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Tent fabric cleaning options

On the Job | April 1, 2011 | By:

Q: My tent fabric has a stain that regular cleaning won’t remove. What are my options?

A:Tent cleaning usually does a good job of washing away dirt and grime, but the solutions do not always remove the variety of stubborn stains tents can pick up when in use or in storage. However, there are several options for removing most anything from tent fabrics.

Mystery stains: Even purple berry bird droppings can be removed with melamine “erasing foam” such as Mr. Clean® Magic Eraser®, available at grocery stores. It can be somewhat tedious for cleaning large stains, but a heavy-duty version is available. (This is a must for cleaning resin chairs, too.)

Rust, leaf, hard-water and mineral stains: CLR® (Calcium, Lime, Rust remover) is an acid but is safe for vinyl. It dissolves any mineral deposits that are on the surface. If your clear wall or windows have hard water residue or look foggy, a weak dilution of the acid can remove those deposits as well.

Mildew: When a tent has bad mildew stains, a chorine cleaner must be used. Fresh bleach-sodium hypochlorite from a grocery store works well, but weakens quickly the older it gets. More stable and stronger chlorine solutions include Blitz mildew remover and X-14® Mildew Stain Remover. (Blitz is a Shipp Chemical product that can be purchased at hardware and grocery stores). These calcium hypochlorite solutions do a better job of “killing” the roots or spores of the mildew. Always apply any chlorine to a dry fabric. A WORD OF CAUTION: only use chlorine when the tent has mildew stains. Chlorine does not whiten tent fabric, and extended use of bleach on vinyl fabric will rob the plasticizer and make the fabric stiff. Chlorine cleaners can also dry rot the polyester stitching on the seams with the help of ultraviolet sunlight.

Black pole stains: Black stains from aluminum poles are tent eyesores. Some tent professionals have discovered that liquid silver polish removes the aluminum dust and does not damage the vinyl.

Duct tape, tar, paint, grease and oil stains: These stains can be removed with pure organic citrus solvent. Do not use mineral spirits, products such as Goof Off® or paint removers because these are made of petroleum. Since vinyl is a petroleum-based product, other petroleum products will permanently yellow and pucker the vinyl. If you are not sure, read the ingredients on the label. If it contains petroleum, do not use it.

Crepe paper or confetti stains: The seem impossible to remove. Tent rental companies in sunny states have found that if you put your tent up in the sun for a few days, the ultraviolet light from the sun can bleach out dye stains. Others have tried using the infrared heating lamps used at meat carving stations. Place the lamp the normal distance from the surface and let it sit for 20 minutes. Infrared light has also removed old set-in yellow mildew stains and leaf stains. This is a new remedy, so be careful not to let the vinyl overheat.

Chuck Shipp has been the president of Shipp Cleaning Systems for 31 years. He is a frequent contributor and lecturer in the tent rental industry on tent cleaning.
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