Old Nylon Odor

10:04 a.m. on October 20, 2003 (EDT)
(Guest)

a.k.a. Fred

I have an REI tent, vintage about 1981. Took it camping with me this past weekend for the first time in years - the smell was just about unbearbable, at least the first night. It's that smell that seems to be associated with the waterproof coating - kind of like vomit. Airing out helps, but does not completely eliminate the odor, and you start over at ground zero the next time you use it. Any way to eliminate the smell before I put it away? Does the smell mean that the waterproofing is deteriorating? Do more modern tents use a different type of waterproofing that does not smell?

11:49 a.m. on October 20, 2003 (EDT)
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Before you put the tent away.....

have you ever hung the thing up to dry and air out?

I recommend hanging the tent in your garage overnight after each camping trip. If your not gonna be using it for a while, take it out of the stuff sack and hang it up and let it breath. All tents require a certain amount of periodic maintenance.

New tents do have a slight odor, but not bad, kinda like a new car smell.

For some reason my tents always smell like farts.

1:27 p.m. on October 20, 2003 (EDT)
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Typical. It is basically a mildew odor that comes with time with any tent that is stored damp. It isn't an old "nylon" odor - it's mostly the ground dirt you pick up with use that gets the mold and mildew. Even a plain sheet of polyethylene plastic that you use as a ground cloth or tarp will smell like that after a while if you fold it up and store it wet. New tents have treatments that delay the problem, but they all get that way eventually, unless ...

Maintenance - dry the tent thoroughly after each use by hanging it up. Every so often wash the tent. Use a mild detergent and lots of water, plus a soft scrub brush. You can wash them if not too large in a big commercial washing machine (the kind with the horizontal drum, no impeller paddle). Part of the mildew is in the dirt that is inevitably picked up (footprints help, as does a plain old plastic tarp). Obviously, dry the tent thoroughly before stuffing it for storage (stuff, don't fold, that's why they call them "stuff sacks" - manufacturer booklets say stuff, since folding along the same lines cracks the plastic coatings on the floor sooner or later - manufacturer booklets also say how to wash the tent).

2:26 p.m. on October 20, 2003 (EDT)
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Sometimes tents either rolled, folded or stuffed get put away after a trip on the closet floor....not the driest or airiest spot. Hopefully you are not storing it in the basement or condo concrete locker.
I treat my tent just like my clothes, except I don't wash it. I'm fastidius when it comes to drying and airing out the tent after every use. You may think its dry when you take it down in the AM, but dew and body moisture must be dealt with. It must be hung on clothes line in the sun and rotated around for best results. Even the tent poles can get mud stuck in the ends and stuff sacks get damp. All your gear needs attention when you get home...unfortunetly most of us just want to shower and flop on the couch when we get home.
With an existing smelly tent, I'd wash it in a giant commercial tumbler type washer.. with normal clothes liquid soap and a cup of diluted bleach. Hang on the line for several days turning it daily. Take it in late afternoon while its bone dry.

4:09 p.m. on October 20, 2003 (EDT)
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Toss it out

Its ruined. Mildew eats the coatings away and you can never recover that tent. Toss it and buy a new one and take better care of it this time.

Quote:

Part of the mildew is in the dirt that is inevitably picked up (footprints help, as does a plain old plastic tarp). Obviously, dry the tent thoroughly before stuffing it for storage (stuff, don't fold, that's why they call them "stuff sacks" - manufacturer booklets say stuff, since folding along the same lines cracks the plastic coatings on the floor sooner or later.

Once again I have to disagree with Bill. First off - I NEVER use a footprint because they hold water under your tent and the ONLY times I have ever had a water problem were using a footprint.

Secondly - I do not ever "stuff" my tents. I fold them length ways (that is fold in the sides) utill it is as wide as the stuff sack is long. then I place the poles at end away from the door and roll towards the door so the air comes out easily. I feel that stuffing applies too many twisting forces that will otherwise never be applied to a tent. Just as I would never store a sleeping bag stuffed, I don't want to store a tent stuffed, nor to stuff it, but since I have to store it, i set it up at home till its dry then roll it up.

The tent never folds on the same lines, and I feel that I do less damage this way than by stuffing.
Just my $.02
Jim S (:->)

6:13 p.m. on October 20, 2003 (EDT)
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Sun-dried tents

Problem with sun-drying a tent is that nylon deteriorates with UV exposure. I try to minimize the exposure of my tents to UV, since they get more than enough at high altitude. Of course, if you are going to use the tent at altitude, and it is sunny, well, take your choice - prepare for the oncoming storm or let your tent get aged faster.

Gotta disagree back at Jim - first for the footprint/groundcloth thing. In summer, the ground is pretty dry, so you shouldn't get much moisture anyway. The groundcloth just keeps the dirt off and reduces wear from sand, gravel, pine needles, and other small abrasive stuff you can't completely remove. In winter, a ground cloth doesn't make any difference on the snow anyway. The idea is to keep the dirt off, not the moisture. Even when there is ground moisture coming up, I haven't had problems with condensation between the ground sheet and tent floor - you must be getting the condensation from what you generate inside the tent, Jimmy.

On the fold vs roll vs stuff - I am just repeating the recommendations of the various tent manufacturers. And in actual practice, I find that there is indeed less wear and tear on the tents by stuffing and it is a whole bunch faster than doing all the smoothing out needed to roll or fold. There should be no twisting or torquing of the material if you stuff the tent straight in (which is the fastest way to do it). It is better, obviously, if you can store the tent unstuffed and hung, but when you have 9 tents (I just got rid of several), that's hard to do. It's bad enough having 12 sleeping bags.

If the tent is too far along, you do have to just throw it out. Jim is right that if the mildew gets ahead of you, the seams rot out and the plastic floor coating peels off. But if you clean it from time to time and dry it faithfully after each trip, you will extend its useful life and avoid the smell problem. My 1990 SD Sleeve Flashlight never developed any mildew smell, but eventually the fly lost all color and got pretty flimsey from the UV exposure. It was one I tossed last month.

Good thing Young Son moved out to go to college and grad school. His former room is the gear storage room these days, full of unstuffed sleeping bags, spread out foam pads and inflatables, unstuffed down jackets/vests/pants, and all sorts of other gear. We are thinking seriously about scraping the lot and building a new house, which will have a dedicated gear drying room (with dedicated dehumidifier) approximately the size of a 2 or 3 car garage, climbing gear storage room (not closet, but a room), sleeping bag storage room, tent storage room, ski gear storage room, etc. The garage will be half dedicated to the bicycles. What about the bedrooms, you ask? Well, about a 2-person trail tent size is about right for each of the 2 bedrooms (guests camp in the back yard). Kitchen only needs to be big enough for a couple of XGKs. Haven't figured out the latrine yet, but sunshowers in the back yard should take care of bathing.

Gotta keep your priorities straight.

10:31 p.m. on October 20, 2003 (EDT)
(Guest)

Frtz-Had similar smell problem with my vintage'75 REI tent.
At times it would have smell somewhere between vomit and dog crap. (This is not to dis' REI, it's a coated nylon storage thing)
I had very good success with Febreze fabric 'refresher'. I would pitch the tent (in the shade, Bill) to catch the afternoon winds. After a good airing, I would give it a healthy coat of the Febreze on the inside.
While this was not a permanaent solution it made a heck of a difference. The tent was usable.
when I finlly sold the tent (even packrats need to clean out the garage)it smelled just fine.... and I clued the new buyer in on the Febreze.

6:33 a.m. on October 21, 2003 (EDT)
(Guest)

a.k.a. Fred
Re: Toss it out

Quote:

Its ruined. Mildew eats the coatings away and you can never recover that tent. Toss it and buy a new one and take better care of it this time.

Actually, I'm pretty sure it's not mildew. I have other coated nylon items - duffel bags and a waterproof pack cover that have the same odor. It is definitely associated with the coating. Other uncoated items stored in the same closet for 30 years plus do not have the same smell.

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