There is nothing more unique to hockey than that fresh-out-of-the-locker room smell. While this stench can occasionally illicit incredible memories of game-winning goals and locker room celebrations, it is in no way an incredible thing. This smell is actually caused by bacteria that grow from the sweat, blood, common soil and other gross stuff that builds up on your equipment over time. If left untreated, these bacteria could potentially become very dangerous (not to mention the smell will only get worse). It can cause diseases and spread illness from player to player. Bacteria like to find cool, moist places where it can multiply and grow. While there are many professional cleaning companies that have expensive machines to clean your equipment and kill these bacteria, there are simpler (and cheaper) procedures that you can do at home that will help to reduce the risk of dangerous bacteria…and the smell.
The first and most important preventative measure that you can do is to air out your equipment as soon as possible after playing. This means emptying out the entire bag and letting the equipment air dry. If you can hang equipment to allow better air access that is preferred but laying equipment on the ground in an area with good air circulation will work just fine. Dry off the blades and holders of your skates and take the inside liners of the skates out so that air can reach the inside as well. Regularly spray your skates with a disinfectant spray to kill bacteria. To disinfect your helmet, wet a towel with warm water and apply a small amount of soap or shampoo to the towel. Take this soapy towel and wipe down the helmet completely. Be sure to wipe down the facemask taking special care to clean the chin cup. We recommend using tear-free shampoo in case you are not able to wash off all of the soap residue and some gets in your face the next time you play and sweat (non-stinging eyes leads to more goals). After the soap is applied and scrubbed in, use another wet towel to wipe away all of the soap from the helmet.
Skates and helmets require special attention when it comes to cleaning and disinfecting. As for the rest of your equipment, we recommend you follow these 6 steps every week or so to reduce the risk of bacteria build up and to help with the smell. You will be soaking your equipment so it is extremely important that you plan ahead and leave enough time after the cleaning for your gear to dry completely before you have to use it again. Here are the 6 steps that we have found to work:
Step 1: Fill a bathtub or large sink (large enough to fit all of your equipment) about 1/3 of the way with hot water. You will be putting your hands in the water so make sure it is not too hot to touch.
Step 2: Add about ¼ cup of laundry detergent to the tub as it is filling making sure that the detergent spreads and mixes into the water.
Step 3: Put all of the hockey gear (minus the skates and helmet) into the water. Be sure to dunk the gear so all of it is exposed to the detergent/water mixture. Let the gear soak for 30 to 45 minutes.
Step 4: Drain the tub or sink and clean out all of the soap. Rinse all of the equipment with clean, room temperature water to get all of the soapy residue off of your gear.
Step 5: Wring out any excess water and hang up all equipment to dry. Be sure to hang the gear in an area with good air ventilation so that it can dry in a reasonable amount of time.
Step 6: Spray and wipe down the empty hockey bag with a disinfectant spray. Make sure the bag and equipment are completely dry before re-packing your bag.
We recommend that you go through this process once a week or once every couple of weeks. Jerseys and socks can go in the washing machine but do not use the dryer in case of shrinking. Special attention will need to be given to jerseys and socks with logos or bright colors. Airing out equipment after every use is crucial as a preventative measure. Professional equipment cleaners are not necessary but usually have machines to kill bacteria and minimize smell. If your equipment is older and was not well-kept, this more intense method may be useful.
Hopefully these simple steps will lessen that smell that all non-hockey players complain about. We are sure that it will help to kill the bacteria on your equipment and, in the long run, will help to prevent sickness and diseases and keep you on the ice and playing the game we all love.