Keep It Clean: Jersey Care for Rabid Sports Fans

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For some fans and athletes, a fear of the unknown and/or superstitious tradition inhibits the proper cleaning of sports jerseys. You don't want to ruin the ingrained luck, but throwing a never-once-washed jersey over a clean sweatshirt for the game doesn't exactly mask the smell of sweat and stale beer. Authentic jerseys can cost hundreds of dollars and actually increase in value as time passes — as long as you properly maintain them.

"We always recommend you look at the directions outlaid by the manufacturer on the tag," says Andy Keller, a vice president at Integrated Sports Specialties, the preferred laundry resource of Adidas and partners with the Athletic Equipment Managers Association. Beyond that, "the principle we prescribe to is W.A.T.C.H. Water, Action, Time, Chemicals, and Heat."  Here are Keller's rules for keeping your uniform pristine. 

1. Wash, then rinse, and rinse again (and again)
Your jersey has seen championships and losses. It's been with you through every ketchup spill and nacho cheese stain. So wash it for 12 to 20 minutes in the machine, and then rinse it. Repeat the rinse cycle again, and then one last time. Three rinse cycles will clean away the years of neglect.

2. Jerseys with jerseys
Wash jerseys with other jerseys, and if you have no other jerseys to wash it with, use towels. If you put the jersey in the machine alone, it will just float on top of the water, not giving it enough of the "action" it needs. 

3. Use a neutral detergent
Not all laundry detergents are created equal, and different products can be harmful to your kit. Some chemicals are harsh, which is why Keller also recommends never dry-cleaning a jersey. You could get it back without the numbers, which might give it a worn, vintage appeal, but arguably defeats the purpose.

4. Warm water works wonders
Detergents are more effective in warmer water, hence Keller's suggestion for "heat." Never go over 100 degrees, though. If you're not actively testing the temperature of the water in your wash machine (and you're probably not), know that the warm setting will do just fine, but if the water runs hot in your household, use the cold setting to be safe.

5. Never put it in the dryer
Never. It's never okay. Dryers can shrink garments and set stains from temporary to permanent. Hang dry it, and if you're in a rush, don't worry. Polyester and mesh dry quickly. 

6. Keep away from light and moisture
For the vintage Jordan jersey that's signed and enshrined in your man cave, the Smithsonian recommends keeping it out of natural light and humid environments, which cause mildew and mold. If your jersey isn't hanging as a piece of memorabilia décor and is simply in your closet, invest in a good hanger that will distribute weight more evenly.