Is it safe to sleep in a mouldy tent?

by | Apr 26, 2023 | Gear

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Picture this: You pull your trusty old camping tent out of storage, give it a good look over, and then…

Uh oh.

You spot some mould.

Can you get away with sleeping in it?

Raindrops on the top of a camping tent.

Sleeping in a mouldy tent might not seem like a big deal, but the truth is that it can pose a serious risk to your health.

Mould, especially if present in large quantities, can lead to respiratory issues, allergies, and other health problems.

For some people, spending a night or two in a tent with mild mould may not cause any noticeable issues.

However, it’s generally not recommended to sleep in such conditions long-term since it can come with health risks—especially if you have allergies or asthma.

What does mould look like on a tent?

A black spot representing mould.

Mould typically appears as green, white, or black spots on the tent fabric.

It may also appear as yellowish-brown patches.

These spots may be very small—as small as a few millimetres in size—or they may be larger patches.

Since it often grows in damp and humid places, so you might find it around the seams of the tent where water is more likely to collect.

In addition to looking out for visible signs of mould, you might also smell a musty odour when your tent is damp.

This is another indicator that mould may be growing inside the fabric of your tent.

How risky is it to sleep in a mouldy tent?

A man trying to sleep inside a tent.

The risk depends on several factors including:

  • How much mould there is
  • Where the mould is located (such as inside the tent versus outside)
  • The size and type of tent you’re using
  • How long you plan on sleeping in the tent
  • Your health status (any allergies or respiratory conditions)

While it might be okay to sleep in a tent with mild traces of mould for a day or two, you should avoid sleeping in a mouldy tent beyond that.

Health risks associated with sleeping in a mouldy tent

A woman coughing outdoors.

If you’re considering sleeping in a mouldy tent, it’s important to be aware of the health risks involved.

Mould exposure can lead to a variety of issues, particularly for those who are sensitive to it.

Let’s explore some of the potential problems that may arise from spending the night in a mould-infested environment.

Respiratory issues

Breathing in mould spores can cause respiratory problems—especially if you have a pre-existing condition.

Some common symptoms of mould exposure include a stuffy nose, sore throat, coughing, and wheezing.

In more severe cases, mould can even lead to lung infections in people with compromised immune systems or chronic lung diseases.


Mould exposure can also trigger allergic reactions in people who are sensitive to it.

Common symptoms such as sneezing, watery eyes, and skin rashes may occur after spending the night in a mould-infested tent.

In more severe cases, people can experience anaphylaxis—a life-threatening allergic reaction with rapid onset of symptoms including difficulty breathing, dizziness and nausea.


If you have asthma, mould exposure can be particularly problematic.

Breathing in mould spores can aggravate your condition, causing difficulty breathing and increased asthma symptoms.

It’s best to avoid sleeping in a mouldy tent if you have asthma.

Skin irritation

Skin that comes into contact with mould can become irritated by becoming red and itchy.

In more serious cases, skin contact with mould can even lead to a fungal infection.

The risk is greater if you have cuts or open wounds on your skin.

It’s important to be extra careful when handling mouldy tents and other objects as direct contact can exacerbate existing skin irritation or cause new irritations.

The best way to minimize this risk is to wear gloves and protective clothing when handling a mouldy tent.

Long-term risks

Depending on the severity of your mould exposure, you may experience long-term issues such as asthma attacks, allergies, and chronic respiratory problems.

What to do if you find mould in your tent

The seams of a green tent.

You have three options if you find mould in your tent:

  1. Risk the health consequences and take it camping.
  2. Try to clean the mouldy area.
  3. Replace the tent.

All of these options make sense depending on the severity of the mould.

For instance, if you spot a fingernail-sized section of mould growing on the outside of your tent, you’re probably fine to take it on a weekend camping trip and then try to clean it when you get home.

However, if the mould spans a larger area, you probably want to clean it right away.

If it doesn’t come clean, or the area is too large to clean, you might just want to scrap it and buy a new tent altogether.

How to clean a mouldy tent

Soapy water, a sponge, and gloves.

If the damage isn’t that bad, you can try your hand at removing the mould yourself.

First, take your tent outside and use a soft brush to gently remove the visible mould.

Remember to wear non-porous gloves while doing this, as they’ll protect your skin against possible irritation.

You can clean your tent in three ways:

Use natural cleansing substances

Lemon juice and salt can be used as a gentler cleanser.

It’s important to note that the citric acid in lemon juice can cause a bleaching effect, so use this technique with caution (or move on to the following alternative cleaning options).

Mix equal parts of lemon juice and salt to form a paste.

Apply the paste on the mouldy areas, scrub gently, and let it sit for about 30 minutes.

Rinse thoroughly with water afterwards.

Use a mild detergent

Another method to clean your tent is by using warm water and mild detergent like gentle dish soap.

Fill a bucket with warm water, add some gentle detergent, and scrub the affected areas gently.

Make sure to rinse well to remove all soap residues.

Use a specific tent cleaner

Nikwax tent and gear cleaner not only cleans tent fabric, but also adds waterproofing and extra UV protection.

It’s worth the extra investment if you want to protect against sun damage and increase the lifespan of your tent.

If you’re ever in doubt about how to clean or store your tent properly, don’t hesitate to ask an outdoor equipment expert.

They can provide the best advice for keeping your tent in top condition.

Let your tent dry completely

No matter what cleaning solution you use, after cleaning, you absolutely must let your tent dry out thoroughly.

Hang your tent up in a well-ventilated area to air-dry for several hours.

Avoid using direct heat sources like heaters, as they can damage the tent fabric.

Never, ever put the tent away if it’s still partially wet.

Wait for it to dry completely—even if that means bringing it inside overnight or when it rains.

How to prevent mould from growing on your tent

Storage bins in the garage.

It isn’t hard to keep your tent from getting mouldy.

All it takes is proper drying and storage.

Here are some tips:

Ensure your tent is completely dry before storing it. When you get back from a camping trip, immediately take your tent out of its stuff sack and either hang it on a clothesline or spread it out on the ground to let it fully dry.

Avoid packing your tent away while it’s damp. Sometimes this is unavoidable, such as when you have to leave your campsite on a rainy day, but you can get away with it as long as you take it out on the same day to let it dry.

Store your tent in a cool, dry place. Don’t store the tent where it will be exposed to high levels of humidity (like an attic), as this increases the chances of mould infestation.

Pack your tent in a resealable storage bin along with other camping gear to prevent moisture from reaching it—especially if you plan on storing it in a garage or shed.

Inspect your tent for any signs of mould or damage before every trip and address them immediately so that you can stop small patches from growing out of control.

Signs you might just need a new tent

A person laying out a tent to dry.

If your tent is beyond repair, or if you tried to clean it without success, it might be time to invest in a new one.

Some of the common signs that you need to replace your tent are:

  • The mould has left stains on the tent fabric after trying to clean it.
  • The tent smells bad, even after trying to clean it.
  • The fabric has started to wear thin, disintegrate, or tear apart after cleaning.
  • You’ve experienced one or more symptoms listed above after sleeping in the tent.

We recommend checking out our guide to three-season tents to find a tent that’s best suited for you.

Next up: How long should a tent last?

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Elise & Ross

We’re Elise and Ross, avid backcountry campers and outdoor adventurers! We started Gone Camping Again as a way to share our knowledge and experience about wilderness living and travel. Our hope is that we inspire you to get outside and enjoy all that nature has to offer!

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