clean a smelly rooftop tent

This Is How You Clean A Smelly Rooftop Tent

You thought your rooftop tent had been carefully preserved. You pull it out of the garage for the first big camping weekend, and phew, it stinks!

Especially if a rooftop tent is stored in the garage or in the basement for a long time, it can happen that bad smells form in the tent. This is usually due to increased humidity or other odors being transferred to the tent fabric.

Don’t despair, you’ll be surprised how easily you can fix the problem even if you have visible mold or mildew.

Things you will need to freshen up the rooftop tent

  • A bottle of vinegar
  • Mild dish soap or detergent, unscented
  • Spray bottle
  • Large bucket or plastic tub
  • Baking soda or borax
  • A soft brush or soft sponge

Other important things

  • Tent waterproofing spray
  • Wax for sealing welds

The cleaning procedure

The cleaning process is straightforward and will not take too much time. It really depends on how bad the tent smells or how bad the dirt is. Therefore we will see both the easy way and the hardest way.

For rooftop tents that are not that dirty

Now that you have all the required items, here are the steps on how to clean a smelly rooftop tent:

  • A gallon of cleaning vinegar can be purchased at most supermarkets for less than $3. Make a 50/50 mixture of water and vinegar in the spray bottle and you’re ready to start cleaning the tent. You can also add lemon juice about ¼ per cup if you want to offset the vinegar smell, but it’s not necessary. Alternatively, you can try a disinfectant spray like Lysol, but the vinegar solution is a safe bet and much more economical. Disinfectant sprays may also contain fragrances that may not be comfortable for all tent occupants.
  • Setup: Set up the tent outdoors on your car roof or on the ground. Brush away any debris and dirt and inspect the tent for mold or mildew spots. If your rooftop tent is stain-free on the outside and inside but just smells musty, you may want to spray it with your vinegar solution and let it dry in the sun. If there are mold or mildew stains, pitch the tent anyway, but before mixing the vinegar solution, spray the vinegar directly onto the mold and let it sit for an hour. Spray the entire tent with a 50/50 vinegar solution. After about an hour, use a soft brush or sponge dipped in the soap to remove the stain. Be careful not to rub away the waterproof coating.
  • Never use bleach: it will weaken the fibers and destroy the waterproofing of the tent. Fragrances attract unwanted critters, so they should be avoided in the products you use.
  • Drying time: After the tent has dried, you can no longer smell the vinegar. If your tent still smells, apply a second coat. Hopefully, the unpleasant smell has gone by now.

The bad smells can only come from mold or other dirt on the tent walls or the tent floor. The dirt can already be deep in the tissue. It is therefore important that you work the fabric thoroughly with a brush in the event of coarse soiling or mold.

Cleaning of strong-smelling rooftop tents

Fill the bucket or tub one-third full with water, and add about 1/2 cup of the mild detergent, and 1/2 gallon of vinegar. For a large tent, use a cup of detergent and the rest of the vinegar.

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Then mix up the cleaning solution and pour it into the spray bottle. Spray the inside and outside of the tent intensively. The tent should be sprayed regularly to prevent drying.

The tent material may appear durable, but the impregnation is not. Gentle scrubbing only!

You can also work with a sponge. You can soak this sponge in the cleaning solution and then rub down the tent factory intensively.

After you have thoroughly cleaned the tent inside and out, you should dry the tent well and leave it outside for a longer period of time so that it can dry well.


After cleaning, you should always re-impregnate the tent. It may be that the water protection has been removed by cleaning.

Prevent strong odors

You can avoid this big cleaning job in the future if you use these strategies to take care of your tent:

When you get home from a camping trip, air the tent and make sure it is completely dry before storing it. Make sure that no condensation remains inside. The rooftop tent should be opened before storage to allow the interior to dry. When you have just returned from your camping trip, you can set up the rooftop tent at home in front of the garage and open all the windows and flaps to let it dry and air properly.

If your climate has humid seasons or your storage room is prone to humidity, a silica gel desiccant product can also be used in the bin or storage room. You can find these in the laundry department of your local discount store.

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A clean, fresh rooftent is essential for your next camping holiday. Bring your sanitizer spray for prevention and enjoy the great outdoors without that musty aftertaste.