Cheerleaders have come a long way from spirited fans with megaphones to the talented and skilled athletes that perform today. And, just as the cheerleaders and their routines have changed, so have the uniforms. They have come a long way since the wool sweaters and circle skirts that women wore in the 1940s and 50s to the high-performance material uniforms of today. Even the traditional men's cheer uniforms have changed from sweaters, woven shirts, and trousers to high-performance sports materials.
And just as cheer uniforms and routines have changed so must your laundry routine to keep the often expensive uniforms looking - and smelling - their best. Follow these tips for S-U-C-C-E-S-S.
Know Your Uniform Material
It's time to read the uniform's care label. Most cheerleading uniforms are made from heavy weight stretchable polyester knit. The fabric is durable, has stretch for ease of movement and is actually easier to care for than cotton. However, excessively hot water and high dryer heat can ruin the fabric and oily stains can be more difficult to remove.
Learn the Presoak Routine
Presoaking to remove stains and odor is essential in getting your uniform clean. After the game or pep rally, rinse off the uniform in a utility sink to remove as much loose dirt and body soil as possible.
Next, fill a large sink or bucket with warm – not hot – water. Add a tablespoon of heavy duty laundry detergent (Tide, Wisk, and Persil are highly rated and considered heavy-duty) and one cup of baking soda to neutralize odor; then allow the uniform to soak for at least one hour. If it is heavily soiled with dirt or grass stains, it is even better if the uniform can soak overnight.
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 harder to clean and you will need to add some water conditioner or softener to your presoak bucket. This is not fabric softener; it is an additive that helps your detergent work better.
No Chlorine Bleach, Ever
It may be tempting to reach for chlorine bleach to whiten or remove stains on white or even gray uniforms; but, it is not effective for polyester fabrics and can even damage the material.
Instead, the stain should be allowed to soak overnight in a solution of cool water and oxygen-based bleach (brand names include OxiClean, Tide Oxi, Nellie's All Natural Oxygen Brightener, or OXO Brite). Fill a deep sink or plastic tub with cool water and add the amount of oxygen bleach suggested on the package. Completely submerge all pieces of the uniform in the solution. This cleaning solution is safe to use on all washable fabrics - white and colored.
Blood, Sweat, and Grass
After the uniform has pre-soaked, check it over for remaining stains. If you see a stain remaining, consult these stain removal tips for the specific stain (after game pizza?). Cold water is the trick for almost all stains that come a cheerleader's way on synthetic uniforms. Hot water should be used sparingly for grease or oily stains. The pre-soaking techniques will usually take care of stains.
Cheerleading may be a team sport but the uniform should travel alone or with other similar fabrics through the washing machine. Do not wash the uniform with other household laundry. Most clothes contain cotton or a cotton blend; the lint will come off and cling to the uniform's letters and decals.
Save the Heat for the Big Game
Never put a sports uniform in the clothes dryer. High heat causes shrinking, sets in stains, and fades colors. Hang the uniform to air dry away from direct sunlight.
Follow these laundry tips and your cheer uniform will look great all season long.