Keeping football gear and uniforms, especially white jerseys and pants, clean and odor free and looking like a winner doesn’t need to be such a chore. It would be nice if all of the Pee-Wee, Pop Warner, middle school, and high school football leagues had managers who always whisked away the dirty uniforms and a nice, clean one magically appeared on game day. But since that is reserved for the chosen few, here are six points for keeping football uniforms looking their best and, hopefully, lasting all season.
1. Know Your Uniform Material
Almost every football uniform is made from heavy weight 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.
2. Learn the Presoak Play
Unless the player has been riding the bench, presoaking is essential in getting a uniform clean. 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.
Next, fill a large sink, bucket or large plastic storage tub with warm–not hot–water. Add two or three tablespoons of heavy-duty laundry detergent (Tide or Persil are leading brands with plenty of stain-busting enzymes) and one cup of baking soda. Allow the uniform to soak for at least one hour. It is even better if it can soak 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. It is best to have separate soaking tubs for colors and whites.
It is important to know if the water in your area is hard or soft. Hard water contains an excess of minerals that make detergents much less effective in removing soil. If you have hard water, your uniform will be more difficult to clean and keep bright. You will need to add some water softener to the presoak solution. This is not fabric softener; it is an additive that helps your detergent work better.
3. No Steroids and No Chlorine Bleach
Just like steroids and athletes, chlorine bleach has many appropriate uses but not in cleaning football uniforms. It may be tempting to use chlorine bleach on white or even gray uniforms but it is not effective for polyester fabrics and can even damage the material.
Instead, use an oxygen-based or all-fabric bleach to brighten and whiten uniforms and undergarments. Again, allow the uniform to soak for at least one hour but overnight is best to get the best results. The oxygen bleach is safe to use on white uniform shirts or pants with colored stripes or lettering.
4. Play as a Team but Wash Alone
Football may be a team sport but the uniform components should travel alone through the washing machine. Do not wash the uniform with other clothes. Many clothes contain cotton or a cotton blend. The lint will come off and cling to the jersey’s letters and numbers. After the uniform has presoaked, fill the washer with warm water, add heavy-duty detergent, and launder as usual. Never use hot water. Even if the uniform is white, the lettering and numbers are colored and may fade.
5. Leave the Heat on the Field
Never put a sports uniform in the dryer. High heat causes shrinking, can destroy screen-printed lettering and numbers, sets in stains, and fades colors. Hang the uniform to air dry away from direct sunlight. If damage has occurred to lettering and it is cracking and peeling, there are ways you can make repairs.
If you are in a hurry, tumble the uniform on low heat on the permanent press cycle to speed drying.
6. Blood, Sweat, and Grass Stains
Stains are going to happen. A clean uniform either means someone rode the bench or the game was really boring. When it comes to stain removal for football uniforms, use cold water. Hot water will often set the stains and make them nearly impossible to remove. The presoaking techniques will usually take care of stains. But, inspect the uniform before you put it into the wash and treat any remaining stains with a stain remover or by rubbing in a bit of extra detergent.