Hygiene has always been a vital part of a good martial arts practice, but now we’re even more aware than ever of the importance of keeping ourselves, our uniforms, and our gear clean.
We’ve talked about about how to practice good hygiene while training martial arts, and how those practices protect your health and show respect to your training partners. We’ve also talked about how to properly care for martial arts uniforms, and how regular cleaning keeps you feeling and smelling better on the mats. But all of those efforts will be for nothing if our training gear and sparring gear are still building up bacteria and odor.
Cleaning martial arts gear can be a delicate balance, though. If you don’t clean it enough, you can get stinky — and maybe even sick — quickly. If you clean your protective gear, gloves, mats, and more with the wrong process or the products, though, you might damage some of the materials they’re made out of and shorten their lifespan.
Here are some tips for how to properly clean your martial arts equipment so that you and your training gear can be as safe and healthy for as long as possible:
1. Air it out.
A wet and dark unpacked gear bag is a breeding ground for bacterial growth and odor. As soon as you return home from martial arts practice or a competition, take everything out of your bag! Hang your uniform and all of your training gear — including your gear bag — to dry in a spot that has good air circulation. Ideally, martial arts gear should be dried out of direct sunlight (to avoid fading and other sun damage) and away from a direct heat source (to prevent cracking materials like leather and vinyl).
2. Wash your mouth guard.
Using a soft bristle toothbrush and non-abrasive toothpaste, thoroughly brush all surfaces of your mouthguard. Rinse with water, and then air dry on a sanitary surface. You can also disinfect your mouthguard by washing it with anti-bacterial soap and water. Just be sure to rinse carefully to prevent any soapy aftertaste! It’s also a good idea to wash the inside and outside of your mouthguard case with soap and water while you’re there. Air dry.
3. Launder cloth gear.
Cloth martial arts gear like shin/instep guards, forearm guards, ankle guards, elbow pads, knee pads, and handwraps can go in the washing machine with regular or sports-specific detergent and should be washed as soon as possible after training and air drying. Any clothing you wore under your martial arts uniform, like a rash guard, shorts, etc, should also go in that laundry load. While some cloth sparring and training gear can survive the dryer cycle if you’re pressed for time, air drying gear after washing it will extend the life of your gear.
For tips on how to wash your martial arts uniform, see our blog post “How to Properly Care for Your Gi.”
4. Thoroughly wipe down foam, vinyl, and leather training gear.
Foam protective gear like head guards, sparring boots, and sparring gloves can be cleaned with antibacterial wipes. Or you can spray the gear with disinfectant and thoroughly wipe them down with a clean cloth or paper towel. Most vinyl training gear can be washed with mild soap and water.
Leather training gear like head guards and kick pads can and should also be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected, but investing in a cleaner that has been designed specifically for treating vinyl or leather that will prevent cracking, drying, and other damage to the material and prolong the life of your gear.
Once all surfaces of your protective and sparring gear has been thoroughly cleaned, let it air dry on a clean surface.
5. Clean the inside and outside of your boxing gloves and MMA gloves.
Before you clean your gloves, you’ll need to make sure you have the right cleaners. Boxing gloves made out of artificial materials like vinyl can be washed with mild soap or detergent and water. Leather boxing gloves will require products specifically made for cleaning and treating leather. This will prevent the leather from cracking and make your gloves last much longer.
Once you’ve got the right products, you’ll need to set aside some time to thoroughly clean the outside and inside of your boxing gloves. This will help you to take care of any bacteria that your gloves picked up from your sparring partners and yourself. It will also help your gloves to look, feel, and smell much fresher for much longer.
Here’s a good demonstration of what a thorough boxing glove care routine looks like:
6. Clean your gear bag.
Once you’ve taken all of these careful steps to clean your martial arts gear, the last thing you want to is put your fresh gear back in a dirty bag. To keep your gear, your martial arts uniform, and yourself as fresh and healthy as possible, you’ll also need to regularly wash your gear bag.
If you’re strapped for time, wiping down the inside and outside of your gear bag with a disinfectant will help to prevent the growth and spread of germs. Ideally, though, you should also wash the bag. If you’re using a canvas bag, you can throw it in the laundry with the rest of your cloth gear. If your bag is made of other fabrics, though, you might be better off washing it by hand. Popsugar recommends mixing equal parts warm water and white vinegar with a small amount of dish soap and using a soft sponge to wash multi-fabric bags.
When you’re finished washing and rinsing your gear bag, let it air dry, too. Once everything is dry, you’ll be ready to pack for your next martial arts practice or tournament!