By Don Allord, USA Hockey Central District Risk Manager
We have all heard the commercial, “What’s in your wallet?” Hockey players have an unusual odor emanating from their hockey bag. “What’s in your bag?” That unpleasant odor on hockey gear is caused by bacteria latent in the equipment and clothing. Throwing sweaty and moist equipment into a hockey bag, without properly drying it first, can increase aromas and possibly lead to serious bacterial infections. This condition is particularly prevalent for players who have permanent locker rooms, are on the ice multiple times a week and do not properly dry and wash their equipment.
“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 or gloves can go onto your hand or your shoulder and go into that wound,” Steve Silver, (Owner of Sani-Sport) 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.” (Excerpted from USA Hockey Magazine)
“My son, says a hockey mom, got an infection from a cut on his thumb that required surgery to get rid of. He missed 5 weeks of hockey. We had no idea the “smelly gloves” were from bacteria growing in them.” Another dad noticed a rough, raw skin condition on his college playing son that went away in the summer. A more serious condition affected two fathers who contracted mold infections in their lungs because of being in the rink itself where mold and bacteria can be found.
The signs are there to alert you it is time to replace equipment or have it sanitized by any number of remedies; some better than others. Masking the smell with a sweet-smelling product does nothing to eliminate the bacteria. Chaffed or raw dry skin can be the result of constant contact with bacteria laden equipment. Redness on the chin indicates the chin cup should be replaced; the foul smell of the chin cup is a tell the cup is infected. Hockey bags that make your eyes water and make you reach for the respirator mask are telling you, you have a problem; a potentially serious problem that could result in extensive medical attention.
Secrets from the Equipment Room (Boston Globe)
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.
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.
There are several remedies to consider. Below are three choices with different approaches. Sanitize and clean, Sanitize and protect and odor masking. These are not listed as endorsements, but to educate you as to the differences and effectiveness of different approaches.
*Pictures from USA Hockey Magazine