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Help! How Can I Stop Smelly Gear?

Q. Help! All my gear reeks! How can I prevent that smell?
— Jake, Fayetteville, Arkansas

A. First, never leave your stuff cooped up in your backpack or stuff sack after an outing. When you do that, tiny microbes grow on your gear, and the smell can be lethal.

Second, be sure to get all your clothing in the washing machine as soon as you get home.

Also, let your gear dry out properly. Hang your sleeping bag, backpack, jacket and any other bulky item in the garage or on your porch or patio to let it air out.

Wet shoes? Stuff them with old newspaper.

Need more help? Find more advice for cleaning and maintaining your outdoor gear.

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10 Comments on Help! How Can I Stop Smelly Gear?

  1. Having been involved in scouting for many years I have not yet found one camp director who will allow boys to hang and dry out deer as pictured at the start of this article. There seems to be a need for excessive neatness of the campsite. It’s hard to strike a balance I’m sure but to require everything is in a tent with 10 flaps down for site inspection is counter to getting the boys to dry out their clothing and bedding during camp.

  2. Sleeping Beauty // June 11, 2019 at 10:11 am // Reply

    Wet shoes, stuff with dryer sheets, dries them out with pleasant smell.

    • We hang a clothesline between trees on the edge of the campsite for wet swimsuits, towels and gear. Have never been docked on a campsite inspection.

  3. When things do get smelly, leaving baking soda in a boot, backpack or anything else for a couple days can help. Then just shake it out.

  4. Stinky Pete // June 10, 2019 at 6:45 pm // Reply

    In humid climates where air drying may not work perfectly, rinse with clean water and Zote soap. Air dry as best you can afterward. Additionally, keep some Zote soap at the top of your laundry bag to mask any “musk” that may appear.

  5. Put a few tablespoons of bleach in a half gallon of water. Rinse water bottles, bladders, etc, then flush with water and allow to dry. Clothes in laundry, mess kit in dishwasher. Hang up tent and sleeping bag, bed roll and tent in the sun.

  6. An OA Scout mom // June 10, 2019 at 4:19 pm // Reply

    I have a problem with mold. I found that white vinegar with laundry soap for strong smells got rid of the smells. I also wrap my gear in ziploc bags to prevent moisture getting in. It also helps sort gear for each day, so I grab and go to change, as well as don’t over-pack.

  7. Prevention’s great, and I have never had an issue. But I inherited a tent that I’d LOVE if it weren’t stinky. How do I kill off the smell when it’s already happened?

  8. Anonymous // June 8, 2019 at 8:30 am // Reply

    use newspaper….cheaper, better.

  9. A death left me with hundreds of tea bags out of their box for years. No one wanted to try making tea with them because of their age. But I read they can help dry out wet shoes. I’m experimenting as this is written. With gym shoes three bags in the toe seem to suck the previous days moisture out of the shoe plus in a couple days use the smell is gone from one shoe (the other is a foot that had surgery and it seems to sweat more and therefore smell more at the end of the day).

    I wouldn’t suggest it if you had to buy tea bags to do it, but if you had some old tea bags like I do it would be a good option.

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