Nobody wants to be the smelly kid, but in hockey, who doesn’t stink?
The smell of a hockey bag or locker room is as much a part of the game as sticks and pucks. Even though the odor is synonymous with the game, it’s pretty tough to describe to those unfamiliar with its aromatic nuances.
“It’s just its own smell. It’s worse than wet-dog smell, but it’s different from a standard body odor smell. It’s just different,” said Carolyn Christians, a North Carolina hockey mom of two. “There is somewhat of a positive association with it, because it’s hockey season so it smells good. It’s a terrible smell, but it smells good.”
It might be a fond smell for hockey players and parents alike, but it’s highly unlikely that Yankee Candle will be adding the scent to its fall line.
Secrets from the Equipment Room
Nick Meldrum, University of Denver men’s hockey equipment manager and a former equipment manager with USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program, shares some of his tricks of the trade to keep equipment clean and dry.
“There’s really no excuse for not [taking equipment out of the bag to dry],” Meldrum says. “After each use, find a place you can safely lay out or hang your equipment. Opening the bag isn’t enough.”
Drapery hangers are an effective way to dry equipment after use or a washing. They are also good to take on the road for tournaments to hang gear in hotel rooms.
Place a fan in the room where equipment is drying to create air movement that will speed up the drying process.
Skates can be an ideal breeding ground for bacteria. Remove skates from the hockey bag and remove the inserts, which will cut the drying time in half.
After you don’t have access to a SaniSport machine, wash equipment in a washing machine or wash tub. Never put protective gear in a dryer or use bleach. Drying equipment in a dryer or treating it with bleach can damage the foams and plastics that make protective equipment effective.
Wash anything worn under the equipment after each use. “There’s no reason to leave that stuff in your bag to accumulate stench and bacteria,” Meldrum says.
Between washes, it wouldn’t hurt to hit the equipment with a non-alcohol based, antimicrobial spray. The spray is safe for skates, helmets and gloves. It will minimize the smell, and help sanitize.
While those hockey goalie skates or hockey equipment smell is hard to describe for most, even more have no idea what causes the unique odor. It may surprise you.
“Most people don’t realize that the odor is caused by dangerous bacteria,” said Steve Silver, founder of SaniSport, a company that specializes in the cleaning and sanitation of protective equipment. “In the average set of hockey equipment there’s over a million living organisms, any one of which can cause you serious harm.”
SaniSport’s revolutionary machine, which Silver says can reduce bacteria and viruses somewhere between 98 and 100 percent in a 60-minute cycle, can be found in 27 NHL locker rooms and is also used by USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program.
“It’s an injury prevention device more so than it is getting rid of the odor,” Silver said.
Wait, did he say an injury prevention device?
Hockey has no shortage of pests on the ice, but most of them can’t do as much harm as those pesky bacteria in a hockey bag.
“Hockey being a body contact sport, you get a cut or an abrasion in your skin, then the bacteria that’s been incubating in your shoulder pad can go onto your arm or your shoulder and go into that wound,” Silver said. “You can get one of these deadly bacteria, the most famous of which is MRSA (a serious strain of staph that is resistant to some antibiotics), entering the bloodstream through that cut and then, unfortunately that can hospitalize you. It can even kill you.”
Nick Meldrum, who serves as the head equipment manager for the University of Denver men’s hockey team and oversees equipment operations for the school’s entire athletic department, is responsible for protecting the Pioneers from these dangerous bacteria.
“From personal experience, anything that has direct contact to the skin: elbow pads, shin pads, shoulder pads and skates needs to be cleaned. You can easily get a blister or rub a spot raw and all that bacteria has an open fresh wound to get into right then and there,” he said.
Meldrum says he washes every player’s gear at least once a month in the equipment room washing machine with a hospital grade detergent.
In between washes, Meldrum will occasionally use a non-alcohol based, antimicrobial spray to beat back the stench, but also to help disinfect.
Any hockey player or parent can run most equipment through the washing machine at home. Not everything can be cleaned that way, though, so another good option is to get the equipment in a SaniSport machine, which can be found in many hockey shops or sporting goods stores throughout the U.S., according to Silver.
“The idea behind it is not to fear monger or make people panicky about this,” Silver said. “It’s to recognize that while you may not have thought about getting your equipment cleaned or think this was a big deal, this is in fact a big deal. You have to take precautions.”
In addition to regular cleaning, it is very important to make sure equipment is properly dried out after each use. That fact is not lost on Christians, who has a first-year Peewee and a second-year Bantam to keep track of.
“The biggest thing for me, it has to dry out. Don’t let it stay wet. It is a pain in the neck bringing the gear into the house and spreading it all out, but it’s worth it,” she said.
Most parents aren’t too keen on the idea of their living room looking more like a pro shop, but it is important to find a place in which the equipment can properly dry between uses.
Bacteria loves a warm, wet environment, so keeping equipment in the trunk of a car, or closed up in the bag with no airflow creates the ideal breeding ground.
As nostalgic as some hockey people may get about the game’s aromatic tradition, it may be time to leave it behind with the two-line pass and maskless goalies.
Hockey stink may have enjoyed a good run, but it’s time for a fresh start.