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 some serious laundry room time. Add to that, wet fields!

While attending one of my grandson’s baseball games, I noted a mix of emotions among the side line of parents and grandparents as they watched their player make a successful base slide or an outfield fly caught as the fielder slid on his bottom across the damp grass to make the catch.  An eruption of clapping and cheering was followed by a low murmur of comments and ‘teasing’ about the dirt-caked or grass-stained pants.  That was followed with a sharing of advice on “best methods or products” to restore the pants to white and bright.

It’s been many years since I had to tackle the job or getting my son’s football pants clean after a game.  There were fewer laundry products then compared to those available today. The usual cleaning method was soaking and scrubbing with the famed Fels-Naptha bar [1][2].  

Today there are many options and it was interesting to hear the chatter on how to get the stained clothing cleaned quickly and ready for the next game.  Since most of the kids on the team have been playing since they were 3-years old, it comes as no surprise to these veteran parents that basic laundering techniques are useless for cleaning soiled uniforms, especially for anything white. While their methods or go-to products may be different, they all agreed on four things:

  • get to the stains ASAP,
  • avoid using chlorine bleach,
  • wash alone or with like colors, and
  • air dry.

Stain Types

Textile experts would concur with the “mom” advice.  Further, they would 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 is different

Most sport uniforms are made of polyester, nylon, or a blend of cotton and polyester, with polyester being widely used for youth sport uniforms.  Polyester uniforms are extremely durable and also exhibit moisture wicking properties which allows sweat to wick away from the skin for more efficient evaporation. Polyester’s downside is it’s affinity for oil-based stains and shrinkage with heat.

Most sport-induced stains are either protein stains or dye stains.  Protein-based stains include things like blood, sweat, grass, mud and most dirts; protein stains can be time-consuming to remove as they usually involve some soaking time. A common dye stain in baseball uniforms is discoloration from red clay; red clay is the dirt combination used to skin the infield 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.

Protein Stains

Pre-soak protein-stained clothing in cold to lukewarm 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 (presoaks and detergents) work best as these cleaners contain enzymes that “eat” protein stains.  When shopping for an enzyme laundry product, pay attention to products that have “bio” or “enzyme action” somewhere in their name usually indicating that it likely contains enzymes.

Red Clay Stains

Red clay (rust) stains are allergic to both chlorine and oxygen bleaches. Chlorine bleach may make them permanent.  The University of Illinois Extension [3] offers several methods for removal with products found at home. Rust stains can also be treated with commercial rust removal products; label directions should be carefully followed and care should be taken to not inhale the products.

Parent and Grandparent Product Suggestions

However, in the fast paced world of youth sports and weekend tournaments, parents have found ‘once and done’ methods and products to cut the laundry time and have their player(s) start their games looking their best.  For those who deal with deep, ground in dirt, it starts with power washing at home or the car wash followed by some soaking and washing. Below are some of the products* suggested by parents, and even a great-grandmother, at my grandson’s game.  As always, products should be used per label directions and tested in an inconspicuous spot prior to use. 

DIY 1:1:1 mix of hydrogen peroxide, blue Dawn dish detergent, and baking soda spread or sprayed on the stains and allowed to soak for 4+ hours before laundering as usual.

BIZ Stain and Odor Eliminator

Fels-Naptha bar [1][2]

Iron Out Rust Stain Remover

Krud Kutter Sports Stain Remover

Lestoil (suggested by a great grandmother)

OUT White Brite Laundry Whitener

OxiClean™ Versatile Stain Remover or White Revive™

Zout

And a final “mom” recommendation – Wash uniforms inside out to reduce potential peeling of letters or numbers and dye transfer.  “HATS OFF” to all the moms, dads, and grandparents that support youth and their activities with their time, encouragement, and laundry duty! And thank you to the moms and dads who helped this grandma learn more about laundering today’s sport uniforms.

*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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