How to wash football shirts?

Collectors Club

Welcome to the first part of our brand new series: Collectors Club.

The life of a football shirt collector can be an exciting one. There’s always a bargain to be snapped up somewhere, and there aren’t many feelings that beat the thrill of finally getting hold of a shirt that you’ve been searching for for years.

For all those moments of ecstasy though, there can be just as many moments of agony.

You accidentally put a treasured possession through a dry cycle. You think you’ve found an incredible steal on a vintage kit, only to discover it’s a horrible fake. 

Throughout Collectors Club, we’ll be touching on all the trials and tribulations a shirt collector goes through. We know the kind of questions you have, we ask them too, and as more and more people take their first, brave steps into the world of collecting the need for help and guidance is only growing.

As we navigate these topics, we’ll be seeking out thoughts and advice from others. Be it influencers, shirt sellers or fellow collectors like you and me; shared knowledge is powerful and naturally there’ll be some differing approaches to some of the questions too.

To kick off Collectors Club, we’ll be looking at a seemingly humble topic that has the potential to ruin the lives of even the most seasoned shirt fanatic. Helping us today are Roger from Cult Football and Asa from Football Creations & Restorations, two guys who’ve washed a kit or two in their time.


How do you wash football shirts?

1. Separate, inside out, cold

Three key principles will get you very far when it comes to washing shirts; separate, turning inside out and washing cold.

Separate colours as best you can, which for most of us would be lights and darks (unless your collection has a particularly high number of red shirts!). It’s also worth washing your shirts inside out, and importantly when using a washing machine you want to wash on a relatively cold cycle.

Shirt care labels (the ones with all the symbols on) should give recommendations as to temperature, but there’s usually a fair amount of leeway so long as you’re on the colder end of the spectrum.

Roger: For the vast majority of shirts I would separate colours and machine wash inside out on a cold cycle, whilst always avoiding fabric softener. 

2. If in doubt, handwash

Although the majority of shirts can be safely washed in a machine, you also have the option of a handwash for those particularly delicate or rare shirts where you don’t want to leave anything to chance.

Any shirts which have particularly fragile sponsors should also be considered for a handwash.

Asa: I’ve got a dedicated black linen bag marked “football shirts”. The wife is instructed to never touch it. And once a suitable amount of shirts have built up in the pouch I give them a loving handwash in the bath. 

Roger: Anything really old or with the potential to cause damage (plastic sponsors etc.) I would hand wash in cold/cool water using delicates hand wash cleaning products. check for any damage big or small before washing. If sponsors and prints look delicate, slightly peeled etc don’t take risks.

3. Printing doesn’t change things when it comes to washing

There’s nothing to fear with printing. If your shirts have names and/or numbers, follow the same advice above with confidence.

That being said, newer shirts with plastic-based applications should be treated the same as some sponsors. If it’s beginning to fall apart, consider handwashing to avoid further damage. Older style flocking should be more durable, but again don’t leave anything to chance and handwash if it is beginning to come off in any way.

Asa: I treat them the same as shirts without printing.

Roger: Nearly all printed shirts should be able to be washed keeping the prints intact. 

The newer shirts are a little different as the materials used can be different to the flock style older printing we tend to deal with, personally I haven’t had any problems machine washing printed shirts using cold/cool settings but if anyone wants to make sure or be extra safe i’d recommend hand washing in cool/cold water.

4. If stains are stubborn, attack them with the right product

Stains are a collectors worst nightmare (especially if you support Spurs or Real Madrid!), but thankfully you do have options at your disposal.

There are a range of specialist product, including sprays which can be applied directly onto the stain and powders which can be added to a bucket/bath whilst soaking the shirts.

Asa: I leave to soak in a dedicated football shirt bucket (how OTT do I sound!?). I tend to soak them in a stain remover for an hour or 2. Longer if it’s an actual stain.

Roger: People tend to give up on stains quite easily without trying specialist cleaning products. Some tend to be more stubborn than others but we tend to use something like a pretreat oxi action stain remover spray. 

Of course, there are some stains which are virtually impossible to remove. Classic worst offenders including, paint, oil or even a particularly stubborn signature!

Asa: I’m in the middle of removing 15 autographs from a Merthyr shirt and only 1 is left slightly visible so I’m pretty confident when it comes to getting things out of shirts.

Roger: Oil is probably the worst possible stain to remove and not forgetting paint, it seems everybody’s dad painted in their old football shirts back in the 90s!

5. Dry naturally if you can, or tumble dryer with great care

Tumble dryers are even riskier than washing machines, so whilst it’s possible to dry most shirts in a dryer on the most appropriate delicate setting, it’s generally advisable to dry in natural conditions if possible. Some collectors wouldn’t even dream of going near a tumble dryer with their shirts though!

As another bonus when it comes to drying naturally, most shirts (especially more modern ones) will dry very quickly due on a washing line or clothes rack to the nature of their materials.

Avoid drying directly on radiators as sponsors and printing can very easily melt.

Asa: I dry my shirts on the washing line, it’s always good to give them an airing

I never tumble dry shirts. Heat is how most of the detailing goes on so the last thing you want to do is undo that process with heat again.

Roger: Usually I would use a dryer for most shirts on a delicate setting keeping certain types of colours together. But again with older and printed shirts I would try to dry in natural conditions.

6. Never wash match worn shirts

If you’re lucky enough to own a match worn shirt, please disregard this entire article.

Match worn shirts, no matter how stained or smell they might be, are worth more the closer to their original condition they are. It might be tempting to try and remove a stain, but they can be used to help verify the authenticity of a kit.

Asa: I wouldn’t wash anything matchworn, keep those marks from the hallowed turf on there!

Roger: The only I don’t personally wash are match worn shirts. Stains and marks on the shirts are a great way to show markings from the games they were worn in plus these marks only add to the speciality of the item.


So there we have it guys. Washing shirts needn’t be a worrying task, and if in doubt it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Thanks again to Roger and Asa for taking the time to help us out as we look to wash football shirts in the best possible way! If you enjoyed this article stay tuned as we seek to answer more big questions, covering everything from fakes to storing to buying shirts. Before this series launched, we covered the topic of photographing football shirts too, so you can check that out if you’re looking to document or sell your collection!

You can also stay informed on our latest content series by signing up to our newsletter. Not only will you get content updates, you’ll also find out about our famous vintage shirt drops first.

Phil Delves

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