Get the Stink out of Sports Gear

If your family is anything like mine, you’re familiar with the particular smell that is gathered by sports equipment by the end of a season. For one thing, you know that to call it a “smell” is an injustice — it is definitely a stench. And it may seem like the fight against that stench is one that you can’t win. You can wash those uniforms and those sweatbands in the hottest water with the strongest fabric softener. You can leave those shoes and that equipment bag out on the back porch in the coldest, darkest, dead of winter. You can throw it all out and start fresh every season. No matter what you do, it seems like the funk will always return.


Though I think sports might always come with some funky smells, I’ve found a few ways of fighting back that bring that stench down to a manageable level, especially if you can store the equipment bags in the garage! My husband just finished up his fall softball season, so here’s what we did during the season and before storing the bag and gear away for the winter. This works best if you put a new plan in place with your sports player before the season even starts. Trust me: You don’t want to clean up a whole season’s worth of bad habits!

  1. Keep everything dry
    • You usually see this tip in relation to hockey and football padding, but those aren’t the only things that get damp. As much as we might not like to think about it, that softball glove and those cleats also get sweaty and even play through a few rain showers. Don’t let anything that gets sweaty or wet sit in an equipment bag until the next game. Between games, hang or rest these items somewhere with plenty of air circulation. Outside in the sun is best, but a garage, laundry area or mudroom will work, too. I’ve even been known to hang up the batting gloves on the clothesline!
    • Newspaper is great at wicking moisture and odor out of spaces that you can’t easily wash. Just loosely wad up a few pieces and put them in damp shoes, gloves, skates, and even padded helmets.
  2. Regularly wash things that can’t be put in a machine
    • Here’s my trusty vinegar again! Fill a spray bottle with equal parts distilled white vinegar and warm water. (Sound familiar?) Spray equipment like helmets, pads, and skates and allow it to evaporate, taking odors with it. The vinegar smell will mostly dissipate, but if your player has a sensitive nose, you can add a few drops of an essential oil to the mix. I even spray Mike’s bat down at the end of the season. This mixture is great for yoga mats, weight benches, free weights, and other exercise and sports equipment that regularly contacts sweaty skin.
  3. Don’t forget the equipment bag
    • I find that by the end of the season, Mike’s softball bag is almost as big of an offender as his cleats. All of the smelly gear gets carted back and forth between home, games and practices. As you can see, it’s a more of a rolling suitcase than a bag, so there’s no way to get it in the washer.
    • After removing all of the equipment, sprinkle in a generous handful of baking soda and zip it closed. Let it sit at least overnight while the baking soda draws out odor.
    • The next day, vacuum out the baking soda. For extra odor elimination, spritz the inside of the bag with your mix of equal parts vinegar and water and let it evaporate before storing the bag away. If you can, store it open to allow for air circulation between seasons.

As always, clean geeks, be careful when spraying vinegar or other cleaners on untested surfaces. You may want to avoid spraying directly on pads, grips and other soft surfaces that could be damaged by cleaners.

So what sports do you and your family play? What do you do to keep the equipment clean?