How to Clean and Care for Football Uniforms

Red football uniforms being cleaned and hung up to dry next to wicker laundry basket

The Spruce / Nelly Cuanalo

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 30 mins
  • Total Time: 2 hrs - 1 day
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Estimated Cost: $25

Keeping football uniforms clean—mainly white home team jerseys and pants—can seem like a massive undertaking. Add to that the stinky, sweaty smell of your athlete, and it's a wonder the uniforms come out clean and odorless at all. But, keeping football uniforms looking their best can be simple with a few key supplies and specific washing steps. In fact, durable polyester knit fabric is actually easier to care for than cotton. The key to success is washing your uniform in cool or warm water, using a heavy-duty detergent, and enlisting the help of an oxygen-based stain remover for stains.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Large sink, bucket, or plastic storage tub
  • Washing machine
  • Mesh laundry bag
  • Clothesline or drying rack
  • Soft cloth
  • Soft-bristled brush
  • Hose (optional)


  • Heavy-duty laundry detergent
  • Baking soda
  • Oxygen-based cleaner (like OxiClean)
  • Enzyme-based stain remover (optional)
  • Distilled white vinegar (optional)


Materials and tools to clean and care for football uniforms

The Spruce / Nelly Cuanalo

How to Wash Football Uniforms
Detergent Heavy-duty
Water Temperature Cold to warm
Cycle Type Normal
Drying Cycle Type Line dry
Special Treatments Presoak
Iron Settings Do not iron
How Often to Wash After every use


  1. Rinse the Uniform

    Rinse the uniform in a utility sink with cold water after every game to remove loose dirt and mud. If you don’t have a utility sink, hang the uniform outdoors on a clothesline and spray it down with a hose.

    Red football uniforms hung on clothes line and rinsed with hose

    The Spruce / Nelly Cuanalo

  2. Presoak the Uniform

    Fill a large sink, bucket, or plastic storage tub with warm (not hot) water. Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of heavy-duty laundry detergent and 1 cup of baking soda. Allow the uniform to soak for at least one hour or overnight. The detergent starts working on stains, and the baking soda reduces the odors.

    Red football uniform being presoaked in plastic bin with water, laundry detergent and baking soda

    The Spruce / Nelly Cuanalo

  3. Pretreat Stains

    Spray remaining stains—like mud and grass stains—with an oxygen-based cleaner (like OxiClean) and brush the fabric with a soft-bristled brush. Allow the detergent to work for at least 15 minutes before washing as usual. In the case of red clay mud, make a paste out of granular oxygen bleach and a few drops of water. Apply the paste to the stain, and then let it sit for at least 30 minutes before washing.

    Soft-bristled brush scrubbing excess dirt and stains from football uniform sleeve

    The Spruce / Nelly Cuanalo

  4. Disinfect the Pads

    Separate each of the shoulder pad's plastic shells from the fabric, and then wipe them down with water and a soft cloth. Spray the pads with an enzyme-based stain cleaner, like Hex Performance Gear Wash, to kill bacteria and remove odors. Follow the product directions for handwashing, or place the pads in a mesh laundry bag, before adding them to the washing machine.

    Football shoulder pads being sprayed with anti-odor disinfectant spray

    The Spruce / Nelly Cuanalo

  5. Load the Washer

    Turn your football jersey inside out to protect the lettering and emblems, and then add it to the washing machine with the pants. Don't add any other clothing items to the washer. (Lint from cotton or cotton-blend clothing can cling to the jersey's letters and numbers.) Set the washing machine to the normal cycle using cold or warm water.

    Football uniforms loaded into washing machine

    The Spruce / Nelly Cuanalo

  6. Add Detergent and Odor Control

    Add a heavy-duty laundry detergent, like Tide or Persil, to the washing machine. These detergents contain active enzymes that cut through heavy soil, lifting it from the fabric.

    Also, add 1 cup of baking soda to the washer drum for odor control. Then, add 1 cup of distilled white vinegar to the rinse cycle to remove any excess detergent that can leave colors looking dingy.

    Heavy-duty laundry detergent poured into washing machine

    The Spruce / Nelly Cuanalo

  7. Air-Dry the Uniform and Pads

    Hang the uniform to dry on a clothesline, or a drying rack, away from direct sunlight. (Machine drying can ruin a football uniform by setting stains, fading colors, and destroying screen-printed letters and numbers.)

    If you absolutely must put your football uniform in the dryer, tumble dry using low heat on the permanent press cycle. Protective pads should always be hung to air-dry.

    Red football uniforms hung on clothes line to air dry

    The Spruce / Nelly Cuanalo

Treating Stains on Football Uniforms

Stains, other than mud or grass, can be treated similarly. Use cold water to dampen the stain. Apply an oxygen- or enzyme-based stain remover, and then gently rub the stain with a soft-bristled brush. Wait 15 minutes, and then wash as usual.

You can also brighten white football pants with a laundry whitener like OUT White Brite. Pour a 1/2 cup of detergent into 1 gallon of water, and then let the pants sit in the solution for about an hour. Swish it around a few times, rinse the pants, and then wash as usual.

Football Uniform Care and Repairs

It's common for numbers and letters to peel off of football jerseys, especially when the uniforms are hand-me-downs, or the material quality is poor. Repair peeling decals by first backing the number or letter with a piece of cardboard. Next, place a pressing cloth over the top of the number or letter. Use an iron set on high heat, with the steam turned off, and quickly apply the tip of the iron to the edges of the decal with the pressing cloth in between. (Never allow the iron to directly touch the jersey fabric.) Gradually increase the contact time until you see the decal adhering to the fabric.

Storing Football Uniforms

Don't let the end-of-the-season excitement get the best of you, and absentmindedly toss your dirty uniform into the closet. Football uniforms should always be cleaned before storing, or bacteria will grow, ruining the uniform for the next season. Pads can be hung on hangers and stored in a cool, dry closet. Football uniforms can either be hung or folded and stored in the same fashion. Uniforms stored in sealable plastic bins will be protected from off-season damp conditions.

How Often to Wash Football Uniforms

Train your athlete to give you his uniform as soon as he walks in the door after practice or a game. Just about every sports uniform ends up dirty and stinky after each use. So, the faster it can get in the wash, the better the chance you’ll have of eliminating stains and odors.

Tips for Washing Football Uniforms

  • Add water softener (not fabric softener) to your presoak solution if you have hard water. This will prevent your uniform from feeling stiff from hard water deposits, once dry.
  • Don't use fabric softener on a football uniform, as it can lessen the fabric's moisture-wicking capabilities.
  • Avoid chlorine bleach, even on white fabrics, as it can damage synthetic polyesters and yellow them. Instead, use an oxygen-based bleach or an all-fabric bleach, which will brighten dulled whites, instead.
  • Use separate presoaking tubs for colors and whites.
  • Do football uniforms shrink when washed?

    Polyester jerseys and pants do not shrink when washed. However, the fabric still needs special attention in order to tackle stains and odors.

  • Can you wash NFL fan jerseys?

    Yes. NFL fan jerseys should be washed in the same fashion as uniforms. The good news is, they may contain fewer stains and less odor than those worn for playing football.

  • Can you dry clean football uniforms?

    No. Football uniforms should always be washed at home, as the chemicals used in dry cleaning could ruin them.