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Illustration for article titled Camping Is A Mess. Here’s How To Fix Six Camping Cleaning Problems.
Photo: Ian Espinosa (Unsplash), Illustration: Jake Inferrera

Steppin’ Out WeekWith sun-drenched days upon us, the outdoors is your oyster. All this week, we’ve got tips and recommendations for everything from urban park excursions to backcountry backpacking, so let these guides help spark your next adventure.  

Perhaps you, a camping enthusiast, can relate to this scenario: You’ve returned to civilization, toted all your camping gear from the car into your home, taken a long, hot shower and are ready to unpack. So unpack you do! Only to discover that everything you brought on your trip to the wilderness smells like a campfire. Or is covered in mud.

These things will happen! But there are easy fixes to the most common camping gear messes, and here’s what they are.

Camping Problem 1: Your Laundry Smells Like a Campfire

Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Liquid Soap - Baby Unscented
Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Liquid Soap – Baby Unscented
Graphic: Shep McAllister

When clothes and towels take on an especially strong odor — like, say, the smell of smoke from a campfire — regular laundering alone often isn’t enough to fully eliminate odors. Enter an odor-eliminating detergent! Dr. Bronner’s is an excellent choice and, if you’re a camper, likely a product you already have. But if you don’t have Dr. Bronner’s, a sports detergent like Sport Suds or Tide Sport will also work to nuke strong odors in clothing. It’s best to wash very smelly gear in cold water, and either air dry or machine dry on a low- to medium-heat setting, since heat can amplify any lingering odors.

Scrubbing Brush
Scrubbing Brush
Photo: Amazon

Camping Problem 2: Your Laundry Is Covered In Dirt and Mud

Two fun facts about dirt and mud! They are protein stains, and mud, at least, is one of the few stains that isn’t best treated immediately. Here’s why: If you try to add a liquid stain treatment to mud you’ll just create … more mud. Once it’s dry, however, and back to its dirt form, you can brush away quite a lot of it using a laundry brush (a nail brush will also work!)

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Once you’ve brushed away as much dirt as possible, use an enzymatic stain pretreatment product like Zout or Krud Kutter Sports Stain Remover on clothing prior to laundering, which will help to break down and eliminate protein stains.

Heinz All-Natural Distilled White Vinegar
Heinz All-Natural Distilled White Vinegar
Graphic: Shep McAllister

Camping Problem 3: Your Laundry Smells Mildewy

Sometimes you have wet clothes that you have to pack up before they have a chance to dry, that’s just a fact of camping life. A thing that can easily happen, and is also super easy to reverse, is that clothes can take on a strong mildewy smell when they’ve been balled up, wet, for a prolonged period of time. Here’s what you’re going to do when that happens: Add ½-1 cup of white vinegar to the wash along with your regular detergent. That’s all! When the clothes come out of the wash you might get a whiff of vinegar but when they dry, the pickle-y smell will dissipate.

Illustration for article titled Camping Is A Mess. Here’s How To Fix Six Camping Cleaning Problems.
Photo: Fidel Fernando (Unsplash)

Camping Problem 4: Your Hiking Boots Are Destroyed

A solution to wrecked hiking boots in 4-easy steps.

Step 1: Let them dry;
Step 2: Take them outside, if possible, and clap them together vigorously to dislodge dirt, leaves, and other flora. If you don’t have outdoor space to perform this operation, you can do it over a trash can;
Step 3: Use a a laundry brush, a nail brush or even a household scrub brush (which is fine to use on sturdy boots but shouldn’t be used on more delicate footwear or clothing) to brush away more dirt and debris that the clapping didn’t dislodge;
Step 4: Remove the laces, put them in a mesh laundry bag, give the shoes a spray of an enzymatic stain remover like Zout or Krud Kutter Sports Stain Remover, and wash the shoes in the machine using cold water. Hiking boots, like sneakers, should not be machine dried, but rather air dried with the tongue flipped over the toebox to encourage air circulation in the interior of the shoe.

Is there still a smell even after washing? Sure, you need an odor eliminating spray like Dr. Scholl’s Odor-X.

Scotch-Brite Dobie All Purpose Pads
Scotch-Brite Dobie All Purpose Pads
Graphic: Shep McAllister

Camping Problem 5: Your Cookware Needs Some TLC

Washing the stuff you cook and eat with while camping poses some obvious challenges: A lack of running water, limited supplies, etc etc. Which means that, even if you’ve been doing dishes while in the woods, when you get home your gear may need a good going over to remove food residue or that sticky film that can develop.

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For stuck-on food, our old friend the Dobie Pad is going to be more or less all you need to scrub it away, though using baking soda can also help the process. If a pot has gotten scorched, sprinkle baking soda all over the bottom, fill it about a third of the way up with water and bring it to a boil. Remove from the heat and let it cool long enough that you can put your hand in the water without scalding yourself, and use the Dobie to scrub away the loosened scorch.

If a sticky film is coating your camping cooking gear, try spraying it with a degreaser like ZEP Heavy-Duty Citrus Cleaner, then washing as usual either by hand in hot, soapy water, or in the dishwasher — provided it’s dishwasher safe, of course!

Rubber Brush Broom Dustpan Set
Rubber Brush Broom Dustpan Set
Graphic: Shep McAllister

Camping Problem 6: Your Tent Needs To Be Cleaned

The actual most important thing you need to know about cleaning a tent is that before you collapse the tent and put it away, it needs to be BONE DRY. Putting a tent in storage with any lingering moisture will lead to mold and mildew and then you’ll have to deep clean the thing and nobody wants that. So: Dry tents!

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To clean a tent out, which you should do after every camping excursion, start by pitching it outdoors on a dry day (remember, water is the enemy here). Use a rubber broom to sweep out the interior of the tent (sticky pine needles and such won’t cling to rubber brooms in the way they will to a brush broom), paying special attention to the corners, and to brush away any debris that’s clinging to the exterior. If there is any lingering buildup of dirt or other foreign matter, use a solution of diluted dish soap and a sponge, rag or a nail brush to scrub it away. Then, let the tent dry thoroughly before collapsing and storing it.


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