How to Wash and Clean Shin Guards

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Dealing with smelly shin guards is an inevitable part of playing soccer and maintaining your soccer gear. Since the guards are a required part of the game, you’ll be wearing them no matter what. And, with soccer being such a physical game, you’ll be sweating into your shin guards each and every time you put them on.

Washing your guards is important, and I’ve outlined the steps for how to clean shin guards. 

How to Wash Shin Guards

Even the best soccer shin guards available will build up a strong smell over time, and this 5 step process will thoroughly clean them and remove as much of the smell as possible:

  1. Soak the Shin Guards
  2. Hand Wash the Shin Portion
  3. Use the Washing Machine
  4. Air Dry
  5. Spray with Disinfectant

If you’re short on time or don’t want to do the entire deep clean of your shin guards, you can skip some of the steps.

At the end of the day, a quick clean in the washing machine will help your soccer guards quite a bit. However, if you really want to cut down on the smell, you’ll want to follow all 5 steps. 

Close up of black adidas soccer cleats

1. Soak the Shin Guards

You always want to start off by soaking your shin guards, whenever possible. You’ll loosen up any dirt and grass that has gotten lodged in the material. Soaking also allows the water to penetrate into the material and prepare it for cleaning.

The simplest way to soak is to just put the guards in a bucket of water. Alternatively, you could fill your sink up and put the shin guards in there.

Right away, you’ll notice that the guards will float to the top of the water, not allowing them to thoroughly soak. You can solve this problem by putting something heavy on them, like a rock or frying pan. Note: don’t use a cast-iron pan, or else the soaking will cause it to rust!

Check back to make sure that the shin guards haven’t “slipped” out from under your weight, and floated back to the top.

Soak for at least 30 minutes, but several hours will be a lot better. Add a little laundry detergent and baking soda to the mix, which will simultaneously disinfect and help prepare the material for cleaning.

2. Hand Wash the Shin Portion

Once you’re done soaking, it’s time to move on to hand washing. Washing and scrubbing your shin guards by hand will go a long way in removing the sweaty stench that they develop.

In a bowl, combine half the water and vinegar with dish detergent. Aside from removing the odor from shin guards, this mixture can also be used to clean your car’s carpet. Take a scrubbing brush and scrub the mixture onto the shin guards, focusing the majority of your efforts on the part that rests against your shin when you are wearing them.

This is the part that develops the smell, as it is sandwiched up against your shin along with your reliable soccer socks as you sweat during soccer games.

The mixture should foam on the shin guards as you rub it in. When you’re done scrubbing, rinse the shin guards off in the bucket of water you soaked in.

3. Use the Washing Machine

Yes, you can clean shin guards in the washing machine.

If you soaked and scrubbed by hand, you could technically skip this part. In essence, utilizing the washing machine is doubling up on the cleaning.

But, at this point in time, you’ll probably notice that the shin guards still have a slight smell to them. Or, if this isn’t your first time cleaning, you’ll know that the smell tends to return a bit after the guards have dried.

Because of this, it makes sense to double up on your shin guard cleaning efforts.

Row of bright orange washing machines

If possible, remove any plastic before putting them in the washing machine. Sometimes the hard plastic guard is removable and, if possible, take it out and set it aside.

Wash in cold water and make sure to use the gentle cycle. If you have to keep the plastic in (because it wasn’t removable), you might want to wash the shin guards in a laundry mesh bag to help protect them.

4. Air Dry

It’s important that you only air dry your shin guards. Putting them in the dryer, even on the lowest setting, can permanently damage them.

Granted, if you are able to remove the plastic portion, there is a lot less risk in drying them. However, it’s still better to air dry shin guards, regardless of if you got the plastic piece out.

Air drying can take a while, especially if you have shin guards with the ankle material. These are often made from thicker material, and take even longer to dry in open air.

5. Spray with Disinfectant

This is an often forgotten step, but an important one. Beyond smelling bad, shin guards can be a breeding ground for bacteria. Many kids and adults experience skin irritation and discomfort from ongoing wear, and keeping them clean can help prevent this.

The disinfectant can also help with the ongoing smell that used shin guards develop.

You can use a purchased product like Lysol to disinfect the material. Or, make your own spray from a vinegar and water spray. 

How to Get the Smell Out of Soccer Shin Guards

For starters, there are a few things you can do to prevent soccer shin guards from smelling:

  • Don’t leave them in your soccer bag: Closed quarters are a natural breeding ground for bacteria to develop, bringing with it a strong smell. In addition, the closed bag could promote mold to develop, since your shin guards might still be damp from sweat. The only thing is that you’ll have to remember to grab them before your next game
  • Disinfect after every use: You don’t need to wash your shin guards after every use, but you’d do well to quickly spray disinfectant on them. This will curb the smells that develop and keep the bacteria away.

The best way to get the smell out of shin guards is the combination of soaking, hand washing, and disinfecting. Through this process, you’ll be able to remove the majority of the smell.

If you haven’t washed the shin guards in awhile, you might need to do this several times over the course of a week or so to really get the smell out.

A soccer team on the field

Can You Wash Shin Guards in the Dishwasher?

They won’t be tossed and turnedYour guards will not be thoroughly cleaned
You can save time by doing itIt is not safe to put dirty clothes next to dishes
It is easierIt is not as effective as doing it by hand

You can wash your shin guards in the top rack of the dishwasher. This can be a great way to clean them, and works as an alternative to using the washing machine.

One advantage to using the dishwasher over the washing machine is that your shin guards won’t be tossed and turned during the washing process. If you have guards that don’t let you remove the plastic piece, this might be a great alternative.

Either way, washing your shin guards by hand will probably give you better results than using the dishwasher. However, doing both back to back is the best approach to take.

Related Questions

Here are some frequently asked questions about washing shin guards.

Does the Shin Guards’ Brand Matter When Washing Them?

Yes, as some of the might have indications on how to correctly wash them. If you check their tag, you may see some instructions on how to wash your certain brand of guards. For instance, some guards might need to be washed with warm water.

How Often Should You Wash Your Shin Guards?

It is recommended to wash it once every month or two. Shin guards do not need to be washed very often as long as they are correctly stored. This means that if you store sweaty shin guards in a dark and warm place, they might get smelly.

Therefore, you need to store them where they can dry quickly.

Does Freezing Your Guards Remove Odor?

Yes, freezing your guards might remove some of the odor. Freezing has been proven to eliminate some of the bacteria that develop in accessories such as guards, pads, and cleats. Therefore, you can freeze them in order to kill the bacteria that make them smell bad.


No matter what, you’ll be wearing shin guards at every soccer practice and game. Washing your shin guards is important to keep the smell at bay and not allow bacteria to grow.

While a deep clean should be reserved for every few months, consistently disinfecting and soaking your shin guards should become a part of your weekly soccer routine. 

Tim Frechette is an avid athlete, having played sports like soccer and basketball his entire life. He brings a wealth of athletic knowledge to his writing.

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