Keeping soccer uniforms looking clean and bright doesn't need to be such a chore. It would be nice if all our budding star players were like Lionel Messi and David Beckham or Hope Solo and Mia Hamm and had managers who whisked away the dirty uniforms left a nice, clean one to magically appeared on game day. But since that is reserved for only the chosen few, here are some tips for keeping soccer uniforms looking their best.
Know Your Uniform Material
Almost every soccer 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 in keeping the uniform clean is using the right water temperature, detergent, and stain removal processes.
Learn the Presoak Fundamentals
Just like the fundamentals lead to excellence in soccer, presoaking is the essential fundamental in getting a soccer uniform clean. After practice or a game, rinse off the uniform in a utility sink 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. The abundance of water will help loosen soil and bring it to the surface of the fibers.
Next fill a large sink, bucket, or plastic storage container with warm–never hot–water. Add about two tablespoons of a heavy-duty laundry detergent (Tide or Persil are leading brands with plenty of stain-busting enzymes) and one cup of baking soda. Soak the uniform for at least one hour before washing. It is even better to allow the uniform to soak overnight. The detergent starts working on stains and the baking soda will help remove the odors. This process is safe for both colored and white fabrics. It is best to separate the colors and whites into separate soaking tubs if possible just in case there is dye transfer.
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, the uniform will be harder to clean and you will need to add some water softener to your presoak solution. This is not fabric softener; it is an additive that helps your detergent work better.
Never Use Chlorine Bleach
It may be tempting to use chlorine bleach on white or even gray uniforms in an attempt to brighten them and remove stains, but it is not effective for polyester fabrics and can even damage the material. Chlorine bleach can weaken and strip away the outer covering of polyester fibers revealing the inner yellow core.
Instead, use an oxygen or all-fabric bleach (brand names are: OxiClean, Nellie's All Natural Oxygen Brightener, or OXO Brite) to brighten and whiten uniforms and undergarments. Again, allow the uniform to soak for at least one hour but overnight is better to get the best results. The oxygen bleach is safe to use on white uniform shirts or pants with colored stripes or lettering.
Wash Soccer Uniforms Alone
Soccer may be a team sport but the uniform should travel alone through the washing machine. Do not wash the uniforms with other clothes. Most 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 cool water and a good detergent and launder as usual. Never use hot water. Even if the uniform is white, the lettering and numbers are colored and can fade in high heat.
Forget the Heat
Never put a soccer uniform in an automatic 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 you must get it dry quickly, tumble for just a few minutes on the low heat or the air only setting and check the dryer frequently. If damage has occurred to lettering and it is cracking and peeling, there are ways you can make repairs.
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 soccer uniforms, always start with cold water. Hot water will only set many of 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 washer and treat any remaining stains with a stain remover or by rubbing in a bit of extra detergent.