How to Clean Your Sports Brace
Whether you are enduring several weeks of straight recovery from an injury or use your brace during practice on a regular basis, at some point you will realize that this very useful piece of gear has begun to smell.
The Risks of Unwashed Sports Braces
Sports braces are amazing. They offer both rigid and flexible support and come sized and shaped for all different kinds of bracing needs. However, they soak up sweat just like any other kind of sports equipment. Braces are very similar to gear like hockey pads that are strapped to your body, often for long hours at a time. They are thicker than normal clothing and most braces can't offer complete breathability while remaining supportive. So it gets warm in there and moisture gets trapped between the brace and your skin which turns into sweat and then absorbs into the softer materials of your brace. So it's no wonder so many athletes eventually realize that their favorite sports brace, the one they wear all the time to practice or for every recurring injury, is starting to smell pretty strongly.
But there's more to a sweaty brace than just smell. Wearing a brace that has become saturated in sweat isn't just bad for your nose, it can also pose a risk to your skin and increase the likelihood of a rash under the brace. So when you start to smell that 'old sweat' smell from your favorite sports brace, it's time to clean that sucker.
What Your Sports Brace is Made Of
The most important thing to know before preparing to clean your brace is what the brace is made of. Most sports braces are made of a combination of metal, plastic, leather, cloth, and neoprene in various designs. Many braces are 100% neoprene, and those made to offer rigid support usually have metal components embedded in padded cloth or as buckles. This means you will need different approaches depending on what is included in your brace.
100% Mesh or Nylon
Braces that are primarily fabric mesh or nylon are safe to put into the washing machine. This is because there is nothing about them that will warp or take damage from a little warm water and tumbling. Just make sure to run them on the delicate cycle.
Neoprene anything takes damage in the washing machine. While it is possible to wash a large neoprene item like a wetsuit on a very light setting, most sports braces are small enough to make handwashing more worthwhile and much safer for your high-quality brace.
Plastic and Fabric
If your brace includes a combination of plastic and fabric it should be allowed into the washing machine. The combination of heat and impacts can cause the plastic to warp and deform, making your brace useless as it will have lost the unique shape that is good for your joint.
Finally, there is a lot of common knowledge about cleaning gear that suggests either vinegar or soaking. however, never combine the two by soaking a brace in vinegar, especially if it has metal components. Vinegar is a mild acid and can cause corrosion both on visible external metal pieces like buckles and internal metal you can't see like padded brace supports. If you're not sure whether the support in your brace is metal or plastic, avoid both the washing machine and vinegar soaks.
Hand Washing a Sports Brace
Ideally, you will wash your brace according to the instructions on the tag. But assuming the tag is lost, there are some best practices to follow. For the vast majority of sports braces, you're going to need to hand-wash the brace every few times you wear it to reduce the buildup of old sweat and prevent that signature sports-gear smell from developing. To wash your brace thoroughly, put together a small collection of supplies and set up somewhere comfortable like your kitchen table where you can sit and work.
Large bowl of water
Soak the Brace
Once your supplies are gathered, sit down with your brace at the table and fold place the bath towel as a folded 'mat' on the table. Mix a small amount of laundry detergent into your bowl of water. Set your brace in the detergent water for no more than five minutes, but enough to loosen the old sweat and salt crystals in the fabric and fully saturate the pads. When the brace is soaked, remove it from the water and set it on the bath towel.
Scrub the Brace
Use the washrag dipped in detergent water to scrub at the surfaces of your brace and remove any buildup that has been loosened by the soak, making sure to scrub the seams and buckles as well as the surface of the pads which soak up the most sweat. Seeing suds is a good thing, but not necessary so don't try to add more soap if you don't see suds when scrubbing.
Rinse the Brace
Next, you want to rinse your brace thoroughly. The best way to do this is with a sprayer at the kitchen sink. But if your sink doesn't have a sprayer, simply run the brace under your tap, pressing out the water and rinsing it again several times. Rub the surface with your thumbs and continue to rinse until you believe all the detergent is removed.
Dry the Brace
Finally, press all the excess water out of your brace and set it out to air-dry. If you can, hang the brace on something like a clothesline or towel rack so that it can drip-dry effectively. For those of you in a hurry, a hairdryer set on 'low heat' or 'cool' can be used to accelerate the drying process. But whatever you do, never put a sports brace in the dryer unless the cleaning instructions on the tag specifically say this is alright.
Removing Odors From Your Sports Brace
After washing, some of you may notice that your brace still smells like a musty gym bag no matter how clean it appears to be. This can be the result of lingering odors even if your brace is effectively clean and is a frustrating situation for many athletes struggling with smelly equipment. For this task, you're going to need methods specifically designed to eliminate odor, not just remove dirt and old sweat. There are a couple ways to do this depending on your preferences.
The go-to home solution for fighting odor is plain white vinegar. While this substance doesn't smell great all on its own, it is known for killing bacteria and mold, breaking up enzymes, and generally removing things that make our clothes and household objects smell bad. As we mentioned earlier, you pretty much never want to soak a brace in vinegar, but a thorough wipe down (carefully avoiding metal components) is a great way to discourage odors in your brace.
Baking soda has also been a reliable home solution for smell and is often used in long-term situations like refrigerator smell management or for particularly smelly running shoes. The baking soda powder will pull excess moisture out of your brace, along with any smells may have been associated with that moisture. To use, lay your brace out flat and cover it in baking soda, then leave for a few minutes before shaking, vacuuming, or wiping away the remaining powder.
Finally, the quick sports-typical solution is just to pick up a deodorizing spray. While this shouldn't be your answer every time, something like Lysol or Febreze can help reduce or eliminate the smell of your brace when you don't have time for a careful wipe-down or long baking soda soak.
Keeping your sports brace clean and nice-smelling is often more challenging than you might expect. But anyone who has worn a brace during weeks of recovery or every day of practice knows how important it is to deal with the sweat-soak and lingering odors that occur with any regular sports gear. Knowing how to keep your brace clean is the key to an enjoyable experience and a long lifespan for your favorite brace.