Caring for “Do-Not-Wash” Sports Gear

Whether you’re more active in the summer or the winter months, a lot of gear is not washing machine friendly—which left unaddressed can lead to mold, stench, and even ruined equipment. Whether you are into water sports, winter sports, or the more relaxing savasanas of yoga, your stuff is likely to take a beating from dirt, grime, germs, and even mold and mildew if you’re not careful. 

Luckily, with regular care and maintenance, you can extend the life of all your various sports gear, and keep it all smelling as fresh as the day you brought it home. Many essential oils have antifungal, antimicrobial, and antibacterial properties, which means they can be used to combat smells, treat mold, and prevent the build-up of bacteria and microbes. From running shoes to gym bags, ski boots to yoga mats, here’s how to keep your sports gear at its record-setting prime.

Benefits of Cleaning with Essential Oils 

The conundrum of sports gear: it’s the most likely to get dirty, and the least likely to be machine washable. And even for items that technically can go in the wash, that doesn’t mean it’s easy or practical to do so. Especially for the athlete who practices every day, or the slope-hopping skier on a weeklong trip—figuring out day-to-day maintenance is key. 

In most cases, this will require a two-pronged approach. With our easy essential oil spray recipe, gear can be kept fresh day in, and day out, so deeper cleans can be saved for a rainy day. It’s much harder (although not impossible) to clean items that have already succumbed to life as a musty biohazard, so it’s always best to prevent equipment from getting there, in the first place. There is no better breeding ground for bacteria and mold than a sweaty hiking boot left in a dark gym bag, but with a little TLC and some mindful habits, this problem can be avoided entirely.

Wondering why it’s not better just to use disinfecting wipes or sprays? The answer is simple: safer ingredients. Many household cleaning products are guilty of not listing all of their ingredients, which is suspicious at best, and toxic at worst. Some are known to contain chemicals that the EPA has defined as harmful or highly irritating. Further, those same chemicals aren’t good for gear, either. Bleach has been shown to have deeply corrosive effects on both plastic and metal, which is bad news for the lifespan of any sports equipment treated with it. Considering that natural alternatives are often just as effective, it simply isn’t worth the risk. 

Of less consequence, although arguably just as important, essential oils smell better. Skip the artificial fragrances that are so common with commercial products, and take advantage of the performance-enhancing benefits of oils instead. With many antiseptic oil options including orange, clove, tea tree, and peppermint—DIY cleaning sprays can be customized easily to suit the season and personal preference.

Gear Care 101

From bags, to mats, to boots, and bikes—there are a few important principles to keep in mind when it comes to caring for any and all sports equipment. Whether it’s dirt, salt, or UV rays; exposure to the elements takes its toll. Keep the following best practices in mind when using, cleaning, and storing various accoutrement:

  • Keep It Dry: When it comes to gear, public enemy number one is prolonged moisture. Sweat and moisture are expected and unavoidable—however it’s critical to let items air dry before storing them for any length of time. Loosen laces; remove boots or insoles; hang coats, hats, and gloves; and don’t zip up or put away your runnings vests or gym bags until everything is completely dry. Be mindful of metal components, which are prone to rust.
  • Keep It Cool: Unfortunately, just because things need to be allowed to dry, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to use a blow dryer or heater to dry things more quickly. Sudden changes in temperature, and especially spikes in heat, can dry out plastic and rubber and cause them to crack over time. Always let items air dry and store them in a place with a relatively stable temperature. As tempting as it may be, avoid storing items in vehicles (this will save them being stolen as well!). 
  • Keep It Shaded: UV rays can have profound degradation effects on plastic, rubber, fabric, and even metal, which means it’s important to move equipment out of the sun when it’s not in use. Especially for larger items like surfboards or kayaks, take care to find a dedicated storage spot out of the sun. If large amounts of sun exposure are unavoidable, consider treating the materials with an appropriate UV protective spray.

DIY Sports Gear Spray

The best treatment is prevention, which is why gear should be sprayed with an antimicrobial spray after every use. Combined with the best practices above, regular spraying gear with an antiseptic agent should be enough to prevent the growth of bacteria and mildew, and keep bags and other gear smelling fresh and presentable. Of course, daily spraying should not replace regular deep cleanings (refer to manufacturer’s instructions for how to clean specific items), but it can extend the amount of time between thorough cleanings.

With all essential oil sprays, it’s important to add a solubilizer to the mixtures, which will help the oils dissolve rather than separate and float on top of the water. Vinegar is preferred, since it is a natural cleaning agent that will boost the antibacterial and antifungal properties of essential oils, without the risk to the materials. However, it can be substituted with alcohol for stronger disinfecting properties (or if the smell of vinegar is too off-putting)—but be mindful that prolonged exposure to alcohol can discolor, harden, or crack some plastics and rubbers.

  • Dark glass spray bottle
  • 1 ¾ cup of water (distilled preferred)
  • ¼ cup of vinegar or alcohol
  • 30 drops of preferred essential oil(s)

Combine all ingredients and spray as needed.

Selecting Essential Oils

Tea Tree Essential Oil: An antifungal powerhouse, with added antibacterial and antiseptic properties. Tea tree is the reigning queen of yoga studio mat cleaning solutions, and a great option for treating already-musty bags and protective pads that need some extra TLC.

Orange Essential Oil: In studies testing the antibacterial and antifungal properties of essential oils, orange is consistently top of the class. The aroma is hard to beat, and it’s perfect for general purpose sprays when inhibiting the growth of microbes is the goal, like this DIY sports gear spray.

Clove Essential Oil: High in eugenol, clove’s antibacterial properties are so strong that it has been used in dentistry for over two centuries. It’s warm, spicy scent—so often associated with the holidays—makes it an especially fun choice for treating snow sports gear.

Peppermint Essential Oil: Antibacterial and antifungal, peppermint is an effective antiseptic cleaning agent. It’s also a natural bug repellent, so it’s especially suited for storage situations where spiders and other pests may be a concern. 

Unlike other sanitizers, bacterial tolerance to essential oils is not developed over time, so these solutions will always be germ-busting, without compromise.

Long-Term Storage

For seasonal sports, that time of year when equipment needs to be put away for months at a time always inevitably arrives. This is a great opportunity to give items one last deep clean and double-check for any damage or repairs needed, before storing, so that next year it can all be pulled back out, as good as new. Ensure that items are completely and totally dry before putting them away, and try to avoid spots in the home that are prone to excessive heat or cold. To keep spiders and mice at bay during the offseason, feel free to add a few drops of peppermint oil to cotton balls and place them in bags or gear before storage.

Fresh Gear for Every Season!

With these tips, tricks, and DIY recipes in mind—you are on your way to enjoying fresh and clean gear every time you’re ready to strap up and have some fun. Not only will your precious (and probably expensive) equipment be sanitized for use and smell better, it will last longer too.

Categories: Essential Oils

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