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A Comprehensive Guide to Cleaning Fencing Gear in the Time of COVID-19

A Comprehensive Guide to Cleaning Fencing Gear in the Time of COVID-19

We’ve written a lot about cleaning fencing gear over the years. In normal use, gear gets all kinds of stuff on it. Sweat, tears, more sweat, bits of fluff from the floor of the club, more sweat, etc. Fencing is a hugely physical sport, which means there are all of the normal things that you’d find with any sports gear. 

These are not normal times though. As fencers start to look towards getting back into clubs for socially distanced and safe fencing practice, cleaning fencing gear takes on a new significance. It’s not just about maintaining your fencing equipment anymore, it’s about preventing the spread of the coronavirus. 

The good news is that fencing gear is easy to clean. In an age where we have gotten to the point of washing our grocery bags, cleaning fencing gear will seem like a simple thing!

Note that these are our recommendations. We’re not health experts. We have read lots of guidelines from lots of experts. We obviously know our way around fencing gear already. These guidelines are what we are recommending to our fencers and their families as we reopen physically. Best practices. These guidelines are comprehensive, with instructions for every facet of fencing equipment that requires attention for cleaning, which is pretty much everything.

Some things might seem like they’re repeated. That’s on purpose. We want to emphasize that this is important, and that cleaning every piece of equipment needs to become a habit for the foreseeable future. We want you to be sick of reading the cleaning steps instead of actually getting sick. 

Now let’s get into it!

Fencing bag

First things first, everything has to be taken out of that bag and washed after each use. 

It’s a good idea to keep a small bottle of hand sanitizer in your fencing bag so that you can clean your hands right after you suit down and put all the gear back into the bag. So your hands are clean even if your gear is not. The kind that can attach to a bag handle are perfect for this. 

Don’t be tempted to leave things in there as we usually do. It’s not going to go well for you to do that. Once you get in the hang of it, cleaning the gear won’t take long and will become a habit. It’s a big change from how we are used to doing things, but times are different. 

  • Take everything out
  • Clean everything inside the bag according to the instructions 
  • Wipe down the bag, inside and out, with antibacterial wipes or use an antibacterial cleaner and a cloth. 
  • Allow to dry completely before putting the clean gear back in.

Fencing mask

The fencing mask is significant, both in terms of its delicacy and in terms of its ability to harbor respiratory viruses. In the mask, you’re breathing constantly, and anything that is in your lungs is going to be on the inside of that mask. 

One critical point here is to let the mask dry completely before you use it or store it. This should only take twenty to thirty minutes. Otherwise, you’re risking damage to the mask or that the alcohol won’t be as effective in getting rid of the germs.

Clean the fencing mask after each use. 

There are other options for more thoroughly cleaning the fencing mask, which we’ve written about before (Masks can go in the dishwasher if you’re brave and careful!). You can’t do the kind of deep cleaning daily though, otherwise the mask will wear out. It is of course a good idea to deep clean the mask regularly, especially if you are fencing a lot. The goal for right now is to get rid of daily issues. 

We recommend that you clean your fencing mask after every use, just as is the recommendation with cloth masks that are worn to protect everyone from spreading the virus. 

  • Avoid chemical wipes or cleaners, because fencers breathe in those when they put the mask on, and you can also get a skin irritation for a sensitive skin
  • Wet a cloth with rubbing alcohol
  • Wipe the mask inside and outside
  • Allow to dry completely

Fencing jacket

The fencing jacket is one that can’t be put in the washing machine after every use, otherwise it will wear out quickly.

Instead, we recommend using an antibacterial sports spray and to wash it regularly, once a week or so.  

  • Spray with antibacterial sports spray. It’s ok to get it a little wet, the fencing jacket can take it. If you don’t have such spray, us other disinfectant spray, like the one at the photo above, is better than nothing.
  • Hang to dry completely or put it in the dryer for five to ten minutes to dry it. It’s important that you never put it back in the bag wet.
  • Alternatively, you can wipe the jacket with antibacterial wipes after every use.
  • Store it hanging and dry.

Fencing knickers and socks

Similar to a fencing jacket, knickers will wear out quicker if washed in the washing machine after every use. So give your knickers a similar treatment.

They also should be regularly washed in the washing machine. You can read more about how to care for your fencing knickers here

This is an area where you may want to get that extra set so that you can always have a pair in the wash and a pair to wear. 

Socks are a no-brainer.  

  • Wash after each use in the washing machine
  • Dry in the dryer on low (to avoid shrinking the knickers) or hang to dry

Fencing gloves

Gloves are a major point of contact. They must be cleaned thoroughly in order to be safe, and they must be cleaned after each use. No exceptions. You can find out more about how to get the smell out of a fencing glove and how to wash a fencing glove on our previous posts. 

Some clubs, including us, are recommending or even requiring two gloves in order to prevent the spread of germs as we come back to the fencing

  • Wipe with antibacterial wipes.
  • Spray with an antibacterial spray (we like Dettol) both inside and out. There are lots of antibacterial sports sprays on the market.
  • Allow to air dry completely.

Fencing Lame

This one is a little tough, and it’s the only exception to the rule about cleaning after each use. If you get a fencing lame wet to clean it after each use, it’s going to degrade quickly (well, we didn’t test how fast it will degrade if washed daily, it’s just our common sense assumption). We have to be creative. 

Our suggestion is to keep the lame hanging somewhere that is well ventilated to allow it to dry out after each use. Don’t put it in the closet stuffed with other things. 

You should periodically wash the lame, once every couple of weeks or once a month depending on how much you’re fencing, and we’ve got detailed instructions for washing a fencing lame here.  

  • Lightly mist with an antibacterial sports spray. Go lightly, so that it doesn’t get wet.
  • Hang to dry completely, and store somewhere hanging that has air flow (laundry room is a great place)

Underarm protector

This one is simple, especially since this is a piece of protective gear that is not exposed at all. And also the plastron is pretty stable, so you can wash it daily.

  • Wipe with antibacterial wipes or a cloth with antibacterial cleaner.
  • Allow to dry completely.

Shoes

Don’t discount the importance of shoes! These have been shown to track pathogens in and out of places, and they’re easy to overlook. Taking great care with the fencing shoes is so, so important for keeping potential things away.

You should already have a set of shoes that you wear just for fencing.Those need to stay in the fencing bag and be changed into when you get to the club, and it’s even more important now to do that. 

  • Wipe with antibacterial wipes or a cloth with antibacterial cleaner. The soles of the shoes are important! They track germs around, and we often forget about them.
  • Allow to dry completely.

Weapons

The weapons are a simple thing to clean, because not the whole weapon needs to be cleaned. Always keep in mind that the point here is to clean the parts that could potentially come in contact with other people. 

You don’t want to allow the blade especially to stay wet with anything as it will rust and that’s no good for anyone. Care of fencing weapons is something that fencers are concerned about anyway, so follow all of the weapon care that you already know. Because you’re doing this to keep germs away doesn’t mean you should neglect the other care for your weapon.

  • Wipe down weapon grips with antibacterial wipes or a cloth with antibacterial cleaner. 
  • Allow to dry completely before storing.

Workout gear

Fencing clubs are not going to offer communal workout gear when things start reopening. This means you’ll likely have your yoga mat, jump rope, etc. that are part of your gear bag now. 

These need to be cleaned as well after each use. 

  • Wipe down equipment with antibacterial wipes or a cloth with antibacterial cleaner. 
  • Allow to dry completely before storing.

Towel

Most fencers have a towel that they use to wipe off sweat during practice or lessons. It’s worth noting that these are major breeding grounds for germs, more than most anything else. 

This is another place that you should consider adding extras to your stockpile. The towel must be washed after every use. Consider throwing an extra one in the bag so that you have two if you’re going to have a long practice so that one doesn’t get so wet. 

  • Wash after every use in the washing machine. 

Water bottle

Clubs are likely closing down their water fountains for the sake of not spreading germs when they reopen. They should be! Hydration for fencers is still really important, so you need to make sure that you have your own water bottle. Reusable is better for the environment and for the wallet, but at this point of time as much as we love going green, kids tend to forget their bottles everywhere and most probably they will be disposed by the clubs. So at this stage I would recommend to consider bottled water with a name written in Sharpie.

I’d recommend that you grab an extra water bottle so that you can have one always clean.

Whereas before the pandemic you might get away with throwing the water bottle in the dishwasher once a week, now you need to clean it after every use if you decided to go for a reusable water bottle. 

  • Run the water bottle through the dishwasher after every use. 

Face mask

We already talked about the fencing mask, but this face mask is the cloth mask that you’re wearing to keep from spreading the virus (or any other germs). 

Remember that masks are worn not necessarily to keep you safe, but to keep others safe. They are an important part of flattening the curve. Many clubs will require them anyway. You want to wash your cloth mask after every use, and most of them can be thrown in the washing machine with your fencing socks and knickers and towel. Whatever the recommendations for your particular mask are, that’s what you need to do. 

  • Wash washable face mask after every use.
  • Throw away disposable mask after a single use

Final remarks on fencing gear cleaning

Keep several plastic bags in your fencing bag and put your protective gear items into these bags first. This helps keep stuff cleaner from cross-contamination in your fencing bag.

You might also want to have a spare set of some protective gear items (like jacket, mask, glove) to allow more time between use if you are going to train intensively and often.

And as a mother of 4 fencers my sincere advice to you – teach your kids do all this fencing gear cleaning! You will have a double win – they will learn how to be responsible for their things, and you will keep your sanity.

We are all feeling unsure about how things will progress forward for fencers as things reopen. There will be bumps along the way, but we all know that knowledge is power. Cleaning your equipment is a big part of you taking control as you get back to fencing in clubs instead of online. 

It might seem like a lot, but it’s like most things in life – if you force yourself to learn the habit, then it won’t seem like such a big thing soon. While this guide is long, the whole process of cleaning your equipment aside from drying time should take only ten minutes or so. It’s worth it to get fencing training in a safe way! 

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4 Comments

  1. R

    Completely disagree. Chemical treatment and machine drying will degrade wearables. Rinsing lames after every use doesn’t degrade them. I shower over my kit after every practice and cold-water rinse my lame. This doubles standard lames’ useful life and ultralights last many years.

    • Igor Chirashnya

      Hi R,
      With our experience washing jackets, knickers and underarms we do not see any real damage to the uniform. And I am talking about hundreds of items weekly. We do it a lot with a club gear. No damage at all (with an exception of the velcros). For the lame, rinsing is what we think a right thing to do but until now we did not used to wash lames daily to certify.

  2. Vitor Falleiros

    Awesome material! But please be careful: COVID is caused by a VIRUS, not bacteria – so the antibacterial spray suggested will do no good in containing it.

    • Igor Chirashnya

      The label says “Kills 99.9% of viruses and bacteria”, so it looks like it kills both. But in general, I think nothing is like washing the uniforms in a washer. Also, some suggested to put everything drying in an open air.

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