Photo: ESB Professional (Shutterstock)
Spring is a prime time for exercise. Kids are hitting the soccer and baseball fields and adults are trying to cram in as many pre-summer gym sessions as possible. You should incorporate your athletic gear into this year’s big spring cleaning, but sometimes that’s easier said than done. How do you safely (and effectively) wash protective pads, jock straps, headgear—and even the gym bag that holds it all? Let’s go over all the best ways to wash your various sports attire.
To really clean your sweaty clothes, you have to start planning long before you touch the washing machine. Always rinse your clothes right after a workout, especially if they’re made from synthetic material that can hold onto bacteria. Even if you can’t do that, you should hang the clothes somewhere instead of crumpling them in a heap with your other dirty fabrics. When you are ready to wash, soak them in a mixture of one part vinegar to four parts water for half an hour, then turn them inside out so the side that was touching your sweaty body gets the most thorough cleaning before popping them in the wash.
The other day, my boyfriend and I set about cleaning the pads he wears for his job as an umpire. This was harder than anticipated because we didn’t want them to stay wet and potentially get mildewy, but we weren’t sure the giant pads could go in the dryer, either. We were right: Per Clear Gear, a sports cleaning company, you should just be spraying the pads with disinfectant between every use. Remove them from their plastic backing or holders and spray both components with the disinfectant. If there’s any visible dirt on the pads, use a mixture of soap and water to get it off first, but only wipe it on, according to Active, and then immediately dry the area with a paper towel to prevent molding. You can rub the outsides of the pads with rubbing alcohol, too, for some extra germ-killing power, but make sure you do all of this when there’s still enough time for it to air dry thoroughly before wearing again.
According to Active, you should be washing your jock straps by hand, ideally after removing the cup from the fabric part and filling a basin with warm water and a little detergent. If you can’t do that, you can wash the fabric part as normal in the washing machine, but you should still use soapy water to wipe down the cup and follow up with a little disinfectant, like Lysol. Never wring these out, as so much of them is made from elastic that they’ll eventually lose their shape if you do. Rather, let it air dry and blot it with a towel from time to time to help it along.
Sports bras should also get the hand-washing treatment, per Nike, or at the very least be put in a little mesh bag in the washing machine. Soak the bra in water and a little detergent or soap for about half an hour before using your hands to agitate the fabric. Rinse it in cold water and lay it all flat to dry. (If your sports bras have those annoying removable pads, refer to our guide on washing them here.)
Washing baseball caps is easy: You just put them in the dishwasher. But what about helmets? Light Helmets recommends removing the padding from inside the gear, then washing the outside of the helmet with something soft, not abrasive, dipped in soapy water. A microfiber cloth or even an old t-shirt will work. You don’t want to scratch the exterior. The pads inside are small, so you can actually soak them briefly in warm, soapy water, but if they don’t need that, don’t do it. Instead, just wipe the exterior with a cloth dipped in the stuff. Again, make sure they can dry completely before use; it helps to put them somewhere airy and well-ventilated. Finally, hit the helmet and the pads with disinfectant spray.
First, toss some silica gel packets in your gym bag to keep it from stinking. But even so, wash it regularly, either by removing the insert at the bottom and tossing it into the washing machine, or using warm, soapy water and a cloth to wipe the inside and outside. Wipe down that insert especially good, too, since you can’t put it in the wash and it shoulders the brunt of your heaviest, stinkiest stuff. Read the bag’s care instructions if you can find them, but consider letting it air dry instead of putting it in the dryer. Wipe it out with a dry rag and, once it’s not wet anymore, hit it with your disinfectant spray.