Dealing with Sport Stains

Spring youth baseball, softball, football, and soccer games are in full swing—rain or shine! While it’s fun to watch the kids play and give it their all, it’s not so fun for the moms and dads who clean the uniforms after the game. Parents know that just one base slide or a slip and sprawl on the grass will result in serious laundry room time. Add wet fields, sweat, blood, sports drinks, and other hard play stains!

Baseball player sliding into home base

Sport pants stained with hard play–dirt, grass, sweat, blood, and more, mean work in the laundry room. For best results and to minimize the work and time spent cleaning them, sports pants should be sent to the laundry room as soon as possible after the game. The longer sweat and stains sit, the harder they are to clean. While methods and products may differ for those who clean uniforms, there are 5 musts:

  • get to the stains ASAP,
  • avoid using chlorine bleach,
  • wash alone or with like colors,
  • wash inside out to reduce potential peeling of letters or numbers, and
  • air dry.

Textile experts would concur with the “mom” advice. Further, they recommend that any stain removal should begin by

  1. identifying the fiber type and
  2. determining the stain type.

Depending on the fiber or stain type, the stain removal process differs.


Most sport uniforms are made of polyester or a blend of cotton and polyester, with polyester being widely used for youth sport uniforms. Polyester uniforms are extremely durable and exhibit moisture wicking properties, allowing sweat to wick away from the skin for more efficient evaporation. Polyester’s downside is its affinity for oil-based stains and shrinkage with heat. Check the garment tag to determine the fiber content and note if spandex is part of the mix. (Some caution may be needed with spandex as it may not take the usual harsh treatment required to get the uniforms clean.)

Stain Type

Most sport-induced stains are either protein stains or dye stains. Protein-based stains include blood, sweat, grass, mud and most dirt; protein stains can be time-consuming to remove as they usually involve some soaking time. Grass stains can also be a dye stain as the stain comes from chlorophyll in the grass. Red clay stain is another dye stain. Red clay is the dirt combination used to skim the infield; it’s made of clay mixed with sand or silt and topped with brick dust. The reddish color of the dirt comes from iron oxide or rust. A combination of chlorophyll and red clay stains makes uniform cleaning challenging.

Grass, Blood, Sweat Stains

Reach for an enzyme-based product and pre-soak in cold to lukewarm (less than 100 degrees F) water. Protein stains will set if exposed to hot water, an iron, or a dryer. Heat cooks the protein, causing coagulation between the fibers in the yarns of the fabric, making the stains more difficult to remove. Enzyme-based products (pre-soaks and detergents) work best as these cleaners contain enzymes that “eat” protein stains. When shopping for an enzyme laundry product, pay attention to products with “bio” or “enzyme action” somewhere in their name usually indicating that it likely contains enzymes. Launder by working a small amount of an enzyme based detergent into the stains and wash in enzyme detergent. If the stain persists, the American Cleaning Institute (ACI) recommends laundering with sodium hypochlorite bleach, if safe for fabric, or oxygen bleach.

Dirt Stains

Regular dirt stains respond to products that contain wetting agents. Liquid dish soap (blue Dawn), laundry detergent, or some stain-removing sprays are typically used. Wetting agents enable water and cleaning agents to penetrate the fabric for better release of dirt.

Red Clay Stains

Red clay (rust) stains are allergic to chlorine and oxygen bleaches. Chlorine bleach may set or make the stain permanent. Pretreat the stain with dish soap, detergent, or spot cleaner; soak in warm water, scrub with a brush, and launder. Cleanipedia recommends rubbing an enzyme detergent into the stain, letting it set overnight, and washing it as usual. If the stain persists, Cleanipedia also offers more drastic solutions using vinegar and salt and ammonia solutions.

Nike, the manufacturer of many kinds of sports pants, recommends soaking for at least an hour. After soaking the pants, scrub the stain with a spare, clean toothbrush or scrub brush to help release dirt particles. Then, wash the pants in warm water (approximately 110 degrees F) using the heavy soil cycle and plenty of water. Nike also suggests using detergents explicitly made for athletic uniform care as they are lower in alkaline, preventing yellowing of whites or color loss. Lastly, avoid using fabric softener on garments that contain Dri-FIT materials, as it can reduce the moisture-wicking properties of the fabric.

Clubbies, the nickname for those who launder uniforms for the major league teams, suggest the use of a product called Slide Out.* Slide Out is formulated with additives that increase the effectiveness of detergent to remove tough red clay, blood, ground in dirt, sweat, odors, and hard to remove grass stains from all activity uniforms. It is a two-part product. Slide Out 1 permeates the fabric and opens up the yarns and fibers. Slide Out 2 reacts with Slide Out 1, taking out the dirt and stain. Slide Out is recommended as a post-stain remover. Originally developed for the major leagues, Slide Out is now available to consumers along with other uniform cleaning products directly from the company, Clubhouse Kit LLC, that developed the products.

There are a number of other products on the market that suggest that they will do the job as well. As always, products should be used per label directions and tested in an inconspicuous spot before use.

“HATS OFF” to all the moms, dads, and grandparents who support youth and their activities with their time, encouragement, and laundry duty!

*Reference to any commercial product, process, or service, or the use of any trade, firm, or corporate name is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute an endorsement, recommendation, or certification of any kind. Persons using such products assume responsibility for their use and should make their own assessment of the information and whether it is suitable for their intended use in accordance with current directions of the manufacturer.

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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2 thoughts on “Dealing with Sport Stains

  1. Great tips! As an avid athlete, managing sport stains is always a struggle, so I appreciate the helpful advice in this post.

  2. Managing sport stains can be a hassle, but having effective strategies makes a big difference. This article provides helpful tips for keeping our sportswear in top condition.

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