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.

Washing machine horror stories

Whether you deal exclusively in new kits, or whether you’re someone who prefers shirts of a certain vintage, we all inevitably have to figure out how we’re going to wash our shirts at some point or another.

In theory it should be quite a simple task, but in reality there are more than enough horror stories out there to make our stomachs churn. Twitter certainly did their best to make us feel sick when we asked them to send in their best/worst examples of washing mishaps…

How do you wash football shirts?

To help us tackle this topic, we spoke to 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?

Roger: It depends on the age and rarity really.

The older the shirt the more care you should take as a lot of label guidelines can be affected over the years. For the vast majority of shirts I would separate colours and machine wash inside out on a cold cycle, whilst always avoiding fabric softener. 

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. 

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. 

How do you wash football shirts with 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.

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

How do you get mud stains / general stains out of football shirts?

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. 

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.

Are there any types of stains that are beyond saving?

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!

Asa: Not found anything yet. 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. If only there was a magic cure for iron marks!

How do you dry football shirts?

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.

Asa: I pop them 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.

What are some of your worst shirt washing horror stories?

Roger: Plastic sponsors and fabric softener, absolute recipe for disaster…

Also direct heat from radiators on embossed sponsors, badges and logos. Not a good idea…

Asa: I bought a Robinho Man City 3rd shirt off Depop and it had a stain. Like I say, my confidence in sorting shirts has grown but I left this in the ‘Football shirt bucket’ a bit too long and the nameset literally slipped off! Hence the 2 hour rule and I tend to check on them.

Should you always wash shirts before selling them? 

Roger: Absolutely! 

I still can’t understand why some sell used shirts or any clothing and don’t clean/wash them before selling…. As soon as we receive any item, it is washed correctly, sometimes twice over, this is really important for us to give customers the best possible buying experience as no one wants to receive an unwashed smelly item.

Asa: Yeah, there’s nothing worse than a smokey shirt!

Are there any shirts you wouldn’t recommend washing?

Roger: I think you can always wash 99% of shirts using the right guidelines. 

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.

Asa: Anything matchworn, keep those marks from the hallowed turf on there! I even have a City shirt complete with slide marks from celebrating my 2 goals at the Etihad.

Any other tips or advice for collectors?

Roger: Just take extra care of older shirts, and check for any damage big or small before washing. If sponsors and prints look delicate, slightly peeled etc don’t take risks.

Asa: Stop putting shirts in the washing machine! 

I mean it’s great for me, I get to salvage some shirts to be loved for another day, but they’re all made with materials that aren’t meant to last forever so we need to be as gentle with them as we can. Even Coke cans decay eventually.

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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