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Don't Fear the Gear: Equipment Cleaning Tips

By Minnesota Hockey, 10/26/20, 4:15PM CDT


In a typical season, the biggest cleaning concern for most youth hockey parents is fending off the all-too-familiar stench of damp equipment. This year, sanitizing and disinfecting are more top of mind.

Even NHL teams have had to step up their game, says Minnesota Wild equipment manager Tony DaCosta.

“It was definitely a challenging season being an equipment manager,” DaCosta said. “Our job changed drastically. In addition to wearing masks, we had to clean all the players’ gear daily, when normally we were probably running them through our Sani Sport machine weekly. We also had to wipe down all the (locker room) stalls and countertops daily.”

At the collegiate level, similar efforts have been thrust in place to ensure a safe start to the new season.

“This has been an eye opener,” said Toby Palmiscno, athletic equipment manager for men’s and women’s hockey at Bemidji State University. “This summer we spent a lot of time learning about the differences between cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing to make sure we’re doing it the right way. We’re probably cleaning now how we should have been cleaning all along.”

Now that it’s officially “game on” for youth hockey players throughout Minnesota, families should be extra vigilant when it comes to cleaning gear and mitigating risk.

DaCosta and Palmiscno both offered some helpful insight.

Get the Kids Involved

While the chore of actually cleaning gear will almost always fall on hockey moms and dads, kids can get involved by taking some simple steps after practices and games.

“It should be your kids’ responsibility to air out their own equipment,” DaCosta said. “Have them take all of it out of their bag and air dry after each use.”

Palmiscno believes there can be a practical benefit to this practice as well.

“In addition to airing out, make sure when kids get home that they take the insoles out of their skates so they can dry as well,” Palmiscno said. “It will cut drying time in half and improve the longevity of their skates.”

Once the equipment is set out to air dry, parents can spray it with a fabric disinfectant when they don’t have time to wash the equipment between uses.

Base Layers

Palmiscno recommends another preventive step to help reduce the sweaty stench, mitigate risk and potentially extend the lifecycle of some equipment.

“Number one on the list should be wearing a base layer of clothing under their equipment,” Palmiscno said. “Parents should make sure they have 2-3 sets so they’re rotating. It’s one of the biggest mistakes you see in a locker room. I can always tell the players that don’t wear a base layer by simply smelling their shoulder pads.”

Cleaning Tips and Tricks for Parents

Most families don’t have industrial cleaning machinery in the house to get the job done, and that’s just fine. Palmiscno and DaCosta both emphasize the importance of cleaning frequency over any “magic bullet” formula.

“I bet most parents never wash their child’s equipment. But there’s no reason you can’t throw most everything into a household washer,” Palmiscno said. “Parents should wash their athlete’s jerseys and socks at least twice per week. That will make a huge difference in terms of being safe but also improving the smell.”

“Shoulder pads can be tougher depending on the size of your machine but typically normal cycle is fine, and it’s pretty easy throw gloves into the washer,” he added. “Really, everything except the helmet and skates can be put into a washer at home. One thing I did growing up was taking an alcohol pad and wiping the inside of my helmet, especially the chinstrap, once a week. It’s good to kill bacteria inside helmets, as that’s one of the spots it will grow the most.”

DaCosta suggests parents wash protective gear weekly if their child is skating more than three times per week and says cloth face masks should be washed regularly. Washing has been proven to be the most effective way to eliminate bacteria and viruses on fabrics so if you haven’t washed your player’s equipment in the past, this is the year to start.

“Wash gear with hot water and set it at a heavy load. You can add some bleach to your detergent, whether washing at home or at a laundromat,” DaCosta said. “We also use a product called Sport Sense, which comes in a spray bottle form, to disinfect our equipment.”

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