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Yesterday I did five loads of laundry. The day before, I did eight. Cleats, socks, football pants, baseball jerseys, and random equipment I didn’t even know existed just a few years ago pass through my washer and dryer on the regular. Of course, many of my kids’ teams have selected mostly or all white uniforms, much to the dismay and agitation of the team’s parents who will spend evenings and weekends scrubbing them back into a suitable shape to show up on the field again. With four sons under age 7, I only expect this problem to get worse.
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Here’s what I’ve tried — what’s working and what definitely isn’t — to get their sports uniforms and gear clean.
A run-in with some toxic fumes
I found a product called White Brite that seriously restores any recently slide-into-home-base dirt-covered pants into pristine condition, but at a cost. Namely, my lungs. I followed the directions precisely on the powder-based laundry whitener, which instructs users to combine water and the powder to soak clothes, and then immediately a steaming chemical gas started fuming from the bucket.
Unfamiliar with this type of solution, I was way too close, and breathed it in, causing some lung irritation for the rest of the day. While the uniforms came out completely pristine, it wasn’t worth it by any means. Another Amazon user warns, “It smells. Just a warning.” This type of product is followed by a normal wash cycle and has worked better than other products I’ve tried, but I won’t be doing it again because I was seriously concerned for my health.
A lineup of disappointing sprays, and an alternative
Many items in the laundry aisle promise to be hard on stains, even the toughest sports uniform ones parents are combating. But none of them lived up to their hype, including bleach-based sprays, which I hesitated to use on clothes my children would wear anyway. Vera Peterson, president of Molly Maid, a professional cleaning service, says that making your own detergent is the best bet against difficult stains. “Making your own laundry detergent is not only a safer and cleaner option, it is also cheaper. DIY laundry detergent only requires three ingredients: 1 cup washing soda, 1 cup Borax, and 1 cup shaved bar of soap (Castile or oil-based). Combine the ingredients using either a spoon or blender and seal with an airtight lid.” As football season gears up, I’m willing to try anything, including this DIY option.
A community of dish spray fans
As I do with some of my other toughest dilemmas, I turned to my online mom group to ask their go-to remedies for worn-in dirt, blood, Gatorade stains, and who knows what else. Parent after parent commented on the same surprising solution: Dawn Platinum Powerwash Dish Spray. Apparently, the same remedy I’d used on multiple coffee stains throughout the years on my own clothes would be my ticket to the cleanest uniforms on the field. So, I hesitantly sprayed a bit on some not-so-white anymore sports sneakers and threw them in the washer. While I’d normally head to bed after starting a load, this time I hung around, not sure if the dish soap was going to bubble up far beyond the washer and flood the room. But it worked pretty well, removing most of the stains, without the mess I’d anticipated. The secret seemed to be small concentrated amounts and letting it soak first.
A few more DIY last resorts
When all else fails, Peterson says she has a few go-to remedies for extremely persistent stains:
While not a laundry remedy, I’ve also resorted to buying multiple pairs of any uniform I can (or at least practice items) to have more time to cycle each uniform through a cleaning rotation. This means I’m not fighting with a stubborn stain when a kid needs a uniform again the next day. Armed with this knowledge, and a few run-ins with what not to do, I’m prepared for the next 10 to 20 years of scrubbing (and plan to hand some of it over to the kids to help with ASAP too).