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Don’t Fear the Gear

By Steve Mann, Special to Minnesota Hockey, 01/25/22, 9:15AM CST


Cleaning Tips from a Division I Equipment Manager

Hockey is the greatest game on earth, but let’s face it, we could all do without the horrible smell of sweaty sweaters and damp equipment that is the price of admission for all involved.

While there isn’t a secret formula to making hockey equipment smell factory fresh after hours on the ice, there are some ways to minimize the foul stench and make it tolerable.

“Hockey can be a dirty sport,” said Jamaal Baribeau, University of St. Thomas Director of Equipment, who works with both the Tommies’ men’s and women’s hockey teams. “I remember dealing with this stuff as a player, so I speak from my own experience. Some of the equipment will never get completely clean and that smell can get ‘burned’ into it if you lapse on your cleaning for a few months. But if you keep up with it and put the effort in, your equipment will be cleaner and probably last longer.”

Baribeau, fresh off an action-packed Hockey Day Minnesota weekend in Mankato, took the time to share a few helpful hints for hockey families when it comes to keeping their young players’ equipment cleaner than usual.

Rule No. 1: Empty Your Hockey Bag After Use

Too often, says Baribeau, parents will avoid a clean-up routine and instead tell their child to simply zip up their hockey bag so the smell will magically disappear. According to Baribeau, the best thing hockey families can do is the exact opposite. He recommends players empty their bags when they get home from the rink.

“When you leave all that wet equipment in your bag, you’re just trapping all the sweat and moisture and possibly mold,” he said. “A lot of the bags that kids use don’t allow for much venting, so when you leave that stuff zipped up it’s like leaving a wet towel on the floor. Only the top dries, so when you pick it up a couple days later, it’s just gross. If you have the room, the best thing to do after playing is to take everything out of your bag to dry out.”

Baribeau suggests players lay their equipment out on a garage (if not too cold) or basement floor or utilize an “air out tree” or homemade drying rack of some sort — with a fan blowing at it — to speed the drying process.

Cleaning Tips for Each Type of Equipment

In addition to immediate air drying, regular washing of equipment and clothing worn underneath that equipment — and/or disinfecting with Lysol or an anti-microbial spray — is critical. Baribeau suggests the following for the various pieces of equipment:

  • Skates – Take the insoles out and let them dry, especially if you skate barefoot. It’s like a sweaty shoe. The more you use it, if you don’t clean or dry it, it’s going to smell. Unfortunately, you can’t throw a skate in the washing machine, but if you dry them and use some disinfectant spray (search for “Beek’s Reek-Out” from former NHLer Pat Verbeek), it will help cut down on the smell.
  • Helmets – Just let them air out. Some arenas have disinfectant machines that may cost up to $20, but you can disinfect on your own.
  • Jersey, socks – Wash in your washing machine on cold. For jerseys, suggest hang-drying so the material doesn’t get damaged or shrink. You can put socks in the dryer on low heat.
  • Pads with hard and soft materials – If you have a front-loading machine, you can wash with warm water (not hot, as you don’t want to warp or melt any hard plastic padding). Let things like pads and gloves air dry.
  • Under-clothes and towels – Recommend washing these items every other day (hopefully your young athlete has at least two sets of under-clothes so you aren’t doing a wash every day, or, so they aren’t wearing them over and over without washing).

“Generally, I’d recommend using smaller amounts of soap,” Baribeau said. “Some detergents can damage certain materials and some people experience irritation or a rash as these items will be rubbing against your skin while you play.”

Where to Wash?

Baribeau says a front-loading machine at home should work well for most types of equipment. Top-loading machines can be trouble with the tumbler. If it spins and something gets caught it could get damaged. He cautions families to avoid over-stuffing their machine.

“Whether you’re using a front- or top-loading machine, don’t do too much at once, you don’t want to break your home washing machine,” Baribeau said. “You should probably do 1-2 pieces at a time.”

According to Baribeau, if your home washing machine won’t accommodate all of the equipment, try a local laundromat. “Some will have larger, industrial machines where you can wash everything for minimal cost, including their hockey bag,” he said.

Set a Schedule and Get the Kids to Help

While parents will likely need to set the cleaning schedule and routine, older kids can definitely contribute to the process, says Baribeau.

“With youth hockey the schedule changes often, but if you know your child’s schedule and have a day or two off, that’s the perfect time to wash on one day, and use the second day to dry,” he said. “Players should have the responsibility to empty their bag, help with the washing or do it themselves. It’s a team effort to get that stuff done.”

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