12 tips for washing kids’ sports uniforms

Does anyone else think it strange (and a little unfair) that kids’ sports uniforms are kinda finicky when it comes to washing? I mean what clothing gets a harder workout — with skids through the grass and mud and long periods of  full-on sweating? The fabrics can stretch out of shape, shrink, retain odors, wrinkle, and even melt if laundered incorrectly! To top it off, uniforms are expensive! If your child is on a team this season, here are a dozen helpful tips for how to wash kids’ sports uniforms:

• Don’t wait. Have your child take off that uniform asap after the game or practice. If you can’t launder it right away, hang it up to dry out. This will help keep it from getting smelly. Whatever you do, don’t let a uniform sit in a gym bag for days!

• Dry mud before washing. If there’s mud on the uniform, hang it up until the mud dries. Then brush off the bulk of the mud before laundering. Your washing machine will thank you — and the uniform will be swishing in cleaner water, too.

young football team in black and gold uniforms

• Pretreat stains before washing. This might mean soaking overnight, or for just ten minutes. It might mean scrubbing with an enzyme cleaner, or pouring hydrogen peroxide over it, depending on whether you’re dealing with mud, blood, grass, or a colorful sports drink. Here’s a good natural stain remover cheat sheet if you want to attack stains in an environmentally friendly fashion. (For most stains, I find that spraying the stain with liquid hand soap, rubbing it in, leaving it sit for 15 minutes, then laundering does the trick. Occasionally I enlist the help of an old toothbrush, too — uniform stains can be extra challenging!) 

• Check pockets. It’s always a good idea to check pockets before laundering any clothes. If a uniform has a pocket, there’s a good chance your child stuck a wrapper (or worse) in there sometime during the day of the game. 

• Check labels to see if the uniform can be put in the washing machine. Most items (even protective gear like shin guards and knee pads) can be tossed in the machine. And they’ll get a more thorough washing than a hand washing would accomplish. Some items might need a little more TLC than the machine can muster, though.  A jersey with writing on it, for example, might do better if you hand wash it.

• Wash in cold water. Really dirty clothes seem to beg for hot water. But it’s not a good choice for the synthetics most uniforms are made of. Instead, wash in cold on the delicate cycle. (Just pretreat those stains first!)

• Don’t use bleach. Bleach can ruin the synthetic fabric that most uniforms are made of.

• Add a cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle to reduce odors. (Just put it in the compartment designated for softener.) No, your child won’t smell like a salad — the vinegar scent dissipates quickly.

huddled volleyball team in red and black jerseys

• Don’t use fabric softener! It’s so tempting, especially if the uniform has gotten a little stiff and less than fresh smelling. But softeners are terrible for synthetic fabrics. They leave behind a film that makes them less moisture-wicking, less flexible, and more difficult to clean. It will also trap odors, resulting in sports clothing that never seems to smell fresh, even right out of the washing machine.

• Hang uniforms to dry whenever possible. And definitely don’t put a jersey with writing on it in a hot dryer. Most uniforms have a fair amount of elastic in them, and that can break down in the heat of the dryer. (Even if the label says you can put the item in the dryer, don’t use the hottest setting, and remove it as soon as it’s dry.) If you hang the uniform on a clothesline, keep it turned inside out to prevent fading. On a really sunny day, you can even put it inside a pillowcase or between two light fabrics when hanging to protect it from fading in the sun. 

• Don’t iron uniforms. If the item is very wrinkly (this can happen to jerseys), hang it up after washing and run over it with a hairdryer set on cool. It will dry the jersey and help remove most of those wrinkles. 

• Put baseball caps in the dishwasher. Clip caps (with clothespins) to the top rack of your dishwasher (sans dishes) for a thorough washing. Then air dry. They’ll retain their shape and get nice and clean!

With a little luck and elbow grease, your child’s uniform will not only last the season, it’ll be in good enough shape to serve as a hand-me-down with some history! 

You might also like: Swimsuit care — 4 easy steps to keep your bathing suit in top shape and Sneakers — how to keep your kicks long lasting.

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