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Parents of young catchers in baseball learn very quickly that the position comes with a lot of gear, and along with that, responsibilities that parents of non-catchers have to worry about. Namely, the maintenance and cleaning of catchers’ gear.
Cleaning catcher’s gear is unlike the rest of baseball uniforms or equipment, which can be tossed into a washer machine, maybe with a little stain remover or other chemical to bring out whiteness. Baseball gloves can be wiped clean with a wet towel.
Not so for that catcher’s chest protector, helmet, face mask, leg guards, and accessories like neck guard or padded knee protectors.
A reason new-baseball-kid parents learn quickly is because catcher’s gear, if not washed often, will smell. It might be from sweat, or dirt, or moisture, or a combination thereof, but catchers’ items left alone will let their presence be known fairly fast.
Catcher’s gear consists of noticeably different equipment items, made by differing materials. Some items have both hard and soft areas. The soft or fabric areas can be machine washable. Some can be wiped with a moist towel, most have to be immersed in water somehow for proper cleaning.
Here’s a run-down of the general process to clean catchers’ gear items, starting with those that are machine-washable.
- Machine Wash. Into a washing machine you can toss most chest protectors, non-leather pads in face masks if they are removable, and non-plastic padding in leg guards, again if they can be removed.
- Use a mild detergent, and set the machine to delicate (mostly); bump up the soil level if it warrants and the machine has such a setting.
- Run items through a second time if necessary, particularly the chest protector which can tend to absorb a lot of sweat (and along with it salt, which can cause unique faded-white staining)
- Hand Wash: Helmet inside and out, face mask, chin straps, leg guards, protective cup, belts, and most knee protectors.
- Notice below links to products that can help remove soil and stains, and sometimes odors, from catchers gear.
- Air Dry always. No baseball gear items aside from uniform items should be placed in a dryer.
For cleaning the hard shell(s) on other pieces of catcher’s gear, see the topic discussing how to clean catchers gear.
Individual gear items used by catchers in baseball take different types of beatings, and their construction lends to unique types of soiling, and therefore cleaning practices. Let’s break down detailed cleaning for some of the key items, from the top of a player’s body down:
In reality, probably the first thing a young catcher needs to be taught is how to take care of his helmet. Tossing it around like batting helmets not only scratches the outside, but it can lead to abrasions that could loosen straps, or knocks that loosen metal snaps.
Additionally, leaving excess perspiration inside before tossing in an equipment bag could slowly erode the quality of materials, and lead to unpleasant odors.
It is wise for catchers to keep a clean, dry towel or 2 in their equipment bag at all times. Use these to wipe sweat and dirt from the inside of the catcher’s helmet, and also inside either between the pads, or while the pads are unattached.
Whether attached or unattached, the face mask should be fully wiped clean after each use especially after games, to eliminate specks of dirt or tiny pebbles that, if left unattended, could dislodge into an eye upon the next use.
It is especially important to keep the area of any piece of equipment near the eyes as clean as possible. In these areas, try to use only water with towels to avoid the run-off of chemicals into the eyes. The eyes are the most important body part of any baseball player ~ especially the catcher.
Some helmets/face masks might be cleaned well by simply immersing them into a bucket of water, let it soak for 5 or so minutes, then wipe clean and dry with a clean towel before leaving out to further dry.
This is a thin but strong slip of plastic that hangs down from a catcher’s mask, protecting the Adam’s apple and front-center of the neck essentially. This guard can be submerged in clean water, rubbed a few times, and air-dried. Rarely does this item need use of a chemical cleaner.
Besides the helmet, the chest protector is the trickiest piece of catcher’s gear to keep clean. The main reason is the sweat it absorbs, in the dust-heavy setting where the sweating occurs.
Catching in baseball is very strenuous, with a ton of squatting up and down, and twisting the torso. This creates a lot of perspiration in the front, especially because that area of the body is covered snuggly by a protector that’s made up like a very thick quilt.
That the armpits are near the upper corners does not help. All that sweat soaks protectors, to levels depending on the material used, and that in turn creates an area for dust to stick to.
Chest protectors left unmaintained can be stained beyond repair, and quite frankly, can stink grossly.
To clean, it is okay to drop into a washer machine on the gentle cycle, and air dry. For stubborn stains or smells, perhaps run it through twice, or hand-wash briskly before the machine.
Sometimes a chest protector could use a good soaking, like in mostly water but with a splash of chemical cleaner with odor-eliminating properties. These cleaners use chemicals that can stick to the fibers of the chest protector and help cover odors that may form between cleanings.
It’s rather hard to wash a chest protector after every use. But once a week at the very least is recommended ~ more if time permits. And players should be careful with them not to drop them on the dirt or dugout floor. When taking it off between innings, store in a bag or atop a bench so dirt has less of a chance to stick to the moisture.
Note: they are hard to dry out, so leaving it out in the sunshine helps often. At least give it some time to dry before the next use.
This item that protects a player’s private parts for the most part does not have to be cleaned too often, but the older the player, probably the more it should be done. To do so, fill a bucket with water and a small amount of mild liquid soap and let it soak for 5 minutes before taking it out to air dry. Be sure this item is fully dry before using it again!
Some catchers use detachable pads to protect their thighs, either as separate items, or connected with the leg guards. These can be cleaned like the throat guard, with soaking in water and hand-washing with a little bit of cleaner. Hard plastic areas can be wiped clean with dry towels.
This pair of foam protectors shaped like a slice from a cake are attached to the rear straps of leg guards, and stick between the calves and lower back of the legs of catchers to take strain off the knees when squatting. Almost all catchers who spend a lot of time behind the plate use them, as they are light and hardly get in the way when running or moving around.
They do wonders in reducing wear and tear on the knees and are highly recommended. And they are easy to wash either in a machine (and air-drying of course), or hand washing. These, too, could take some time to dry so plan ahead.
Probably more commonly known as shin guards, these are the elongated, cupped pieces of plastic strapped to the lower part of a catcher’s legs, to protect the shins that face the pitcher. They are required pieces of equipment for any baseball game with live pitchers, and in advanced ages for fastpitch softball.
These mostly go hand-in-hand with the chest proctor. That is, when one needs cleaning, the other probably does, too. A suggestion is to plan a major soaking of all 3 items at once a week.
However, leg guards can not be washed in a machine. They must be soaked, or at least wiped with a towel moist with water or a sports equipment cleaner
Over the years, manufacturers have come up with a slew of equipment pieces designed specifically to protect a part of a catcher’s body. Here are the most common, with cleaning tips:
- Hand padding. These hand-sized pieces of foam or soft plastic are designed of course to protect the non-throwing hand. They are either attached to the hand or are slipped into a catcher’s glove between the hand and leather. These can be hand-washed in water. If a cleaning agent is used, don’t use too much ~ the chemical could get stuck onto the hand and transferred to the player’s eyes when batting. Only water is recommended.
- Throwing shoulder pad. This is a little extension of the chest protector that sits between the vulnerable front shoulder joint and the pitch. Often it’s connected permanently to the chest protector, but not always. These can be cleaned just like the process for hand padding: wash by hand, light on the cleaner.
- Toe guard. This equipment piece is just what it sounds like: a hard piece of plastic attached to the outside of cleats to protect the toes from foul tips or errant pitches. Sometimes these are connected to leg guards, sometimes to the clean via the shoelaces or some connection system. They are usually hard plastic and can be washed with a very moist towel.
For some parents, it is wise to keep a chemical cleaner or package of cleaners around often, because they’ll never go to disuse! Click here for one of our favorites.
This product is designed to protect against germs, bacteria and odors without chemicals like ammonia, alcohol, or bleach.
Likewise, there are products aimed specifically at removing stains, like this professional-level sports cleaner. Eventually, some parents might be at wit’s end with the smell of the larger items ~ and the player refuses to let you buy a replacement. If that happens, consider going the way of pet owners and get a professional-grade cleaning agent and hope it works.