Your shin guards are of paramount importance in Muay Thai sparring. Even if you are a banana tree-kicking badass, you can’t shy away from wearing shin guards since they protect your sparring partners as much as they protect you. But like most everything, you can’t avoid the inevitable: there is a limited lifespan to your Muay Thai gear and they will all need to be replaced at some point in time. However, with proper and regular care, you can defer their expiry, maintain a reasonable level of sanitation, thus preventing any premature gear demise.
How to Clean Your Shin Guards
(Note: In this article, we will focus on the maintenance of standard, velcro system, foam-padded, standup shin guards.)
The open design of shin guards actually makes them really easy to clean without resorting to any kind of extreme measures. This is unlike boxing gloves where the enclosure limits ventilation and accessibility for cleaning. Here are some basic (common-sense) tips on keeping your shin guards clean and fresh:
Clean Right After Training
Make this a habit: as soon as your training ends, use a towel to give the exterior shell a wipe as sweat can cause stains on the leather. For sanitizing purpose, use disinfectant wipes to give the entire shin guard a good wipe down all over. There are hair dryers at our gym’s shower room and I usually use a hair dryer -set at high cool- to blow the interior for a couple of minutes. Alternatively, you can use a dry absorbent hand towel and give the interior a wipe to briefly absorb the moisture.
These simple actions can go a long way in keeping your shin guards clean and smelling fresh. And remember to keep your gear separate from your damp workout clothes by keeping clothes in a laundry bag.
Do Not Leave Your Shin Guards in Your Bag Overnight
When you get home, you should take them out of your gym bag to air. If you leave them in the bag overnight, and you keep doing this after each training, your shin guards can start to stink in record time. Airing you gear allows the moisture to dissipate and prevents odors from accumulating.
There are many folks at my gym who train during lunch time, after which, they head back to work with a bag full of moist clothes and semi-moist gear. This is potentially a recipe for foul smelling disaster. Thankfully, there are some gym bags that are constructed such that they allow for more ventilation. These bags are made partially or entirely out of mesh material and are very breathable. Mesh will allow your damp gear to air and dry out so it works best if you can’t avoid leaving gear in your bag after training.
Keep Your Shin Guards Dry
Remember, odor-causing bacteria thrives on moist environment. This is why you should keep your shin guards in a reasonably dry state. There are a few ways to do this:
- You can stuff some newspapers on the inside of your shin guards and leave them for about 2 hours to absorb any residual moisture.
- Store the shin guards with cedar wood sachets as they absorb moisture and unpleasant odors while leaving a fresh scent.
- You can also use the hairdryer again to blow it into the back of the shin guards for about 5 minutes. Remember to set to high cool as excess heat may damage the shin guards.
- A popular recommendation is putting equipment out in the sun for about 30 minutes after training. This is a very common practice in many Thai gyms.
Thereafter, keep them in a dry, cool environment away from direct sunlight whenever not in use.
Can You Wash Shin Guards in Washing Machine?
This question gets asked very often. Excessive moisture can wreck the leather fibres, causing them to distort, wrinkle and flake. This is the reason shin guards disintegrate more easily in hot and humid climate, as they soak up more perspiration and atmospheric moisture. So obviously, throwing your gear in washing machine isn’t an ideal solution. Plus given their rigidity, the shin guards are bound to get some knocks and scrapes in the washing machine even on a gentle wash cycle. Don’t even think about tumble dry. The heat will only hasten the disintegration.
Having said that, if you are intent on soaking your shin guards in water to rid of any stubborn stench, the challenge is amplified with drying. Your shin guards will get loaded with plenty of moisture that it can take a while for them to dry completely, especially if you dry them indoors. This can easily lead to bacteria breeding and causing musty smell. So unless the weather is all warm and sunny, washing is best avoided.
Prevention is the best cure. It takes that consistent bit of regular but minimal effort to keep your shin guards healthy and smelling fresh clean. Just a little bit of wiping, plenty of airing, and it’s all good. With proper care, you are ensured at least a couple of years’ worth of usage with your shin guards. If you have time to be lean, you have time to clean.