How to Clean Messy Soccer Shin Guards for Good

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How can these small things put off such a terrible foul smell? Shin guards are notorious for being highly stinky. They also can be a breeding ground for mold and bacteria if not cared for properly.

Learning how to wash shin guards is fairly easy. There are a few different ways you can go about doing it. These depend on your preference and how much time you have available to clean shin guards during the week.

​Best Cleaners for Shin Guards

Before you begin cleaning, it’s good to know what cleaners are available for you. Learn how they can work to clean, deodorize, and kill any bacteria that can be growing on the shin guards.

You can use a chemical cleaning product from the store. Or, you can opt to try some of these natural cleaners that are hanging out in your pantry.

Young boy by a soccer goal receiving the ball


​White distilled vinegar is a must have around the house. This is due to all the benefits it has with cleaning carpets, cooking, and laundry boosting skills. This highly acidic cleaner is tough on stains, can kill bacteria, and it gets rid of odor all while being gentle on fabrics.

Vinegar is also a great choice due to its affordability as a cleaner. When mixed with water you end up paying a few pennies for each area or item that you clean. It’s even used as a carpet cleaning substitute when you don’t have a stick vacuum cleaner.

Many vinegar based cleaning mixes will have you mix a half and half to water ratio. This is mainly to cut down on how pungent the smell is and the acidity of the vinegar. When dealing with cleaning shin guards that are really smelly, you can use a little more vinegar than the 50/50 ratio. This makes sure the cleaner is taking care of the shin guards.

Baking Soda

​This is a well known deodorizer and stain lifter that is usually found in the pantry or in your fridge keeping odors at bay. Thanks to its odor neutralizing properties, baking soda is a prime candidate for strong smelling items and laundry that needs to be cleaned.

You can make a baking soda spray for cleaning by mixing a few tablespoons of baking soda to a cup of water.  You can also just toss a tablespoon or two of baking soda into your laundry to boost the odor killing while you are washing.

Baking soda can help with removing some stains. It also offers a little more of a scrubbing paste when you mix it half and half with water. If you do opt for a baking soda paste, you will need to make sure that you rinse the shin guards well afterwards. This is to get rid of the gritty leftover pieces of baking soda.

​Top Methods for Washing Shin Guards

​All soccer gear, ranging from cleats to socks to shin guards, run into the same challenges. The combination of sweat mixed with dirt, mud, water, and grass make for a complicated cleaning situation. ​

It also makes sense to combine shin guard cleaning with other soccer laundry. Even the most durable of soccer socks require routine cleaning, most likely after every use, so you should have plenty of opportunities to include the shin guards.

​Because of the complexity, there are a few different ways you can go about washing shin guards. It really depends on your preference and what method ends up working best for you.


​The first method is really hands off. It’s great for busy parents who lack the extra time in the middle of a game week to wash gross shin guards at the last minute.

  1. Place the shin guards in a dish pan.
  2. Put something heavy on the shin guards to keep them from floating. You can use a frying pan or a bowl.
  3. ​Pour in some laundry detergent and a few tablespoons of baking soda.
  4. ​Run some hot water in the pan. This will help the baking soda dissolve as the water fills.
  5. Once the pan is filled and the shin guards are held down well you can sit and let it all soak. About 30 minutes will give the laundry detergent and baking soda time to break down the odor and clean the shin guards.
  6. Empty the pan and lay the shin guards on a dry towel. They can air dry overnight.

After they are completely dry, you can spray them down with a disinfectant like Lysol or spray them with some pure vinegar to help kill any remaining bacteria or potential mold.

Hand Washing

​If soaking is a little too hands off for you, scrub the shin guards with a little brush and a vinegar cleaning mixture.

  1. Mix 1 cup white distilled vinegar, 1 cup water, and a few drops of Dawn dish detergent.
  2. Spray the shin guards with the mixture and use a hand brush to scrub them.
  3. Rinse the shin guards with water and then hang them to dry.
  4. You can get an extra drying boost if it’s a warm sunny day. The sun and fresh air will work to help eliminate any remaining odors.

The Dawn mixed into the cleaning spray will give your cleaner a nice foaming reaction. This helps lift any dirt or gunk that was on the shin guards.

Washing Machine

​All of this hand washing is effective. A common question asked, is if you can wash your soccer shin guards in the washing machine. In short, the answer is yes.

Washing shin guards in the washing machine is a great way to get them clean without having to fuss with scrubbing.

Washing machines lined up
Pull Out Inserts

​If your shin guards have the inserts, you can pull those soft fabric pieces out and toss them in to wash. This is an easy first step. Now you are onto the next step for washing them.

​Plastic Shin Guards

​If the shin guards are all one piece that is attached to the plastic guard, you will need to take an extra step to protect both the shin guard and your washing machine. Place any plastic shin guards into a pillow case. Use one you don’t mind using for this task. Secure it closed with a twist tie.

Next, you will want to run the washer on the gentle cycle with cold water. Add in your preferred laundry detergent as well as some white distilled vinegar to help boost the cleaning and bacteria fighting power.

Drying Shin Guards

​Don’t toss your shin guards in the dryer after washing. Don’t be tempted to warm them up or to quickly dry them because they aren’t dry enough to use. This can damage your dryer and the shin guards.

Instead, place them out to air dry on a towel or hang them outside to dry in the fresh air. If you place shin guards to dry on a towel, make sure you flip them over. Both sides need to be well ventilated and able to dry.

How to Wash Shin Guards

Usually, by the time you realize you need to wash shin guards, they have already reached the rank and smelly state. After you get the initial wash over with, you may want to consider creating a schedule for washing shin guards so they don’t reach a super gross state again.

Wash After Every Use

You really don’t need to wash shin guards after every use. Washing them that much can potentially damage them. It also means they will remain damp from not having enough time to dry in just an overnight setting. This could be worse than not washing them often enough.

Instead, during the week and after you wear them, try this. Take them out of the gym bag and spray with a disinfectant such as Lysol or Vapor Fresh Disinfectant Sports Spray.

This will keep the shin guards from growing any bacteria during the week, which is part of the reason why shin guards smell so bad. While being worn, shin guards accumulate dirt and sweat which breed odorous bacteria.

This makes it important to spray them down with disinfectant after every use. By doing so, you can kill the bacteria and keep it from growing.

Shin guards can also potentially grow mold. This is because they get damp from sweat and then stay in a dark, cool and sweat filled gym bag. To avoid this, make sure you are emptying the gym bag and washing items that need to be washed while airing out other items.

You can also invest in a good gym bag deodorizer. This helps eliminate the odors left by workout and sports equipment.

A woman holding a bubble

Wash Weekly or BiWeekly

Depending on how badly they need it you can schedule the washing of shin guards every weekend or every other weekend. This way the shin guards have Saturday and Sunday to air dry.

If you really think they need a good weekly washing, and if you have the time, then washing them on a Friday evening or Saturday is a great way to keep them clean. However, washing shin guards once every other week or even once a month is acceptable. Just make sure you are disinfecting them after each use.

Learning how to wash shin guards is a pretty easy task to master. Once you know what you are doing, you will be able to see how easy it is to keep shin guards bacteria free and smelling fresh.


​Learning how to wash shin guards isn’t as scary as the odors that come from them. With a few tips, you can win the battle in keeping them fresh all season long.

Lauren Moldvay is a freelance writer from Virginia and the mother of one (not always) sweet little girl. She specializes in trying to help others find easier ways to clean, manage the home and save money with DIY projects.