Canvas tents help us all create our little piece of paradise while camping. However, mould and mildew can easily ruin your next planned camping trip.
Aussie Cotton Canvas is some of the most durable, long-lasting canvas known to man. We use it as the main shelter system in our flagship Trayon Camper, other people use it for their camper trailers, tents and swags.
It’s a great way to maximize your shelter while camping, and having quality shelter is the key to enjoying your camping experience.
In this article we’ll briefly address the benefits of cotton canvas versus synthetic material and why the maintenance should not deter you from investing in a tent or camper that has natural, Aussie cotton canvas.
With a little ingenuity and know-how, you can properly treat, clean and maintain your canvas tent and prevent mould issues from arising, helping the canvas last for 10+ years.
Australian Vs Imported Canvas
Canvas has been made all over the globe for centuries, however, the refinement and durability vary from one manufacturer to the next. Some use fake canvas material with multiple laminate materials, some use toxic antifungal treatments.
Australia cotton canvas has been designed for Australian conditions with exceptional UV stabilising specifications, durability specifically for the Outback, waterproof and resistant to rot.
Using canvas imported from other countries may work fine for a few years, however, it’s not guaranteed to last under Australian conditions. And they are often treated with harsh chemicals which can make camping less enjoyable!
Aussie Cotton Canvas has been an icon etched into Australian heritage. From the early swagman, the defence force to the modern-day family campers, canvas has become synonymous with our Australian roots.
However, like all materials exposed to moisture, Australian tent canvas is not impervious to mould and has to be correctly maintained to ensure mould doesn’t grow.
How Does Mould Form On Canvas?
First, we need to understand what mould is and why the recipe for acquiring it can be so simple to avoid.
As a fungus, it doesn’t quite grow as plants do. It tends to require a perfect storm of circumstances to cultivate the ideal environment for it to start growing. It all starts with a mould spore which is usually carried on the wind. Usually, these spores don’t cause the growth of mould unless three key factors are present.
- Absence of light
- Still air
As mould grows it further decomposes the host material and creates waste to further its growth as the circle of life continues. Although mould can grow in a variety of environments above freezing it tends to be particular to damp, dark environments.
Case in point, your canvas tent once rolled up after a rainy camping adventure will surely supply the preferred foundation for mould to cultivate.
Is Mould Dangerous?
After thorough research and many situational experiences we would like to say we are proficient at cleaning mould and preventing it from occurring but in no way are we, medical professionals.
That being said, an untreated tent can quickly destroy a tent or ruin an otherwise afternoon that now needs to be spent cleaning and preventing mould from developing again.
However, if left untreated mould spores and spread throughout the fibers of your canvas tent it can cause holes, tears and possibly ruin a tent completely. Look for tiny black, green, or brown specks or dots on your canvas tent. Mould comes in many shapes but this is the first sign.
With regards to your health and the effects mould can impose on you and your family, it all depends on your health prior to exposure and we can’t recommend strongly enough to do your own research via the AMA and WHO to know the possible side effects.
Generally speaking, if you are of good health and do not have any pre-existing conditions most mould shouldn’t be dangerous to you or your loved ones. It needs to be understood though, being in the same area as mould for long periods of time, breathing in the mould particles while cleaning, eating mould or rubbing your eyes should always be avoided if possible.
How Do You Prevent Mould On Canvas?
For the weekender or casual camper, mould is not a large concern as long as you don’t pack your tent wet. If you can’t avoid packing a wet tent, be sure you open it to air out in a dry open space as soon as possible. Let the tent dry thoroughly in the sun if possible and all will be right with your canvas material.
Take inventory of all components of the tent to ensure as close to zero moisture is left within the tent components before you pack it up.
You can make use of a cabin heater to speed up the process like what is fitted in our Diesel-deluxe Trayon Camper.
If drying out conventionally (sun, wind, heat) is not possible (e.g. bucketing down rain while packing up) then you could employ some large damp-rid buckets that you get at Bunnings as a temporary solution until conventional methods can be used as soon as you can.
Let the heat do the work from the inside out in a safe manner and the process will be sped up dramatically.
Supplies Needed For Cleaning Your Canvas Tent
DO NOT use bleach, vinegar, detergent or soaps on your canvas. Many of these are caustic and damage the canvas and will erode the anti-fungal treatment the canvas came with.
So what can you use to clean the canvas? Well, it depends on what stage the mould growth is at. If the mould is at an early stage and is only on the surface of the canvas you should be able to wipe it with warm water and a brush.
If the mould is more established in the fibres of the canvas, there may already be damage to the layers of the canvas and permanent staining, but it is still important to kill the mould so it doesn’t cause further damage. In this situation, some manufactures of Canvas recommend using a product with Sodium Hypochlorite as the active ingredient, like White King®. Ensure you strictly follow the instructions on the back of the spray bottle as sodium hypochlorite can have some side effects if misused.
You can also try using a less toxic natural clove spray which also kills mould like OurEco.
The clove spray can also be used for general prevention.
How To Clean A Canvas Canopy/Tent?
Open your tent completely to ensure ventilation while cleaning. A fan might be necessary if you live in humid conditions to keep air flowing while you clean the tent. Ideally, you are in direct sunshine, however, sometimes that is not always possible. Just ensure there is natural light and plenty of ventilation.
- Use the soft brush to knock off any dirt or debris
- Gently use the Sodium Hypochlorite or Clove Spray as instructed with the water to clean the canvas. Use circular motions to ensure overlapping coverage of the solution
- Let your canvas tent air dry completely. Using a fan to circulate the air helps tremendously
Note: Never put any canvas in the washing machine. The oscillations are too rough for the dense fibre of your tent.
The canvas that has been thoroughly cleaned will likely need to be “reproofed” with a water-based treatment such as BradProof® to add the water-repelling capability back to the canvas.
The Natural Home Remedy for Cleaning Your Canvas Tent
The internet is riddled with this recipe and you can find a pinch of this and a dash of that but the following reportedly seems to be a widely accepted alternative method to try:
- A tablespoon of salt
- Half a squeezed lemon or two tablespoons of lemon juice
- Warm water
- Spray bottle
Add all the ingredients into a spray bottle from your local department store. Set the spray bottle to its mist setting and evenly spray your canvas tent and let dry in the sunlight.
Will Mould Stains Ever Go Away?
Even after you have cleaned and re-treated your tent, there might be some stains left behind from your canvas tent. For heavy mould, infestation discolouration is to be expected.
So prevention is key to avoiding mould stains.
Will The Sun Kill Mould?
Everyone understands that sun and moisture are key elements for plants to grow. Mould however needs a host, much like your canvas tent, excess moisture and some form of material to form.
Mold flourishes in the absence of sunlight because UV light from the sun kills mould and mould spores. Hence why you only see it growing in dark places.
When you pack away a damp canvas tent, this creates the perfect environment for mould to grow.
Isn’t It Easier To Maintain A Polyester Tent?
With all the maintenance involved with canvas tents, one might wonder “Isn’t it easier to buy a polyester or plastic tent?” This is a valid concern but to put both canvas and plastic under one tent label is not quite fair.
Plastic, nylon, or polyester tents are far less desirable a host for mould than canvas but have many downsides to them as well. They will not last as long as a canvas tent and therefore contribute to the world’s plastic waste problems.
Plastic isn’t as durable as canvas and does not breathe like canvas will. Ever wake up in the morning and feel as if it has been raining inside your tent? The condensation found inside your tent is because even with the copious vents and windows associated with plastic tents they still don’t breathe very well.
A canvas tent however can be completely sealed and still allow proper ventilation even with a raging wood burning stove going all night! The durability of authentic Australian Cotton Canvas is second to none with the proper treatment and can stand firm even in the windiest of environments. The maintenance can be a bit of a task but the years of service will keep you and your loved ones tucked away safely from the elements with confidence in most environments.
No matter if the canvas is used for ground tents, slide on campers, or storage pouches, if properly taken care of, it can last a lifetime. Keeping it clean is paramount and goes hand in hand with the water proofing treatment and prevention process afterward. If you keep an eye out for mould and prevent it when possible the canvas material will be a great investment no matter the application.
We have used Aussie Cotton Canvas in our campers for almost 30 years. There are still campers out there which have no issues with their canvas thanks to a little love and care from their owners.