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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

Sports-Related Cleaning with Bleach, Part 1

By Dr. Laundry June 9, 2009

Q. My children are lacrosse players, and I have a few sports-related stain questions:
What’s the best way to clean white socks to get out dirt stains? How can I clean colored sports jerseys? And, how can I clean Under Armour® brand name sports shirts?

A. Thanks for your wide-ranging questions. The answers have a broader application than just for lacrosse. Let’s take them one at a time:

  • The key to cleaning white socks with dirt stains is to get started quickly, especially if they are muddy, and use the right product/process. It’s the very fine dirt/clay particles that get ground into the sock fibers that are the problem. Cotton socks are harder to clean than those using synthetic fibers, since the cotton has a porous structure. Brush/shake/scrape away as much as possible before starting the process: the more removed here means less to be removed in the subsequent laundering. I recommend a good presoak in powdered detergent (1 use in a gallon of warm water) for at least 30 minutes up to overnight. Make sure the detergent is fully dissolved before soaking. After soaking, wash in hot water using the recommended amount of detergent and 3/4 cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach1. Check for success before drying as you may need to perform more than one treatment. If you have red clay, the stains may never fully come out since it’s iron content makes cleaning and bleaching them nearly impossible.
  • Colored Sports Jersey — This one really depends on the fiber composition. Dyed cottons are much more prone to bleeding/dye transfer and should always be washed separately according to the garment’s care label (usually in cool water). This makes it much more difficult to get really clean, however. So, scanning items for stains/spots and pretreating before washing is a must for any colored item. For colored synthetics (polyester/nylon), you usually have more flexibility as the dyes are more “permanent” and can take more aggressive treatment and washing. Use the warmest wash recommended on the care label (the hotter the water the better the cleaning/stain removal), the recommended amount of detergent and consider adding the appropriate bleach. A lot of these items can be bleached. To find out which items can safely be bleached, I recommend consumers do the quick Bleachability Test (2 tsp. Clorox® Regular-Bleach1 in 1/4 cup water; apply a drop on a hidden colored area like inside seam, hemline or cuff; wait 1 minute and then blot with towel). No color change means it is safe to use bleach on the item. Any color change could also show you the amount of change in color that likely will occur if you proceed with the liquid bleach usage. If you can’t bleach the items, wash in the hottest water recommended on the care labels using detergent and an oxygen bleach like our Clorox 2® Stain Remover & Color Booster, or even a short 1/2 hour presoak in the oxygen bleach before the wash. Check for success before drying. It might require multiple treatments to get the desired result.
  • Cleaning Under Armour® clothing — The new microfiber materials are great for look and comfort. The problem, however, is usually that all your sweat, etc., is pulled away from your body and onto the shirts/shorts. As the items dry during and after use, you’re left with the salt, odor-causing bacteria, etc. To remove the odors and help restore the wicking properties, I recommend washing in the warmest water recommended on the care label using a good detergent and some type of bleach. Again use the Bleachability Test (above) for guidance. You can also consider a presoak before washing: (1/4 cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach1 in gallon of cool water for 5 minutes), then wash immediately in the hottest water recommended on the care label, if appropriate, using detergent and 3/4 cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach1 — or at least a 1/2 hour presoak in the oxygen bleach like Clorox 2® Stain Remover & Color Booster before the wash. Check for success before air drying. It might require multiple treatments to get the desired result.