Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert, advice columnist, and author of the New York Times bestselling book, My Boyfriend Barfed In My Handbag ... And Other Things You Can’t Ask Martha. Her flagship column, “Ask a Clean Person”, debuted in 2011. Here on Lifehacker, we’ve launched a new iteration of it, focusing on parenting and all the messes it brings.
I need to seriously clean my kid’s theoretically-white-but-actually-beige 100 per cent cotton karate uniform, which is revolting from a combination of sweat and dirty community centre floors (so, mostly dirt but also other people’s sweat, juice, fruit snacks, and I honestly can’t rule out a thin veneer of poop).
I know I should use an oxygen-based cleaner for the sweat, but I’m worried about the flag and school crest patches. They’re made out of glue and some kind of synthetic embroidery thread, and I don’t know if the product will fade them, or worse, make the colours run. I could remove them and reattach them after cleaning, but it would be a huge pain. The entire kit and caboodle has been washed on hot and run through the dryer many times (I know, I know), in case that matters.
I have a load of good news to share today, rah rah sis boom bah! (That was a sports joke. I’m sorry.) The first piece of good news is that you won’t have to worry about the dye from those patches running — if they’ve already been through the washer and dryer several times, dye transfer is no longer a risk.
The second piece of good news is that there are plenty of products you can use, oxygen-based cleaners among them, that won’t cause fading.
Though I do need to level and tell you that that hot water washing and high heat drying you’re so fond of? That’s going to cause fading issues. Stick with cold water and a low- to medium-heat drying cycle to preserve the integrity of coloured uniforms.
But I have even more good news to share, so let’s get right into the care and keeping of all kinds of sports uniforms, from karate ensembles to baseball and softball uniforms and everything in between.
The good news is that the most common stains that happen on sports uniforms tend to fall into the same stain type category, which means that you won’t have to buy a whole bunch of different specialty products to keep uniforms looking sharp.
So here’s the deal: Grass, blood, sweat and yes, even tears are all protein stains, and the best way to treat a protein stain is to use an enzyme-based stain treatment. Many laundry detergents also have enzymes baked right into their formulas.
Protein stains — especially grass and blood — do benefit from being treated as quickly as possible, but if you can’t get to them straight away, using a laundry brush to help work the stain treatment into the fabric will make a big difference in lifting the stain.
When I say “laundry brush” I don’t even mean that you need to go out and buy a dedicated laundry brush (though you can if you want!); an old toothbrush or nail brush works great for this operation. Red clay is an especially tricky stain that is common with sports uniforms, but a good laundry detergent and/or enzymatic stain pretreatment plus a laundry brush should be enough to address it.
While sweat falls into the protein stain category and can be successfully treated using an enzymatic stain remover, sometimes pit stains (which are actually caused more by aluminium in deodorants than by the sweat itself) develop and deepen over time.
Another common laundry problem, especially with sports uniforms that tend to be more exposed to dirt than our everyday clothes, is dinge, which is basically a buildup of soil that leaves a, well, dingy appearance even on clean clothes.
More good news here! Oxygen bleaches are safe to use on colours, unlike chlorine bleach (which is also not great on sweat-stained items), and are quite good at combating both set-in sweat stains and reversing dinge. We talked about The Long Soak method of stain removal in a previous column, which I shall leave here for your reference.
'As a parent to a toddler, my question is if a shirt is truly a lost cause once you’ve washed and dried a stain into said shirt?'
The idea is to soak badly-stained or dingy garments for an extended period of time in an oxygen bleach solution, then launder them as usual.
Preventing Dye Transfer
I’ve already put our reader's mind at ease about the threat of dye transfer, but let’s close this out by talking about what to do if you’re concerned about bleeding dye.