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How to Clean and Care for Your Protective Gear

by Jim Bartlett June 15, 2016

How to Clean Your Protective Gear

Have you noticed that your friends aren’t skating or riding as close to you as they used to? Has the trunk of your car started to take on a certain odor? If so, it may be time to clean your helmet, knee pads and other protective gear. It doesn’t matter if you’re shredding the skatepark, putting in long miles on the road bike, or jamming in roller derby, your helmet, pads, and body armor are going to take a beating. And after a while, well, they’re going to start to smell pretty funky unless you let them air out in between wearings and periodically give them a good cleaning.

General Protective Gear Care Tips

  • After a ride/session/practice, don’t store your gear in a bag or the trunk of your car. Just don’t. It will turn your gear into a Petri dish for stink.
  • Air out your gear after you use it (in the sun, if possible)
  • Use a cloth or towel to dab out the excess sweat in the helmet pads immediately after use (not necessary, but it helps)
  • Use only mild soap and water to clean helmets, pads or body armor
  • For excessively smelly gear, wash with water and a little bit of white vinegar (especially gear made with polypropylene, which tends to repel water)
  • Clean and inspect your gear regularly to check for general wear and tear Don’t know how to inspect your helmet? Need some tips on how to inspect your elbow pads and knee pads? 

How to Clean Your Helmet

Just about every action sport starts with a helmet, and why not? Your brain is by far your most valuable organ; it needs protection. Most of us just wear our bike/skate/derby/snow helmets day in and day out and rarely give them a second thought. However, exposure to chemicals found in such personal care products such as sunscreen, skin lotions, and insect repellent can damage a helmet’s protective capacity. So a clean helmet not only smells and looks better than a dirty helmet, a regular cleaning might also extend its useful life. Remember that every helmet will eventually need to be replaced. Check out the When to Replace Your Helmet article in our Helmet Learning Center to learn whether it’s time for you to replace your helmet.

  • Only use warm water and gentle soap (think baby shampoo) to clean your helmet.
  • Avoid solvents and any petroleum-based cleaners, as they can weaken the foam liner and the shell.
  • Hand wash the helmet in a sink and rinse with cold water. We’ve heard of some cyclists who wear their helmets into the shower, but we think that might make it difficult to wash your hair (but if you’re sporting the bald look, go for it!).
  • Let the helmet air dry, preferably in the sun.
  • WARNING: Do not put your helmet in the dryer or attempt to dry it out with a hair dryer. The heat will weaken the shell and compromise the integrity of the adhesives. And don’t put it in the microwave either. (Yes, people have done that and, no, it doesn't work.)
Too far gone?  Shop for a replacement

How to Clean Your Knee Pads and Elbow Pads

If you have hard-shell knee pads, check to see if you can remove the exterior hard-shell knee cap from the body of the pad (it may be connected with Velcro). Wash the pads without the hard-shell attached. The good folks at 187 Pads made this great video to demonstrate exactly how to clean their pads, (okay, it’ll work with other manufacturer’s pads, too).

Unless the manufacturer’s original tag specifically cautions against machine washing, put the pads in the washing machine on the gentle cycle, using warm or cold water and mild detergent. Rinse with cold water. For best results:

  • Leave the pads as open as possible
  • Put the pads inside a mesh bag or pillow case
  • Attach the Velcro straps to each other to prevent lint build-up
  • Don’t over-do the detergent and avoid bleach
  • Wash with jeans or other non-lint-making clothes
inspect pads If you follow our blog on roller derby or other skate blogs/forums, you’ll see that there is some worry about the washing machine breaking down the foam and elastic in pads. Depending on the type of materials used in your pads, this could be a legitimate concern. If you choose not to machine wash, wash the pads by hand in a sink or tub with lukewarm water and mild detergent. Rinse with cold water. No matter how you choose to wash your pads, it’s best to let them air dry. WARNING: If you must machine dry your pads, put them in the dryer on low for no more than 15 minutes. Don't say we didn't warn you. Some things to remember:
  • Drying pads takes time. Don’t leave this task until the last minute. Really thick pads can take a day or so to dry.
  • If possible, hang them outside in the sun to dry (not only will they dry faster, the sun will kill some odor-causing bacteria)
  • Inside, hang them by a window or in a room that’s on the warm and dry side (so maybe not a steamy bathroom)
  • Don’t leave them on a hot radiator; the concentrated heat can warp or damage adhesives, foam, and other material

Are your pads a mess?  Shop for new elbow pads     Shop for new knee pads

Elbow and Knee Pads

How to Clean Your Body Armor

Before you wash your body armor, be sure to remove any detachable pads. You have two options in cleaning body armor. The quick and lazy method is to hang it up outside and thoroughly rinse the armor with a hose, then let it dry in the sun. The preferred method is to wash the body armor by hand in a sink or tub of lukewarm water with mild laundry detergent (you don't need a lot of detergent). Make sure to get any mud and dirt out of the armor (an old toothbrush can be helpful with this task). Rinse with cold water and hang it up to dry.
Some things to remember:
  • Drying body armor takes time. Don’t leave this task until the last minute! Depending on the thickness of the foam and the construction of the body armor, it may take a day or more to dry completely.
  • If possible, hang the body armor outside in the sun to dry (not only will it dry faster, the sun will kill some odor-causing bacteria)
  • Inside, hang the body armor by a window or in a room that’s on the warm and dry side (so maybe not a steamy bathroom)
  • Don’t drape it over a radiator; the concentrated heat can warp or damage adhesives, foam, and other materials

Not worth saving?  Shop for Body Armor

Leatt Body ArmorG-Form Body ArmorPOC Body Armor Fox Body Armor Troy Lee Body Armor

Jim Bartlett
Jim Bartlett


Founder of XSportsProtective, snowboarder, mountain biker, father of four young kids who love action sports.

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