What's the best way to clean athletic helmets and pads?

June 2017  |  Download Article

Yes, you can wash and disinfect them with the right system! Having spent 30 years as a teacher and coach at both the high school and collegiate levels, Steve Leib understands the challenges facing athletic facilities. As a college football coach he has witnessed the struggles of processing athletic laundry and cleaning helmets and pads. He’s also seen athletes infected with staph and MRSA infections. As sales director for Sports Laundry Systems, Leib shares his knowledge of equipment and athletic laundry/gear care — ever urging athletic programs to install laundry solutions that clean and disinfect.

Why would a high school or college want to clean athletic helmets and protective pads in-house?

It's necessary to clean and disinfect helmets and pads for a few reasons.
1) First, by properly cleaning your team's helmets and pads, you'll prevent the equipment from hardboring staph, MRSA and other bacteria, as well as viruses and molds. Gear that's clean and disinfected helps prevent the spread of infection and works to protect the health of your players, coaches and orginization.
2) Second, clean and disinfected helmets and pads may save you money. National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) does recommend that orginizations adopt and follow a program of helmet inspection and reconditioning that meets their particular needs, based on age and size of players, severity of helmet usage, ages of helmets, among other factors. Some schools recondition and recertify their football helmets every year, some every two years. Most athletic programs send a percentage of their helmets and pads in for recertification every year. An athletic reconditioning/recertification company takes helmets and pads through a number of steps, including inspection, cleaning, sanitizing, buffing/painting, repairs and NOCSAE Certification. By cleaning and disinfecting helmets and pads in-house, you may save on reconditioning/recertification costs – returning those dollars to your program's bottom line. Every little bit helps!
3) Third, nasty biohazards, molds and particulates are removed so protective helmets and pads don't break down as quickly. Gear looks better and lasts longer!

Cleaning helmets and pads seems like a huge job. What's the most efficient way to get them clean?

Invest in a highly programmable washer-extractor offering complete control over mechanical action, rotation, automaticv chemical injection, ozone injection and extract speed. Most washers – even when they are programmable – don't allow this level of control. Sports Laundry System Washers with Inteli Control do provide total control. Keep in mind they will clean and disinfect uniforms, towels, loops and other athletic laundry, too. Here's the process:
1) First, the washer is programmed to deliver the proper pre-treat soak, mechanical/rotation action, water temperatures, cycle times, chemistry and ozone injection. The washer drum should only rotate a quarter turn so helmets aren't damaged during the cleaning process. This is the same reason G-force is programmed at a very low rate and that extract speeds remain gentle and slow.
2) Second, helmets are washed together without the removal of the attached padding. This is critical. If the padding is removed and not reattached properly, player injuries could result. Similarly, shoulder pads, knee pads, shin guards and elbow pads can all be washed together following the same control parameters (Ozone injection, 1/4 rotation, low G-force extract). Just remember, wash like items together.
3) Third, washer operation is easy because everything is pre-programmed. Open the washer, load it with helmets or pads, close the washer door, enter the program number and press start. The washer does the rest.
4) When the wash process completes in around 18 minutes, open the washer door and allow the helmets/pads to air dry.

You talk a lot about ozone. Why is it important as part of the cleaning process?

Through the use of ozone in the wash, you can disinfect helmets and pads (uniforms, loops, towels and practice gear) without bleach, hot water and softeners. A programmable ozone system that works in tandem with the programmable washer will clean and disinfect helmets and pads. Ozone gas attaches to and breaks down organic materials like soils, bacteria, molds and greases. Once broken down, these materials are easily removed from fabric by detergent in the wash cycle. Ozone works best in cold water, and since ozone leaves only oxygen behind, it is also environmentally friendly. Ozone is a powerful and natural biocide – destroying bacteria, deactivating viruses and controlling odors.

How many helmets can you fit in one load?

That depends on the capacity of the washer. Take a look at the sizing graphic (left) as it provides a great overview

Do you buy the washing machines and ozone systems separately?

It's best to purchase a system – one that brings together washers, ozone injection and dryers. Remember to look for a system that is proven to disinfect, offers validated ozone and touts superior washer programmability. That way, you can clean and disinfect athletic laundry, helmets and pads whenever there is a need.


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