June 12, 2020
By Lisa Petrison, Ph.D.
This page provide a brief discussion of options that may have the potential of removing problematic contamination from tents.
Following is a list of links to additional articles in this series on non-toxic and less-toxic tents and shelters.
If a tent starts out feeling contaminated as a result of the use of its having been treated by fire retardants or other chemicals, is it worth trying to address the issue? Or is it better to just give up on it?
My own experience has been that if a tent contains the fire retardant Tris, it is possible to remediate it to the point where I am not bothered by it by rinsing it in water, assembling it and then letting it sit in the sun for a few weeks.
This is a rather tedious process but has the advantage of making inexpensive tents by Coleman and Walmart Ozark Trail (both of which contain Tris) eventually feel acceptable to me.
I still would prefer not to have my tents contaminated with that kind of chemical (or with any fire retardant chemicals), and certainly am not guaranteeing that this method will remove enough of the chemical to keep exposure to the tent from causing health harms.
And fortunately, there are an increasing number of tents on the market that either do not use fire retardants at all or that use less toxic chemicals that do not cause noticeably problematic reactions for me.
Those tents are the main focus of this article series.
However, because I have been able to make tents treated with Tris work for me to the point where I do not have obvious reactions to them, and because I have heard others report similar experiences, I have listed those brands on the Affordable Tents & Shelters page of this article series.
On the other hand, there have been numerous times that I have purchased tents from other companies and not been able to tolerate the items at all, even after addressing them with this procedure.
Whether those tents were contaminated with particularly bad fire retardants or with mold cross-contamination, I’m not sure.
So I don’t think that it should be assumed that if a tent feels bad to begin with, it’s going to be remediable. Some tents are just too badly contaminated for that.
Some people do try to remove the fire retardants or other chemicals in their tents by washing them in various substances such as soap, dishwashing detergent, vinegar, baking soda, or oxy-type cleaners.
However, it is possible that some of these methods will remove the waterproofing chemicals from the tent, without making the tent feel any better with regard to the contamination.
My own rule, therefore, is that if a tent feels more than moderately problematic right out of the box, or if it has a different “feel” to it than do the Coleman or Walmart Ozark Trail tents that I know have Tris in them, it generally seems best to just return the tent rather than trying to fix it.
Another problem that mold-sensitized people sometimes report is that mold (in some cases toxic mold) may grow underneath their tents during use.
This seems much less likely to occur in good locations – to the point that if this happens on a regular basis, it may be taken to suggest that a change of location could be highly beneficial for reasons other than just avoiding mold growth on the tent.
Otherwise, if it seems that there is a chance that mold growth may occur, then it may be a very good idea to take down the tent to let it air out during the day, rather than leaving it up continuously.
Exposing the tent – especially the bottom of the tent – to a short dose of ozone before putting it back up has been reported as additionally helpful by at least a few people.
I probably would put both the ozone-generating unit and the tent in a good sized box or plastic bin while running the ozone, if I were going to treat a tent in this way.
Note that the goal of using ozone in this way is to kill spores that might turn into live mold in the dark moist environment under the tent, rather than to try to denature mold toxins.
I therefore suspect that even an low-potency water ozonator such as the kind that I have used to extend the life of my fresh produce might be helpful with regard to accomplishing this goal.
A higher-potency ozone machine also could be used, however.
It is, however, very important to carefully avoid breathing in any ozone if it is going to be used, because it can cause damage to the lungs.
Spraying the tent footprint and the bottom of the tent with a probiotic solution (such as EM1 or Homebiotic) or with essential oils (such as lemon, cinnamon, clove, thyme, oregano, rosemary or eucalyptus) also might be helpful at preventing mold growth in some cases.
About This Blog
Living Clean in a Dirty World provides useful information for those working to recover from chronic illness through mold avoidance, clean living and related therapies.
It is presented by Paradigm Change.
Previous Living Clean Guides include:
Lisa Petrison is the founder of Paradigm Change and Mold Avoiders. She holds a Ph.D. in marketing/psychology from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.
Paradigm Change also provides a wide variety of additional information on the topic of the role of mold toxins in chronic illness.
The remarkable life of Erik Johnson (including details about the Lake Tahoe epidemic) is summarized in the book Back from the Edge, written by Lisa Petrison.
A PDF copy of the book is available for free to those signing up for occasional email newsletters from Paradigm Change.
Erik’s approach to mold avoidance is outlined in the book A Beginner’s Guide to Mold Avoidance.
It is available for free in PDF format to those signing up for occasional email newsletters from Mold Avoiders.
The book is also available from Amazon in paperback and Kindle versions.
The Mold Avoiders discussion forum is run by Paradigm Change and is designed to help those who are seriously interested in pursuing the approach to mold avoidance described in the book to get their questions answered.
Only those who have been approved as Mold Avoiders Participants can read or post in the forum.
The Mold Avoiders Facebook group is designed for more casual conversations among those who are interested in this approach to mold avoidance.
Links on this page are in orange (no underlining).