camping, sailing, and kayaking since I was a child. I know canvas tents and pop-up trailers from way back. Your tent is not salvageable as you describe. The mildew and chemicals will make you sick. We are heading into a rainy season and we've already had flash flooding nearby me (less than 10 miles/ and 40 miles) on days I've had full sun in LA central. Take a pass on this project. It's a waste of time and likely hazardous.

Bonus! You'll have an extra tent the next time non-outdoorsy friends want to join you.
posted by jbenben at 11:51 PM on October 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

Here's the tent I have. $60, and a total workhorse, entirely functional. Mine is still stored in the box because it comes with such crappy not-really-compression bags for traveling.

For 5 days use or less, in no way would I use or try to salvage the tent you have. Not if $60 could save me the discomfort, smell, and worry about toxicity of the mold/mildew or cleaners.

Did I mention the top of this tent zips off to reveal an amazingly shear mesh that gives you a FULL view of the night sky from your sleeping bag? There have been meteor showers recently, lasting until November (Orinionids.)

I realize this is a dome tent, and you are talking about a cabin tent. My husband is 6'2" and finds the tent pleasant. The profile is comfortable and well high enough. I'm not trying to sell you a tent. I'm kindly letting you know your energy is better spent elsewhere than trying to combat mold or mildew in canvas. The fungus always wins on that turf. Go enjoy nature without this headache :))
posted by jbenben at 12:53 AM on October 28, 2015 [6 favorites]

I had a nice tent at one point. I forget exactly what happened, but i don't have a nice tent anymore.

I decided a few years ago that i'm never going to pay more than like, $50 for a tent. I'll see whatever the most reasonably designed $25 to maybe $60 max tent is, weighted towards what's on sale, and then buy it. Forget some critical piece or do a shitty job packing it up? Whatever, just buy another one. Break it, either through crappy design or just being a doofus(and it's almost always the latter), buy another one. Friend borrows it and ruins it? Well it only cost $45 or whatever, so they're likely to actually replace it or reimburse me rather than dodge it or otherwise be disappointing.

Have i had i think, one experience where zipper was so shitty that we had to jimmy-rig a solution to close the door because it wouldn't actually work after only like two days of trip? Yea, but i partially blame that on playa dust(My cheapo tent survived the rains too!).

I watched plenty of other people have crappy experiences with expensive tents. Meanwhile, i didn't even really give a crap what happened to my cheap tent.

I'm going to say though, you will never unstink this tent. It was always sort of smell like mildew. No amount of sun or whatever will ever completely unstink it. Tents are like cars that get wet inside.
posted by emptythought at 2:06 PM on October 28, 2015

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