A few weeks ago Olivia posted a hilarious How Not To about her show clothes. And I was like, dammit, Olivia, you stole my thunder! But honestly, it’s essentially the same way I clean my show clothes, just minus the bleach and super hot washer cycles. So here’s the How To on getting all those crazy stains you thought were stuck in there forever out of your show clothes.
TL;DR Wash them by hand.
Yep, it’s really that simple. When I lived in Kenya I would pay a local woman to do my laundry*, and of course I had brought all my grungiest, most stained shirts to the field with me because I knew I would only stain and ruin them more. I was absolutely floored when Catherine returned my first load of laundry to me with almost all of those neck sweat and pit sweat stains totally gone. The secret ingredient to getting your clothes really, really clean is just liberal dosing with powder detergent, elbow grease, and cracked and skinned knuckles from rubbing so hard (be careful not to get the blood from your now-destroyed hands on your now-clean clothes, though).
* Yes, it felt very weird. I’m totally capable of washing my own clothes, even without a machine. But Catherine insisted, and I was not about to take away a source of income that I could easily give her. Totally unrelated to this, there was a rat that liked to climb into my laundry hamper and eat my dirty underwear. It later made a nest and had babies in a box of bubble wrap. Such a fucking weird rat.
You will need
- OxiClean (fragrance free is fine)
- Detergent of your choice
- Bucket or large bowl (a vestibule large enough for your show clothes + water + splashing)
Step 1 – Collect your dirty show clothes.
These breeches had actually just come out of the washer. I was shocked at how bad of a job the washer did getting absolutely any stains out. And I simultaneously realized the problem with silicone grip patches on light colored breeches — you can see the clean breech color under the silicon while the dirt surrounds them. Unacceptable.
I tend to sort my clothes by color (ish). I don’t want any color seeping on my whites, so always wash those alone. I also don’t want any dirt from other clothes accidentally staining my whites, somehow. Other than that, I am indiscriminate about what gets washed where.
Step 2 – Dissolve OxiClean in the bucket.
I don’t wash or soak my stained clothes in hot water, as hot water can set stains. But OxiClean dissolves best in hot water, so I usually dissolve the powder in some hot water, then fill the rest of the way with cool water. How much water is the rest of the way? Usually about 1/4 to 1/3 of the bucket. I need space to splash around in. I now just splash some OxiClean down in the bucket before getting started, but when I was being careful I followed the concentrations on the back of the OxiClean box for this purpose. It is something like 1-2 tablespoons OxiClean per gallon of water.
This part is easy. Put in soiled clothes. Make sure soiled clothes are in contact with detergent solution, and jostle them around to get some dirt loose. Weigh down soiled clothes with a plate or something. Wait.
I use 5 gallon Home Depot or Lowes buckets that I acquired for approximately $6. I have like five lying around. A standard size dinner plate seems to do the job for weighing them down.
Step 4 – Change the water and scrub.
Depending on the soilage of my clothing, I will sometimes drain the water and do a second soak before starting this step. Regardless, unless your soaking water has very little dirt in it, I tend to get rid of the old soaking water and start fresh for the scrubbing step. I dissolve another, smaller amount of OxiClean in the bucket this time, and add in a little of my detergent of choice. (For saddle pads or other items that would benefit from a high-agitation spin, I put them in the machine after scrubbing, so don’t add detergent.)
Then we scrub. This isn’t rocket science. You just need to rub the soiled parts of the clothing on other clothes or parts of clothing to lift the stains out. I’m not sure, but it seems like stretching and pulling the fibers gently also helps to free the stains. I find that I can usually scrub on my own knuckles and lift out any stains there, but it can be helpful to have a spare rag in the water to really attack the clothing with. If you feel like there’s not enough soap in there, splash in some more. Don’t expect the water to actually get really sudsy (if it is, you’ve probably used too much), but there should be some bubbles.
You might want to wear gloves for this part. Thanks to a lifetime of abuse in the kitchen and garden, my hands aren’t particularly sensitive or beautiful. But if you’re a hand model or something, this will not do you any favors. The OxiClean is very drying on your hands, and it will take forever to rinse the soap off of them.
Step 5 – Rinse in cold water/machine wash.
If I am planning to machine wash the clothing in question, I just wring them out gently over the bucket and throw them straight in the washer with more OxiClean and laundry detergent.
If I’m not planning on doing that, they get several rinses with fresh cold water before I wring them out and hang dry them. When I rinse, I use plenty of water, and take the time to really agitate my clothes in the bucket to get out any remaining suds. I usually rinse 2-4 times to make sure they are really, really free of soap. By the time I get to the second rinse, I will start pouring the water on hardy plants or areas of my yard that I know get a lot of additional water runoff — the detergent is pretty dilute at this point. But the first few rinses and drains should go into the sink or shower to avoid poisoning your lawn/flowers/vegetables etc.
This method also works for saddle pads, but I tend to soak only one saddle pad at a time, and never with show clothes. They are a bit more cumbersome, so I will also just spot soak with OxiClean — I’ll make up a batch of OxiClean and pour a little on the stain, then scrub with a little brush. Those vegetable scrubber brushes are perfect for this — not too harsh, and not too soft. I’ll splash on more OxiClean and let it sit before throwing the pad in the washer.
Obviously, this is a good way to get neck sweat stains out of a stock tie, rat catcher, or show shirts (especially if you can’t just throw them in the machine for some reason). And it’s the method I use on Murray’s brushing boots, after I’ve scraped the dirt clods off with a stiff brush.
Yes, it’s more work than just throwing clothes in the washer. But it also gets them waaaay cleaner. Which, if you’re like me, is weirdly important at the beginning of a show or clinic. And after washing two weeks worth of laundry at a time, sitting in the shower on a hot Sunday and wishing I was out in the field with my friends, washing a few pairs of breeches or saddle pads feels like nothing!