Cheerleaders have come a long way from spirited girls and boys with megaphones and saddle shoes to the talented and skilled athletes that perform today. And, just as the cheerleaders and their routines have changed, so have the uniforms. Long gone are the wool sweaters and circle skirts that girls wore in the 1940s and 50s. Teams today have multiple outfits with multiple pieces in high-performance fabrics to suit every weather condition. Traditional men's cheer uniforms have changed from sweaters, woven shirts, and trousers to high-performance sports materials necessary to perform the aerobatic and strenuous routines.
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. Since cheer uniform pieces should be laundered after every performance, 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 cheer uniform pieces 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 (no ironing). However, excessively hot water and high dryer temperatures can ruin the fabric and oily stains on synthetics can be more difficult to remove.
To protect muscles and joints from injury, many members of a cheer team may wear compression garments. Again, read the label to launder them correctly.
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 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 stained or dingy uniform should be allowed to soak overnight in a solution of cool water and oxygen-based bleach (brand names include OxiClean, 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 both white and colored.
Blood, Sweat, and Grass
After the uniform has presoaked, 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 presoaking 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 the regular 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. If you are in a rush and must use a dryer, choose the air only cycle and allow the uniform to tumble for about ten minutes.
There is usually no need to iron a cheer uniform. But, if you are faced with a wrinkled mess from spending time in a heap, choose a low temperature, iron on the wrong side of the fabric, and use a pressing cloth between the face of the iron and the uniform.