Summer Is Over: Wash & Store Your Camping Gear

Your warm-weather memories may still be fresh in your mind, but your tent and outdoor living gear are starting to get a bit stale. Improper cleaning of your tent, sleeping bags, and other adventure equipment can make problems worse; not taking the appropriate steps to freshen everything up – and store it correctly – can even cause items to mold, rot, or break down while in fall and winter storage!

Here’s what you need to know about the proper way to put away those summer camping items you care about.

1. Handle accidents right away.

The best way to keep your stuff clean is to deal with any big spills or other mishaps immediately upon returning from your camping trip. Gear is meant to get dirty, and standard wear isn’t anything to worry about. Sticky spills, burns, gasoline odors, and other extreme issues, however, should be wiped clean before your next adventure. You don’t want to attract rodents or bugs with food particles, and certain other residues can break down fabrics in a short period of time.

2. Spend time cleaning for off-season storage.

It’s wise to budget a day (or more) to make sure your gear is in the best condition before putting it away for the winter. Each piece of equipment will have its own best method for cleaning, but the most common ways to get rid of dirt and grime include:

  • Tent: Turn the tent inside out, shaking out dirt, food, and loose particles. Use a mixture of Dropps laundry detergent dissolved in a bucket of warm water to wipe away stubborn or sticky stains. Allow the tent to air dry completely before storing. You will want to do this on a sunny day when you have plenty of time for moisture to evaporate. Put it into its original storage bag or a tote to protect against pests during the winter.
  • Sleeping bag: If your bag isn’t too dirty, a quick shake-out and an afternoon on the clothesline should suffice. Rid your bag of excessive odors, dirt, and stains with a trip to the laundromat for a quick spin in the commercial-capacity washer. (Don’t forget the Dropps!) Some front-load washers can handle one single sleeping bag on an extra large cycle, but if you choose this option, be sure you dissolve your detergent in the water fully before putting the bag in. It may take an extra rinse cycle to get all of the soap out. Line dry for best results, or dry in a dryer with tennis balls to keep the interior from bunching up. Store in its original storage bag or a storage tote.
  • Air mattress/mattress pad: Wipe clean with a solution of laundry detergent and warm water. Allow to air dry. Fold flat and store in a breathable storage container.
  • Boots and shoes: Knock away any large pieces of mud or dirt before washing in warm water without detergent. Dry in a dryer only if made of cloth or canvas; leather, rubber, or man-made “pleather” boots should be air-dried. Treat with waterproofing spray before storing in a closet over the winter. This same method can be used for your outerwear and backpacks, too!

Remember, one of the biggest problems people have with off-season storage is remembering where they put things! Try to keep all of your camping gear in one spot, whether that be the garage, under your bed, or in a closet. Label everything clearly so that you can see – at a glance – which items are stored where.