How to Clean a Sports Uniform

Make smelly sports gear a thing of the past with these easy cleaning hacks. 

Amanda Thomas
4-minute read

If you’ve got a family member who is an athlete, chances are you do your share of uniform washing — unless, of course, your sports star is in the NFL or NBA. They've got dedicated people for that.

But, if you’re like most of us, the uniform washing falls in your court. Whether you are laundering football jerseys, basketball uniforms, baseball gear, or soccer shirts, each sport creates stains and smells unique to its game. I asked one of my friends whose son is a high school athlete to share some of her best tips on how to clean sports gear. Since her son plays about every sport there is, you can trust that she’s a real expert in this subject!

The trick to cleaning a sports uniform

The first trick is to get that uniform washed as soon as possible. Try get your athlete in the habit of giving you the uniform as soon as they walk in the door after practice or a game. Pretty much every sports uniform stinks, so the faster that thing can get in the washer, the better chance you’ll have of getting rid of stains and odors. My sympathies to the person who has to remove a sports uniform from a gym bag days after the big game. The smell alone is enough to kill ya!

Check out Project Parenthoods guide for Laundry in Large Families

Types of stains on sports uniforms 

Now, on to some of the stains you’ll probably see on a pretty regular basis:

Grass stains

Even though your football player may look at grass stains as a badge of honor, you know that both you and the coach would like that uniform sparkling clean for the next big game.

Here’s how to get rid of those green monsters: Create a scrub using ¼ cup of white sugar and mix in just enough water to create a paste. Rub the sugar scrub into the grass stain with a soft bristled brush for about a minute. Toss the offending garment into the washing machine and wash as usual. Be sure you don't rinse off the scrub before tossing in the washer.

Dirt and red clay

Soccer, football, baseball/softball, and even track athletes can come home with ground-in stains of dirt or red clay, depending on where in the country you live.

To get the stains out, first remove as much of the dry dirt as you can by lightly scraping in the direction of the fabric weave. Next, saturate the stain with a mixture of 1 cup white vinegar mixed with 3 tablespoons of iodized salt. Let this sit for 30 minutes and then rinse with cold water. If the stain persists, repeat or follow these next instructions. For a stubborn spot, soak the stain in a mixture of 1 cup of water and 1 tablespoon of Borax granules (found in the laundry section of your local store). If the spot still persists, soak the item in a gallon of water to which you’ve added either a cup of ammonia, or, if the uniform is white, a cup of bleach. Once the stain is gone, wash as normal.

Make laundry day easier for your family with Domestic CEO's 8 Clever Laundry Hacks for Busy Parents

Blood stains

Unfortunately, you may also encounter blood stains on a uniform from time to time. For a tried and true method to cleaning blood stains, check out my episode The Ultimate Laundry Stain Removal Guide.

How to get rid of smells in sports uniforms

Finally, let’s discuss the issue that permeates every single sports uniform – the smell.

To quickly and easily get rid of that horrible sweaty smell that infiltrates every last fiber of a uniform, pour 1 cup of vinegar in the bleach dispenser of your washing machine and then launder as usual with your regular laundry detergent. Vinegar is a champion at removing odors and giving fabric a clean, fresh scent. Don’t worry, your clothes won't smell like a jar of pickles.

In the very worst smelly cases, sprinkle a ½ cup of baking soda directly over the uniform once you’ve added it to the washer. This should eliminate any odor left in the fabric.

If you've just run out of liquid fabric softener or dryer sheets, check out Who Knew's Laundry Hacks: Dryer Sheets and Fabric Softener Replacements

Don't put sports uniforms in the dryer

One last word of advice: Do not put any sports uniform in the dryer. Always air dry instead.

Why? Well a few reasons.  Most uniforms contain spandex that will lose elasticity from heat. This is true also for dance and cheer gear, which also may have frills or sparkles that can fall off. Anything with numbers printed (like jerseys) run the risk of the numbers peeling from the heat. Lastly, things like football pads can get misshapen by the tumbling of the dryer. The best thing to do is remove the sports gear from the washer, shake it out, then hang or lay flat to dry.

Follow these uniform cleaning tips and your athlete will be the shining star of the team (or at least the uniform will be).