The start of the school year often means more than backpacks, books and pencils cluttering mudrooms and kitchen counters. Fall sports are back, too, and with them stinky jerseys in the laundry room and mud-clogged cleats in the garage.
There are simple ways to mitigate the stench and the dirt that come with active kids and teens, says Good Housekeeping contributing editor Heloise, who has written several home and lifestyle advice books and the ‘‘Hints From Heloise’’ syndicated column. We asked her what she’s learned from years of answering readers’ cleaning and organizing questions.
‘‘It just takes a little extra effort, along with some tricks,’’ Heloise said. Here are a few.
Organizing sports gear
For children playing different sports, have matching tote or gym bags in different colors for each sport — basketball gets green, soccer gets red, baseball gets blue. So when you’re rushing from one activity to the next, it’s easy to grab the correct gear from the back of your car.
As for what to do with the soccer ball or baseball bat that comes home, Heloise said to keep items contained to one spot in the garage. Try using plastic storage bins or a new plastic garbage can with wheels for the rest.
Overhead shelves and nets work well for out-of-season items, too. ‘‘They are out of the way but still in sight,’’ she said.
Cleaning uniforms and athletic wear
First, Heloise said, parents can breathe a sigh of relief: It’s not necessary to wash a soccer jersey after every practice.
‘‘It’s also just unrealistic to wash something every time your kid wears it,’’ Heloise said.
Instead, turn jerseys inside out and (weather permitting) hang them outside, along with shorts and pants. Don’t let children stuff the clothing away in their bags. For heavily soiled items, such as muddy shorts, let the mud dry before shaking it or vacuuming it off.
When it is time to clean the clothes, use straight liquid laundry detergent as a pretreatment. Pour it on the underarms of jerseys and on other stains and let it sit. This gives the cleaning agents time to work. And finally, don’t jam too much into the washing machine.
‘‘The clothes cannot rinse well enough to become clean,’’ Heloise said. ‘‘Many times, it will just deposit the yuck and gunk and smell onto the garment.’’
Make sure to turn jerseys inside out when washing, to protect any plastic lettering. And if you want to keep a special sports jersey after a season is over, be sure to clean it before putting it away.
‘‘There is always a special jersey that you wore when you scored the goal or made the basket, and always the one you want to keep. If you want to preserve it, wash it and let it air dry. Don’t stick it in the back of your closet dirty.’’
Most items — shin guards, pads, and gloves — can go in the washing machine. Use warm water, not hot, and always air-dry. For padded items with plastic (shin guards, for example) put them in a mesh laundry washing bag or a pillow case with a zipper. This protects the machine, and the equipment, from getting scratched. It’s also good to check the care tag for cleaning instructions.
‘There is always a special jersey that you wore . . . [that] you want to keep. If you want to preserve it, wash it and let it air dry. Don’t stick it in the back of your closet dirty.’
Gym bags: ‘‘We know they smell,’’ Heloise said. ‘‘It’s body odor. You played soccer, or basketball, or fencing, and you perspire. Part of that is bacteria.’’
Prevent odor from building up by putting used fabric softener sheets in the bag, or spraying the inside of the bag with aerosol deodorant, which kills bacteria. This also works well for padded helmets, where perspiration gathers.
Cleats: If the mud or dirt is still moist, let it dry if you have time, Heloise said. It’s much easier to remove. Use a toothbrush to clear away dirt on plastic-spiked cleats, and use a grill brush for metal spikes.
Water bottles: Water bottles often get a moldy, damp smell after a sports season (or two).
‘‘If you have really cleaned it, if you’ve used a scrub brush, you may have scratched the plastic,’’ Heloise said. ‘‘Those tiny little scratches are where bacteria can get to, and cause that smell.’’
Try using vinegar, which is safe and environmentally friendly, to kill mold and mildew. Fill the bottle with a half-water, half-vinegar mixture and let it sit overnight before rinsing. If it has a screw-off lid, soak it in a mixture of baking soda and water.
Hats: The easiest (and most fun, according to Heloise) way to clean a baseball cap is to put it in the dishwasher. Use the top rack, Heloise said, and clothespin it to the rack before starting a wash cycle. Then take it out and air-dry it. If you want to make sure the cap keeps a rounded shape, dry it over a coffee can, or put it on a blown-up balloon.
Another option is to use shampoo, which is designed to break down body oil. If the hat seems particularly dirty around the head band, use a toothbrush and rub it with shampoo and water.