Back to school means back to sports, and the muddy days of outdoor athletics are just around the corner. Whether you've got a track star or a budding quarterback in your house—or you'll be packing up winter sports equipment—you're bound to have a pile of dirty, stained gear on your floor at some point.
‘Tis the season for parents everywhere to ask age-old questions like, "How do I remove these grass stains?" and "How do I get sweat smell out of clothes?" Before you take on the sweaty heap accumulating in your mudroom, put these tips on cleaning and storing sports gear in your back pocket. Your sporty child will be looking so fresh and so clean in no time.
Airing Gear Out
For every sport, airing out uniforms and pads is the most important part of maintenance. If you're one of the parents wondering how to get sweat smell out of clothes, know this: airing out your kid's gear can prevent many of the not-so-nice smells you might be used to. Always avoid storing just-used gear like pads and jerseys in lockers or closets—they will not be able to air out and will develop an odor.
If you live in a dry climate, encourage your children to hang damp gear up on a hook or a clothesline. If you live in a more humid part of the country, dry equipment inside the house or put it into a clothes drier with little or no heat. Heat can cause leather and most synthetics to break down more quickly.
How to Wash Jerseys
It's best to wash game and practice jerseys immediately after use. Do not dry clean, press, or iron jerseys—the screenprinting can melt and any elastic areas can lose their stretch. Also, do not use chlorine bleach or fabric softeners, which can deteriorate garments that contain spandex.
Here's how to wash jerseys in order to keep them in top shape:
- Wash jerseys inside out.
- Use mild powdered detergent. Detergents with pH under 10 are recommended for athletic uniforms. For white uniforms, use a pre-wash spray and wash them using Oxyclean.
- Use cold water and a gentle cycle setting.
- Hang dry on wooden or plastic hangers.
How to Clean Football Pads and Other Gear
After use, spray pads down with an anti-odor disinfectant spray, scrubbing it into the pads with a cloth. When cleaning shoulder pads, separate plastic shells from fabric and wipe them down with a cloth soaked in a mixture of soap and water. For a more in-depth pad cleaning, start by using a wet cloth or sponge soaked in warm, soapy water to remove loose dirt. Then:
- Apply an enzyme pre-treat stain remover to any problem areas and let it sit for at least 15 minutes. The active ingredient will break down stubborn stains.
- Before putting pads in the washing machine, put them in pillowcases and knot at the ends. This will protect them while they are tossed around.
- Set the washing machine on the gentle cycle with warm water. Add a standard amount of laundry detergent. Don't use chlorine bleach or fabric softeners.
- Take the football pads out of the washer and remove them from the pillowcase. Hang them on a hanger or a clothesline and allow them to air dry.
For football pants, don’t remove the belt or pads. Fasten hooks and loops before washing so they don't bounce around in the washer. Cold wash and air dry. Never put football pants in the dryer; it will ruin the belt and can melt pads and fabric.
Helmets are one of the easiest things to maintain. Most mud and debris can be removed from helmets with a damp cloth. Don’t use abrasive cleaners or solvents to clean helmets, because they can be damaging to the paint.
How to Clean Cleats and Shin Guards
Grab a toothbrush and some soapy water—it's cleat-cleaning time. If you want to save some time (and of course you do, you're a busy parent!) use a tool like Kleen Kleat to get rid of caked-on mud and dirt on the studs and soleplate. Then use a toothbrush and a mix of dish soap and water to scrub the upper material. Wipe it all down with a clean paper towel and you've got clean cleats with a longer lifespan.
Spray shin guards with disinfectant after each use to prevent fungus and bacteria from growing. If the shin guards have removable pads, take them out of the lining while you wash it. You can wash and dry them the same way you’d wash football pads – cold, gentle wash, and a line dry.
How to Clean Baseball Gear
While baseball doesn't involve a ton of gear, the equipment that is involved is pretty important. The previous sections went over how to clean cleats, uniforms, and helmets; in baseball, the other important stuff includes gloves and catchers' gear.
- Gloves: The most important consideration with gloves is keeping them clean from the start. Wipe them down after every use and spray a disinfectant inside to take care of any smells. If you notice dirt and grime, use a leather cleaner to remove it. Store gloves somewhere cool, dry, and out of the sun to prevent damage.
- Catchers' gear: Wipe down the mask and helmet after every use, not only to keep them clean but also to check them for damage. Always let the chest protector air out to prevent smells, and wipe down the vinyl part.
How to Clean Hockey Equipment
For hockey jerseys, pads, and helmets, you'll follow the same rules as football gear above. But there are a few special considerations for hockey equipment:
- Can I put my hockey gear in the washing machine? Yes! You can put jerseys, pants, pads, and gloves in the washing machine. Attach any Velcro to its partner to keep it from snagging. Make sure you don't overstuff the washer, use a gentle cycle, and don't use bleach.
- Can I put my hockey gloves in the dryer? We don't recommend putting anything padded in the dryer. Put pads and gloves through an extra spin cycle in the washing machine to get out excess water, then hang them to dry with a fan pointing at them.
- How do I get strong odors out of clothes? Soak uniforms and pads in the washing machine for 30 minutes to an hour, drain it, and then run it on a regular cycle. And when it comes to notoriously smelly hockey gear, the saying "An ounce of prevention…" rings true. Have your little Wayne Gretzky wear a "base layer" under their gear to absorb the sweat before it gets ingrained.
How to Deodorize Shoes and Skates
Like hockey gear, shoes are some of the stinkiest equipment of all. We went over how to clean cleats above, but what about footwear like running shoes and skates?
- If the footwear has a removable insole, take it out after every use and let it air dry.
- To dry the rest of the shoe after use, open it as much as possible, stuff it with newspaper, and let it air dry.
- Yes, it is OK to wash running shoes. Throw them in the washer with a few towels and a mild cleaner; run it on the gentle cycle with cold water. Air dry—don't use heat, as this can warp the shoe.
- For skates, use a disinfectant spray or wipe out the inside with a mixture of vinegar and water, then let them air dry. (Vinegar really does fix everything!)
How to Clean Gym Bags
As you probably know, the bag your young athlete uses to transport his or her gear between home, school, and practice can end up quite stinky and dirty. So, can you put a gym bag in the washing machine? Good news—yes, you can. Most gym bags are cloth or nylon, which is just fine to throw in the washer. Don't put it in the dryer though; like most other gym equipment, air drying is the way to go.
Hot tip: To reduce odors between washes, tie up an old sock filled with baking soda and essential oil (tea tree oil or something potent) and keep it at the bottom of the bag.
Tips for Tough Stains
No matter what sport your tiny pro athlete plays, they're bound to get tough stains like grass or mud on them. Here's what to do:
- Fill a sink or bucket with warm water.
- Add one cup of liquid laundry detergent to the water.
- Place the stained clothing in the sink or bucket. Allow it to sit in the solution for 30 minutes to one hour, depending on how dirty they are.
- Remove them from the solution and use a scrub brush to get the deep down sweat and dirt. Wash as usual.
For grass, you can also try a 50:50 solution of rubbing alcohol and water. Just rub it in, then wash as usual. And if your child has earned a few scrapes in his or her adventures, here are a few ideas for how to remove blood stains:
- Soak the clothing in a mixture of water and ammonia, rinse, and throw it in the washing machine. (Always use cold water.)
- Pour white vinegar on the stain and leave for approximately 10 minutes. Repeat as needed, then wash it and hang it in the sun.
- Use cola! Impress all the parents in your league when you think quickly and pour some cola on the stain. When you get home, continue to soak overnight, then wash and hang in direct sunlight to dry.
When the season is over and you’ve given all the sports gear a thorough, final cleaning, be sure these garments are 100% dry before putting them away in storage. Running out of room? Check out our article on space-saving storage tips for sports gear—or better yet, give CubeSmart a call. We’d love to have the next Eli Manning’s or Mia Hamm’s gear in one of our units when they're not using it.