Hockey is the only sport that has its own unique smell. It’s a dubious distinction, for sure. While other sports can claim their own distinctive sounds (for example, the crack of the bat in baseball and the stuttering squeak of sneakers in basketball), hockey is the only sport that literally has its own fragrance.
And it’s not a good one either.
But it is a real issue for both players and their parents. The smell is actually bacteria that are brought on by a perfect petri dish of sweat, wet equipment and lack of air circulation.
Unfortunately, everything about the sport of hockey allows for the ripe opportunity (pun intended) for the bacteria to grow, too. Hockey is an extremely cardiovascular sport that creates a lot of sweat that, in turn, soaks into the foam and cloth of the pads worn by the players. Then the wet and, oftentimes, steamy equipment is shoved into a giant bag where there is no ventilation. Because of this, the bacteria fester. In just one use, whether it’s during a practice or game, a player has instantly provided all the elements for the infamous hockey smell to live.
So, how do you control the hockey smell and keep the gear clean? Minnesota Hockey spoke with Minnesota Wild equipment manager Matt Benz along with veteran hockey moms and dads in Minnesota for their tricks and tips in dealing with hockey smell.
Empty Out the Bag
It’s real easy to just toss your wet equipment into a hockey bag after use, zip it up, sling it over the shoulder, and then put it away until the next practice or game. But this is one of the biggest mistakes in the fight against hockey smell. Inside the bag, there is no air circulation and the steam from the pads creates more moisture. It becomes a greenhouse for the bacteria to grow in.
“Always try to get the equipment out of the bag after each use,” Benz said. “Each use!”
Dry It Out
When laundry is wet, we dry it out. Same theory should go for hockey equipment. The proper drying of equipment is the ground floor in the fight against hockey smell. This is because wet clothes and pads equal bacteria, mold and a festering smell.
When hockey equipment has been used, we should make a solid effort to simply dry the equipment out – every time.
“We always dry the equipment after every practice, game and morning skate,” Benz said. “(To dry it out equipment) we hang it up and turn up the heat in the locker room. Then we use fans in the room to get air circulating.”
Along with heat and fans, the Minnesota Wild dries gloves on a PVC style pipe dryer (think of a boot dryer but one specifically used for hockey gloves). There are now several hockey drying stands now on the market, too.
Hang It Up
You don’t have to own an industrial dryer and locker room like the Minnesota Wild to combat hockey smell. All that is needed is a small space to hang the gear up.
Jameson Slusarek, 10, is a multisport athlete in St. Paul. He plays baseball and basketball as well as playing on a Squirt B team for the St. Paul Capitals Hockey Club. But it is Jameson’s hockey equipment that requires added attention from his mom Christine Weeks.
“We have a special area in the laundry room for hanging equipment up,” Weeks said with a laugh. “The room is chilly, which seems to help keep the smell down.”
“If you can, have a designated place to hang equipment,” he said. “This is key to help dry it out. And it also assures nothing is left behind when it is time to repack the gear.”
Oliver Prentice is a Minneapolis Storm Peewee. His mom, Ann, decided to make the unpacking of the bag Oliver’s job when they returned home from practice or a game. Because of this, Oliver has taken ownership of his own gear.
This vested interest in the quality of his pads and their upkeep has been a great life lesson.
“It’s Oliver’s job to open the bag and empty it after each practice or game,” Ann Prentice said. “I do the washing. But he’s in charge of emptying it out and hanging it up and now cares way more about his own gear than before.”
When clothes stink, we wash them. Same should go with hockey pads. And you don’t need to have a super deluxe Sani Sport machine at your disposal like Benz has with the Minnesota Wild to clean equipment. A standard in-home or laundromat washing machine will do just fine to kill bacteria and freshen things up.
“If the equipment starts to get stinky don’t be afraid to put it in the washing machine,” Benz said. “Elbow pads, shoulder pads, shin-pad liners, pants or breezers can all be washed this way. Leave the skates and helmet out, though. Always dry after laundering. Never put equipment in the dryer.”
One reason hockey equipment smells so bad is because the pads can be right up against a player’s skin. When this happens the pads become a direct sponge for all the sweat. An easy solution is to put a simple layer between the skin and sponge. In the NHL, nearly all the player’s wear sweat wicking undergarments between their skin and pads.
“Wearing a layer between the pads and skin is a necessity,” Benz said. “Obviously, you can wash the clothes more regularly than the equipment. Failing to do this will almost certainly result in equipment getting foul. Without a layer between the pads and skin, rashes and other conditions can occur.”
The cleaning aisle at your local Target, grocery store or hardware store can also be used to help battle the hockey smell. There are multiple deodorizer and antibacterial sprays on the market that work to reduce odor and bacteria. Items such as Clorox wipes, rubbing alcohol, Febreeze, and Lysol all work great. But let pads dry completely after wiping them down with cleaning products because skin irritation can be a downside if the pads are still wet with cleaning products and then worn.
“After each home Wild game, we go around and spray the equipment with a freshener,” Benz said. “We use a product called Sport Sense that can be found at hockey stores. Ask for it at your local shop or order online. It is a spray that smells nice and also has an antimicrobial solution in it to kill most bacteria. Very effective.”