Mysterious Tent Odors
by Backcountry Bob
We have an old tent and fly that smell very badly. I imagine this smell is from mildew, but it’s not the usual mildew smell. It has a unique, almost vomit-like smell. What causes this and how can I get rid of it?
Robert from Illinois
As I researched this smell, I discovered it is not from mildew, but from the breakdown of the waterproof coating on the fly and the floor of the tent. According to the people at Eureka, the only way to completely rid the tent of the smell is to remove all the urethane coating and recoat it. They recommended soaking the tent and fly for a couple of days to remove the coating. To me, this was going to take too much effort. The urethane coating on my fly was not peeling or cracking, and it was not going to come off easily. I tried something a little easier.
I washed the tent fly in a washing machine (delicate cycle) with detergent and Grangers G Wash Plus, which is cleaner/deodorizer for waterproof garments. The coating did not come off, and after it dried, there was a dramatic decrease in the smell. Next, I sprayed (saturated) the fly with Nikwax Tent and Gear Proof. The next morning when it was dry, I could barely detect the vomit-like smell you described.
I have not tested it, so I don’t know how long the smell will stay away, but this treatment was certainly a breath of fresh air without too much work.