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.

More Posts

Holiday Stains

The holidays are here – and unfortunately stains are inevitable!  Whether it is on your tablecloth, carpet or clothing there are ways to get those stains out! 

Coffee stain on carpet
Coffee stain on carpet – Photo:

Follow these simple tips to fight stains with common household.  

  1. Check laundry for stains before washing. Many stains need pretreatment. 
  1. Take care of stains promptly. Fresh stains are much easier to remove than those over 24 hours old. 
  1. Blot up any excess liquid with a clean white cloth or paper towel. 
  1.  Avoid rubbing.  Blot gently to avoid damaging the fabric, taking the color out, spreading the stain. 
  1. Check colorfastness.  Test stain treatment in an inconspicuous spot to ensure it won’t remove the color. 
  1. Inspect wet laundry before drying to be sure a stain has been removed. If a stain is still evident, do not dryer dry. The heat of drying sets the stain making it more permanent. 
  1. Be patient!  Give any product or procedure used time to work.  Further, some stains may require multiple treatments to remove. 
  1. Appropriately treat the stain based on its type.  Different stains require different treatment to remove and prevent setting. 

Stain Types  

  1. Protein Stains.  This includes blood, milk, mud, baby formula, vomit, feces. 

Use COLD water!  Never use hot water first since it will make the stain more difficult to remove or may set the stain. Fresh stains can be removed by soaking or agitating in cold water.  After  soaking in  cold water, the item  can then be washed in warm water with detergent.  If the stain is not removed try soaking again

2. Oil Based Stains.  This includes butter, bacon fat, mayonnaise, automotive oil, collar stains. 

Pretreat the stain with a commercial stain removal product, liquid laundry detergent or liquid dish soap.  Wash in water as hot as the item will tolerate, with detergent. 

3. Tannin Stains.  This includes berries, coffee, tea, fruit juice, alcoholic beverages. 

Do not use natural soap (usually found in bar and flake form or detergents containing natural soap).  Natural soaps make tannin stains more difficult to remove.  Fresh stain can be washed with detergent in hot water, if safe for the fabric.

4. Dye Stains.  This includes Kool-Aid, mustard, dye transfer (from bleeding in the washer), grass, felt tip pens. 

These can be difficult to remove.  First pretreat the stain with detergent and then rinse thoroughly. Try soaking in a dilute solution of all-fabric powdered color safe bleach.  Try fresh bleach if the garment is white.  If using bleach on a white item the stain should come out within 15 minutes if the bleach is fresh. Bleaching for a longer time may weaken the fabric. Then wash in water as hot  as the item will tolerate with detergent. 

5. Combination Stains.  This includes gravy, ketchup, makeup, candle wax, ballpoint ink. 

Remove the oily/waxy portion first by treating with a dry cleaning solvent or stain stick and rinsing the spot in hot water in your sink.  Then rub in liquid laundry detergent on the spot before washing. 

If you don’t know what the stain is, treat with cold water first. Then follow up with a commercial stain remover and wash as directed on the fabric label.  Always follow the label directions on any commercial stain remover used.  Give the product time to work ; if directions say to leave on no longer than 10 minutes, be ready to rinse or wash it within that time frame. 

 Don’t be discouraged if you have a spill over the holidays.  Use the above tips to help you remove unwanted stains.  For additional stain removal help, use our Quick and Easy Stain Removal Guide  or Stain Solutions from the University of Illinois Extension which were both used to provide these great stain removal tips. 

And as always, if you need additional help, give us a call at AnswerLine!  We are here to help! 

Beth Marrs

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Adult Home Economics Education. I love to cook and entertain and spend time with my family.

More Posts


Connect with us!

AnswerLine's Facebook page AnswerLine's Pinterest page
Phone: (Monday-Friday, 9 am-noon; 1-4 pm)
1-800-262-3804 (in Iowa)
1-800-854-1678 (in Minnesota)