Clean Your Camping Gear
Face it. You just returned from a period of time in nature, showers were non-existent or at a minimum, you were constantly close to the dirt and sweating it up. Not only do YOU stink something awful, but so does your gear. You want to live to hike another day, right? Well so does your gear. The first step in proper gear maintenance is getting it clean after an outing. Grab your pack and everything inside it and give it to your mom to clean. Just kidding, you're gonna do this yourself and I'll walk you through how. If your mom does clean your gear though, give me her number so I can get in on that too.
Mix 'em with Water
You'll Want More Than One.
Cleaning products come in all different shapes and sizes. Gather these up before you get started, so you have the right cleaning agent for the appropriate piece of equipment. Some people say soap is just soap. The reason you'll want different options is because some cleaners are harsher than others. Your gear is a sensitive beast, be gentle with it.
Mild Soap + Warm Water is probably the easiest to obtain because it's most likely already in your house. Hopefully. If not, you should really get some in your home. Am I completely causing a life changing, whole-house cleaning yet? I prefer an unscented liquid dish soap and get myself that warm water straight from the tap. Don't go crazy on the amount of soap, you likely only need a few drops. Unscented is a nice touch because animals are less likely to get curious about my gear on my next hike.
Specialty Outdoor Cleaners can be found online or at your local outdoor shop. Moosejaw sells Nikwax and there is an extensive list of options. Special soaps that won't cause damage for boots, down jackets and sleeping bags, waterproof clothing, base layers and more. They also make waterproofing products, which adds the Durable Water Repellent finish on whatever item you're adding it to. Yeah, DWRs need to be re-upped every so often.
Mild Detergent is also easily obtained, because you probably have a washing machine. If you're going to use your washing machine, take a look into detergents listed as "free and clear". Quite a few brands have an option in this category. It won't have fragrances or dyes.
Reservoir Cleaning Tablets are a specialty product that should only be used for your hydration reservoir or water bottles. They will keep your drinking vessels clear from taste and odor. Osprey and CamelBak both have cleaning tablet options. Pick up a few and keep a packet on hand so your hikes always include fresh tasting water.
Not Your Average Tool Chest
Make Your Hands More Useful!
While additional tools aren't a requirement, they'll probably make gear cleaning a bit faster and easier. Don't just gather them up before you start your day of cleaning, but keep them set aside in a special "cleaning kit" for the future. Because putting your brother's toothbrush back in the bathroom is just rude.
• Large, Soft Bristle Scrub Brush
• Tennis Balls
• Reservoir Cleaning Brushes
Remove The Rock You Collected on Mile 17.
There are Miles Left in Those Puppies.
Caked in mud and bearing the tired, beat up look of all those miles, your boots have treated your feet well on the trails. To ensure they remain your best friend for adventures to come, clean 'em up.
1. First up, just knock all that dried, caked on mud off. Hold 'em by the cuff can smack the boots together. Go outdoors to do it, ya goon.
2. Second, remove any burrs from the laces or mesh fabric, then remove the laces. You can toss the laces in your washing machine with a regular load, or hand wash them in the sink with soap and water.
3. Now get out the hose and give the boots a good spray, taking any leftover mud off. If it's really stuck on there, grab a toothbrush or large scrub brush to take on any tougher spots. This is also the time where you can add in a little mild soap or specialty outdoor cleaner if you're looking for your boots to really sparkle. Just be sure to rinse any soap off completely.
4. Pull out the insoles and wash them separately with a little soap and water.
5. Let everything air dry, pulling the tongue of the boot way open, letting fresh air circulate on the inside as well. You can stuff some newspaper in there to help along the process, it may take a day or two. Let the insoles dry out before putting them back inside your boots.
The Holder of All the Things.
It Touched Dirt Before Everything Else.
Tree sap has probably dripped on it, dirt has definitely touched it and let's not forget the sweat you've poured into the shoulder harness, back panel and hip belt. You should do some general maintenance after each trip, but probably won't have to give it a complete washing every time.
1. Empty EVERY SINGLE POCKET. Otherwise you're definitely going to find a moldy baggie of beef jerky or a gross pair of socks at some point and you really don't want that.
2. Shake or vacuum out the main compartment and pockets so it is free of sand, dirt, sticks and stones. Whatever weird stuff you don't want festering inside of there during storage.
3. Spot clean with soap and warm water. A toothbrush will get those little jobs done quickly.
1. First, follow all those 'General Maintenance' instructions above.
2. Remove any removable parts (hip belt, shoulder straps, top lid), but wash them this same way, just removed from the main pack.
3. Secure yourself a bathtub or large bin you can fill with soap and warm water.
4. Dunk that bag in. Using your hands or a large scrub brush, make sure any large stains and the back panel get a good look. Don't forget the zippers, the dirt and dust can make them more difficult to use, so get that grime out.
5. Rinse well. Still see soap build up? Rinse it some more. A hose or detachable shower head works wonders.
6. Leave it completely opened up to dry out, or hang it up to air dry completely before storing. It'll take quite a while to completely dry, so don't fret if it's been a day or two.
7. Once dry, you can add lubricant to the zippers if you wish, as well as Nikwax Tent and Gear SolarProof (or similar) on the bag itself for waterproofing and UV blocker protection.
You Sweat When You Sleep.
Your dreams will indeed be sweeter when you're not snoozing inside a dirty sleeping bag. Even if you're sleeping in base layers, oils from your skin, dirt, and trail grossness will eventually get to your bag and its insulation. A single weekend trip probably won't need a full cleaning, but after a months-on-end backpacking trip, you'll wanna treat your bag to a bath.
1. Check the label or brand website for your sleeping bag, they might have some recommended ways for cleaning. When in doubt, I'd go with their preferred method. Generally, they'll be fairly similar between brands anyway.
2. Turn the bag inside out and give 'er a good shake. Bye-bye loose dirt and sand. I hope you just did that outside and not on the living room carpet.
3. Choose one of these two options:
a. Hand Wash
b. Machine Wash
1. Congratulations, you chose the harder, more time consuming method. There is still time to back out and make the switch.
2. Get a (clean) bathtub ready and fill 'er up with warm water and a specialty outdoor cleaner.
a. DOWN BAGS: Nikwax Down Wash
b. SYNTHETIC BAGS: Nikwax Tech Wash
3. Get your hands (take any jewelry off first!) in there and scrub away. Churn it up, baby. Grab a little toothbrush if there are any stubborn spots that need special attention.
5. Hey guess what, you probably haven't rinsed enough, do it again.
6. Rinse some more. Get. The. Soap. Out.
7. Mmkay, hang 'er up to dry. This is going to take a good long time, so be super patient.
a. DOWN BAGS: come back every so often and make sure the down isn't clumping up.
8. Once dry, lay it flat and let it loft up for a few days.
1. Awesome, you chose the easier option. If you don't have access to a front loader (or a top loader WITHOUT an agitator), then get yourself to a laundromat that does. If that still isn't an option, sorry, you're stuck with the other method.
2. Load up your bag inside the washer, add soap.
a. DOWN BAGS: Nikwax Down Wash
b. SYNTHETIC BAGS: Nikwax Tech Wash
3. Using a gentle cycle with cold or warm water, start 'er up.
4. Once the first cycle is done, do a second WITHOUT soap. Rinsing is very important.
5. Carefully transfer your sleeping bag to a dryer.
a. DOWN BAGS: Add in some clean tennis balls
b. SYNTHETIC BAGS: Hi. Tennis balls not necessary.
6. Start the dryer up on a low, cool setting and wait. I hope you have something else to do with your time, like wash all your other gear or read a book. It's going to take a long time.
7. Lay the bag flat and leave it alone for a few days. It'll loft up all fluffy and cozy for the next sleep.
You Slept On It, You Clean It.
Exterior Wash Only
Most hikers probably wouldn't think to wash their sleeping pad, but if you're sleeping directly on the ground with it, your skin is in direct contact, or you've spilled on it, think again. It's probably one of the easier cleaning jobs you'll have to do, depending on how nice you've been treating it while on the trail.
Single dirt spots or stains: Grab yourself a bleach-free household cleaner spray, or soap and warm water. Spray, then scrub with toothbrush (or large scrub brush) depending on size of spot. Let dry.
1. If it is self-inflating or an air mattress, make sure the valve is completely closed first. You DO NOT want any water getting on the inside.
2. Grab a hose or stick it in the bathtub. Scrub the dirt away with a large brush, using soap and water.
3. Rinse well.
4. Hang to dry.
5. I just wanted to add another step here.
Scrub Up Your Dirty Domicile.
Home Sweet Home.
Owning a home is tough, there is always a roof repair, update or something breaking. Thankfully, tents are way easier to deal with than an actual house. Don't be fooled, you'll want to treat it with respect and care, including the time you're not using it. This means when you get back from your trip, it'll need a cleaning.
AFTER EVERY ADVENTURE:
1. Pitch your tent in the backyard on a dry day.
2. Sweep out all sand and dirt. Really work at the corners where tiny particles can collect. Damp paper towel will pick up those stubborn piles.
3. Give any major dirt spots a little scrub with soap and water, using a toothbrush for extra help.
4. If your tent is wet, leave it out to dry.
5. Inspect tent for any holes and repair as necessary.
DEEP TENT CLEAN: This probably only needs to be done every few years, when a bird has done a fly-by or if the tent has gained a funky smell.
1. Follow steps 1-3 in "After Every Adventure".
2. Get the bathtub ready with warm water and a specialty outdoor cleaner such as Nikwax Tech Wash.
3. Get the tent in there and agitate with your hands.
4. Rinse 3 times. THREE.
5. Hang to dry or lay out over a few chairs.
6. Inspect for holes, repairing if necessary. Re-seal the seams if necessary.
7. Pitch the tent again and finish up with Nikwax Tent and Gear SolarProof, skipping the mesh portions
RAINFLY: Don't forget the rainfly! You can use the same process!
HYDRATION RESERVOIR + WATER BOTTLES
Don't Drink From Dirty Vessels.
It'll Taste Better.
Since you're putting water into your hydration reservoir and water bottles that you yourself will eventually drink, a clean vessel will be good for your health. Dirt tastes bad, mold is gross, so let's get clean.
Easy part first. Most water bottles are dishwasher safe, so remove the lid and put both parts in on the top rack. If you're not sure, go ahead and wash those by hand using a little soap and water, then leave them out to dry. If you've used the dishwasher method, most likely the bottle isn't completely dry on the inside afterwards. Leave those bottles open and upside down to get them completely dried out before storage.
Grab those handy-dandy scrub brushes made specifically for hydration reservoirs. Two brushes are usually included, one large, round-ish one is for the reservoir. The long, skinny one is for the drink tube. Separate the tube, bite valve and reservoir from each other. Mix a little soap and water and scrub the inside of each piece. You can hit the outsides with your hands. Warning, the drink tube is going to take a little patience, especially if you have a longer one. Don't worry, feed it in slowly and it'll get done.
If you have Cleaning Tabs, just add the right amount of tabs and water for your size reservoir or water bottle. Give it a shake for mixing, then wait 5 minutes. Rinse and dry out and you're good to go.
Extra tip: storing your reservoir in a freezer also helps inhibit bacteria growth.
You Wore That For How Long?
Jumping in the River Is NOT the Same as Washing.
GENERAL HIKING CLOTHING
Um. You don't really need me for this section. Put this stuff in the regular laundry and it'll be ready for your next trip.
Just like your regular hiking clothing, you can use the washing machine to clean your next-to-skin base layers. Use a free AND clear detergent, but NO FABRIC SOFTENERS (they'll prevent their wicking capabilities and cause a funky smell). If you're feeling fancy, you can get a specialty outdoor cleaner:
Wool: Check out Nikwax Wool Wash.
Synthetic: Check out Nikwax BaseWash.
Drying Methods: Hang dry wool products, while synthetic products can be hung or tumble dried on low.
WATERPROOF JACKETS + PANTS (such as GORE-TEX®)
Check the jacket or pant label just to make sure, but many can be cleaned in a washing machine (NO agitator) and either a free and clear detergent or Nikwax Tech Wash. If not, you can use the bathtub and hand method. Rinse incredibly well. Really, leave no soap.
For drying, check the label again, but tumble drying on warm should help renew the item's durable water repellent (DWR) finish. Otherwise, hang dry.
If you notice water is no longer beading up on the fabric surface as you're hiking through the rain, you'll need to reapply the DWR. Once the item is clean, use Nikwax TX.Direct or similar product.
If it's the wash-in version, no need to dry the item first, just run another machine load with this instead. Then tumble dry.
For the spray-on version, hang the jacket, spray product on the outside of jacket, leave to dry.
Your options here are hand wash or machine wash. Double check that fabric care label. If I'm starting to sound like a broken record, then good. I'll do it again right now. Make sure the washing machine in question is front loading, or a top loader WITHOUT agitator. Sorry, I just don't want your stuff ruined.
Grab a specialty outdoor cleaner such as Nikwax Down Wash Direct. A gentle cycle with cold water will do. Then give it an extra rinse. You know how much I love those second rinses, well your down jacket loves it more and really hates soap scum.
Double check your fabric label again, but a tumble dry on low should do fine. Grab a few of those tennis balls again and turn on the machine.
NOW GO CLEAN YOUR FILTHY GEAR ALREADY
Phew, that was a long day, weekend, week of cleaning. However long it takes you, be sure to get all your gear clean, smelling nice and completely dry before storage. The better you treat your stuff, the longer it will last. Your hiking partner will like you way more when you smell nice at the beginning of the trip.