Welcome to part 2 in our series on cleaning your fencing gear! In this installment, we look at the best way to clean your fencing uniform. See part 1 for more on how to clean your mask.

How to best clean your fencing uniform (aka your fencing whites or fencing kit) is a pretty commonly asked question. You’re constantly sweating in them, and consequently they sometimes collect some bad smells and discoloration. But at the same time, they’re a vital (and sometimes a little expensive) part of your safety equipment. So, what’s the best way to clean your uniform that best preserves its life and level of protection?

The answer is, it depends on the problem.

Cleaning a uniform that has an odor problem

The following steps should take care of the issue.

  • Fill up a bucket or your sink with cold water. Not to the top – but enough to fully submerge your uniform when you add it in.
  • Add 1 or 2 cups of distilled white vinegar (something like this one would work).
  • Add in your uniform, and submerge it as best you can. Might make sense to put something with some weight on top of it to keep it submerged – a dish, pot or similar.
  • Let soak for 30 minutes.
  • Take your uniform out and toss it into the washing machine for delicates/light load, with cold water, a detergant specifically formulated for sports (something like this one), and another cup of distilled white vinegar.
  • Dry on low heat, or hang dry.

If these don’t quite clear up everything but do help, try the whole process again. If this process does nothing, go with a longer soak with more vinegar and a longer wash cycle if possible. If your gear smells a bit of vinegar either one more quick wash will clear it up, or the wrong kind of vinegar was used.

Why does this process help? One of the common issues with fencing gear is detergent build-up. Modern non-sports laundry detergent is formulated to create a protective layer on top of fabrics to help preserve color and prolong life. But this means bacteria and sweat can also get trapped in the process. Especially with moisture-wicking materials, which do an extra good job of trapping sweat, bacteria, and detergent. The build-up can keep growing, layer on top of layer, until its a big, smelly problem.

The vinegar soak lowers the pH of the water, making it more acidic. This helps to break down and wash away detergent build-up. And sports detergent is specially formulated without those protective agents, so build-up just won’t occur.

Cleaning a discolored uniform

If your uniform is discoloring, the above washing routine might still help. The white vinegar might help for the same reasons because detergent build-up can also lock in discoloration.

If that isn’t working, consider using an oxygen bleach (like OxiClean) in one load. Unlike the previous suggestions, oxygen bleach does contribute to the deterioration of the fabric. Consequently, avoid this option unless you really need it. Using it in just one load won’t substantially impact integrity or be a safety concern. Certainly not any more than regular wear and tear from fencing. However, repeated, regular use will have a demonstrable impact. And if you have stenciling, this will fade it. Just something to be aware of if you’re looking to really maximize the life of your uniform.

And one final note – avoid regular bleach. Its much more harsh than vinegar or oxygen bleach and doesn’t accomplish the same things.