How to Clean and Care for Football Uniforms

Kids playing football

Ronald Modra / Getty Images

Keeping football gear and uniforms, especially white jerseys and pants, clean, odor-free, and looking like a winner doesn’t need to be such a chore. Follow these six points for keeping football uniforms looking their best to last all season.

Almost every football uniform is made from heavyweight stretchable polyester knit or mesh. The fabric is durable, has stretch for ease of movement, and is actually easier to care for than cotton. The key to success is using the right water temperature, detergent, and stain removal processes.

How to Wash Football Uniforms
Detergent Heavy-duty detergent
Water Temperature Cold to Warm
Cycle Type Normal
Drying Cycle Type Do not machine dry
Special Treatments Presoak 
Iron Settings Do not iron

Project Metrics

Train your athlete to give you the uniform as soon as they walk in the door after practice or a game. Pretty much every sports uniform stinks, so the faster it can get in the washer, the better chance you’ll have of eliminating stains and odors. 

Working time: 30 minutes

Total time: 2 to 24 hours, depending on soak and dry time

Skill level: Intermediate

What You'll Need

Supplies

Tools

  • Large sink, bucket or plastic storage tub
  • Clean cloth
  • Washing machine
  • Mesh laundry bag

Instructions

  1. Rinse the Uniform to Get Rid of Surface Dirt

    After the game or after each practice, rinse off the uniform in a utility sink with cold water to remove as much loose dirt and mud as possible. If you don’t have a utility sink, hang the uniform over a clothesline and spray it down with a hose.

  2. Presoak the Uniform

    Presoaking is essential in getting a uniform clean. 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 will help reduce the odors. This process is safe for both colored and white fabrics, but it is best to have separate soaking tubs for colors and whites.

  3. Disinfect the Pads

    If you are cleaning shoulder pads and other protective gear, separate the shoulder pads' plastic shell from the fabric and wipe them down. Use an anti-odor disinfectant spray to treat the football pads. If the pads are heavily stained, use an enzyme-based stain remover on the affected areas and let it sit for 15 minutes. Put the pads in a mesh laundry bag and add to the washing machine.

  4. Load the Washer

    Turn the football jersey inside out to protect the lettering and emblems, and add it to the washing machine with the pants. Don't add any other clothing to the washing machine because the lint from other cotton or cotton-blend clothing will cling to the jersey's letters and numbers. Set the washing machine to the normal cycle with cold or warm water.

  5. Add Detergent and Odor Control

    Always use a heavy-duty laundry detergent like Tide or Persil to wash the uniforms. They contain enough active enzymes to cut through the heavy soil so it will lift from the fabric.

    To help with odor control, add one cup of baking soda to the washer drum. Rather than fabric softener, use one cup of distilled white vinegar in the rinse water to remove any excess detergent that can leave colors looking dingy.

  6. Air-dry the Uniform and Pads

Machine-drying can ruin a football uniform by causing it to shrink, setting in stains, fading colors, and destroying screen-printed letters and numbers. Instead, hang the uniform to dry away from direct sunlight. If you absolutely must put it in the dryer, tumble it on low heat on the permanent press cycle. Protective pads should always be hung to air-dry.

Tips for Better Looking Football Uniforms

  • If you have hard water, add water softener (not fabric softener) to your presoak solution.
  • Do not use fabric softener on the uniform, as it can ruin the fabric by being too abrasive.
  • Avoid chlorine bleach, even on white fabrics, as it can damage the material. Instead, use an oxygen-based or all-fabric bleach.

Storing Football Uniforms

Football uniforms should be stored clean and can be hung or folded alongside other clothes. Don't let the end-of-season excitement get the best of you and sweep a dirty uniform into the back of the closet where the stink will grow and bacteria will form, ruining the uniform for the next season.

Repairs

Peeling numbers and letters are common on football jerseys, especially in youth leagues where the quality is not as good. To repair peeling decals, put a piece of cardboard in the jersey under the peeling number or letter. Next, place a piece of plain white paper over the top of the number or letter. Use an iron, with the steam turned off, applied over the piece of paper and delicately press along the edges of the peeling decal. Start by pressing down quickly and gradually increasing the contact time as you see the decals re-sticking to the fabric.

Treating Stains on Football Uniforms

When it comes to football uniforms, stains are inevitable. Removing those stains will depend on what it is:

  • Grass stains: Work a dollop of heavy-duty detergent into the stained area with a soft-bristled brush. Allow the detergent to work for at least 15 minutes before washing as usual.
  • Mud: Scrape off any excess dirt from the fabric, and apply some heavy-duty detergent with a soft-bristled brush. If the mud is caused by red clay, make a paste of oxygen-based bleach and a few drops of water. Apply to the stain and let it sit for at least 30 minutes before washing as usual.
  • All other stains: Use cold water to dampen the stain. Apply a stain-remover and gently rub it with a sponge or soft-bristled brush. Wait 15 minutes and wash as usual.