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How to Clean Uniforms: Step-By-Step Guide (+ The Best Detergents)

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From school uniforms to professional uniforms, a clean uniform is essential for making a good impression and projecting a professional image. It’s also important to wear a clean uniform to maintain hygiene and avoid any potential health risks. But what’s the best way to clean uniforms? 

To clean uniforms, check the tags for any laundry recommendations. Pre-treat any stains, place the uniforms in the washer and add a suitable detergent. Select the correct cycle on the washer, and use a suitable setting on your dryer afterward. 

Each type of uniform has different guidelines on caring for them, so paying attention to the recommendations is key to achieving a good clean. Below, I’ll discuss the specifics of the common types of uniforms. Let’s dive right in! 

1. Check the Tag

This is a tag for a wool shirt. As you can see, I must avoid bleaching agents and keep the temperature at 40°c or lower.

Whether it’s a uniform or an everyday item, the first thing you should do before doing laundry is to check the tag on your garment. The tag has all the information you need about washing and drying cycles, giving you the inside knowledge of how to make your clothes last and achieve the best clean. 

2. Begin With Any Pre-Treatments

Depending on what kind of work you do, a pre-treatment may be necessary before opening the washing machine. For instance, if you have grease, blood, dirt, debris, or the like on your uniform, you’ll need to pre-treat it so the stain can be removed effectively. 

There are specific pre-treatments for different stains, which we’ll dive into later. But for now, you can grab a general stain pre-treatment online, like the Spray ‘n Wash Pre-Treat Laundry Stain Remover. This is an excellent all-rounder stain remover and works for most fabrics. 

My family-sized stain remover.

Here’s how to pre-treat stains on a uniform: 

  1. Remove any built-on dirt or grime with a soft-bristled brush. 
  2. Apply a stain remover product and allow it to work its magic for at least 15 minutes. 
  3. Rinse the garment in cold water. 

3. Add the Detergent and Additives

Once your uniform has been pretreated and turned inside out, it’s time to add your detergent and any additives. For those who work in the medical profession, this is where you’d add the detergents or chemicals that help your uniform become sterilized. 

Lysol Laundry Sanitizer Additive from Amazon doesn’t contain bleach and effectively kills viruses and bacteria, making it ideal for sterilizing uniforms.  

If you perform a lot of physical activity in your uniform or it gets dirty quickly (as in the case of a sports or catering uniform), consider a biological or enzymatic laundry detergent. This will more effectively remove sweat, blood, and grease, leaving it stain-free and smelling fresh.  

Using a fabric softener has several benefits, including: 

  • Keeping your uniform feeling soft
  • Keeping it wrinkle-free
  • Leaving a pleasant scent 

Alternatively, consider adding a cup of scent boosters to your laundry to keep it smelling fresher for longer. 

4. Add Your Uniforms and Select the Correct Washing Cycle

After adding your uniforms to the washer and adding your chosen detergents, you can start washing them. 

It’s important to select the correct washing cycle because this will ensure that the uniforms won’t shink, will be washed effectively, and won’t get damaged. 

I prefer cold water as long as the garments are reasonably clean. It is generally ineffective when there are stains and a stronger odor.

For instance, if your uniforms are made from natural fibers (such as wool), a cold water and delicate cycle would be more appropriate. 

Some uniforms have heavy stitching, patches, or other things (such as a badge or name tag) outside the uniform that you wouldn’t want to be damaged. For some uniforms, it works best to turn them inside out before putting them in the washer. This lowers the chances of any stitching getting snagged or caught by other items in the washer. 

6. Use an Appropriate Cycle in the Dryer

Here are the settings I use for synthetic on my dryer.

Once your clothing has gone through its washing cycle, add it to the dryer–unless, of course, the tag specifies that you must air dry it. 

If you’ll be using a dryer, a low tumble on medium to low heat is the best option, as this will help prevent shrinkage and protect the fibers. If you like, add a dryer sheet to the load to speed up the drying process, help prevent wrinkles, and help your uniforms to smell pleasant.  

Important Information for Cleaning Uniforms

Now that you know the best way to clean uniforms, I can go into more detail about how to wash different kinds of uniforms: 

School Uniforms

A clean school uniform is essential to ensure that students maintain hygiene and avoid potential health risks from wearing the same uniform often. 

Keeping uniforms in top shape helps to create a sense of unity and solidarity among students by making everyone look the same. Additionally, a clean school uniform projects a professional image and helps to create a positive impression of the school. 

Using cold water and a gentle wash cycle to clean school uniforms will produce the best results. This will ensure they don’t lose their colors, stretch, or tear. If the uniform requires a heavy sweater, you can wash this inside out to avoid pilling and use a mesh bag to keep it from stretching or snagging during the wash process. 

Once the school uniform is washed, tumble dry it on low heat to reduce shrinkage. As a pro tip, if a school backpack starts to smell, you can wash it with vinegar on a delicate setting in your washing machine. If you have a messy child, you can also consider using fabric protectors to repel spills and food stains. 

Military Uniforms

A clean military uniform is crucial to ensure you present a professional appearance and project a positive image of the military. A clean uniform also demonstrates respect and pride in one’s service and adherence to the standards and regulations of the military. There are many opportunities to stain a uniform in the military, so proper care is essential. 

Due to their heavy-duty use, military uniforms can quickly become smelly and collect heavy-duty, muddy stains. 

Before washing, pre-soak the military uniform in cold water with vinegar to remove the smells. If the smells and stains are heavier, consider adding half a cup of baking soda with your detergent in the machine. 

Use cold water on a gentle cycle to keep color from fading, and when drying, use a low dryer setting. 

Sports Uniforms

Similar to school uniforms, sports players are notorious for getting their uniforms dirty. Common stains include: 

  • Grass
  • Mud
  • Sweat

Properly cleaning a sports uniform also helps to maintain the uniform’s shape and color and ensures that it lasts longer so that it can be worn throughout the sports season. 

How you clean a sports uniform will depend on the sport and what material the uniform is made of. You’ll likely need to pre-treat any stains, so keep that in mind before tossing it into the washing machine. 

Typically, sports clothes are washed on a delicate cycle with cold water. Consider using a specially formulated detergent for sportswear to clean your uniform. Tide Plus Febreze Sport Odor Defense from Amazon is an excellent choice because it will effectively remove stains and odors and leave the uniform smelling fresh and clean. 

After finding the proper washing settings for the material, wash your uniforms separately from other clothing items. 

A mesh bag will work great here to keep the uniforms from snagging or tearing. Tumble drying on a low heat setting, or air drying, is best for these uniforms to avoid shrinkage and loss of elasticity. 

Food Service Uniforms

A clean uniform is important if you work in a food service setting. It helps avoid potential health risks for you, your coworkers, and those dining where you work. It also helps create a professional image and ensures customers have a positive dining experience.

If you work in the food industry, food stains happen almost daily, so knowing how to get them out will ensure you won’t need to keep buying a new uniform.

Borax powder is an excellent additive to your detergent when added to the washing machine, as it helps eliminate smells and breaks down stains. However, some people prefer to use liquid ammonia as an additive. Unless the tag specifies otherwise, you can throw them in for a normal wash cycle. Dry settings will depend on the material, so be sure to check the tags.

You can learn more about cleaning restaurant uniforms in this dedicated guide.

Mechanics Uniforms 

Working in mechanics can cause clothing stains due to exposure to grease, oil, and other chemicals. Additionally, dirt and debris from working with different parts and tools can cause staining. 

Stains caused by these substances are often difficult to remove and, if not treated quickly, can become permanent.

Dish soap is an excellent way to pre-treat items, as it cuts through grease. Before throwing your mechanic’s uniform in the wash, you can also use baking soda to absorb the stains. 

You will want to use hot water with these uniforms on a cycle with enough force to agitate the clothing to loosen up those stains. Feel free to tumble them on medium heat or air dry to avoid shrinkage. 

Law Enforcement Uniforms

Keeping law enforcement uniforms clean is essential to ensure you present a professional, positive image of the force. Clean uniforms also help avoid potential health risks, as law enforcement officers can often come into contact with hazardous materials. 

The best way to wash law enforcement uniforms is to turn them inside out and wash them with cold water. Avoid fabric softeners and bleach, and wash the uniform alone. If you need to remove an odor, adding vinegar to the wash will help. Using scent boosters can also help but these mask odors rather than remove them.

You can air dry your law enforcement uniform on a drying rack or tumble dry it on low heat. It’s always a great idea to check your pockets beforehand to ensure nothing can rip or tear the uniform or damage your dryer. 

Medical Uniforms

It’s essential to keep medical uniforms clean at all times. This should be done regularly to ensure they don’t harbor germs or bacteria. 

Medical uniforms should be washed after every shift and separately from other clothing to avoid cross-contamination. It’s also essential to follow the care label instructions on the clothing to ensure the fabric won’t become damaged by the cleaning process. 

When washing medical uniforms, such as nursing scrubs, you should pre-treat any stains with a good stain remover product. 

Common stains in the medical field include

  • Ointments 
  • Blood 
  • Liquid medications 
  • Bodily fluids 

Once pre-treated, wash your medical uniform in warm water, around 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius). 

White vinegar is also a great additive to keep them soft, and turning them inside out can keep them from fading. Don’t use bleach unless you’re disinfecting the uniform and it’s white because it will leach the color from colored fabrics. 

You can dry the scrubs on high heat for 30 minutes to disinfect or on a lower setting to dry. 

Emergency Services Uniforms 

Emergency services uniforms can quickly become dirty due to the nature of the work. They can come in contact with hazardous materials and bodily fluids and are often exposed to extreme weather conditions. 

Additionally, they may be exposed to smoke, dirt, and other contaminants from the environment. This can quickly lead to a buildup of dirt and grime on their uniforms that can be hard to remove or even become a health hazard. 

Though there are many stains that EMS workers can face daily, something important to look out for is any exposure to carcinogens. The uniforms must be washed immediately and separated from all other gear or clothes. 

Warm or hot water is an excellent way to disinfect the uniform after being pre-treated for any stains. You can then dry warm to hot heat or air dry to avoid shrinkage. More heat will help to disinfect the uniform, but be wary if the material is elastic or cotton, as it can quickly shrink. 

Flight Attendant Uniforms 

Flight attendant uniforms must be kept clean to maintain a professional and hygienic appearance. Dirty uniforms can negatively impact passengers and may reflect poorly on the airline. 

It’s important to remember that flight attendants are often in close contact with passengers and must maintain a sanitary environment to protect passengers from germs and bacteria.

For most flight attendant uniforms, hand washing in cold water is best to help them maintain their shape. If your garment is hand wash only, be sure to use a special detergent made for hand washing to reduce buildup. 

However, most people don’t have time to do this, so a cold and gentle cycle in the washer is ideal. 

Hanging up flight attendant uniforms to dry them, so they don’t lose their shape is the best way to dry them. You can then iron out any wrinkles. 

What if My Uniform Is Not on This List? 

If we didn’t cover your uniform type in this list, don’t worry! Since many uniforms are made of similar materials, you can use the above information to find the uniform type that is closest to what you own. 

Always use the wash instructions indicated on the tag, and look for the material breakdown so you can find detergents that will work best. 

Each uniform is unique, but by learning these basics, you can feel confident knowing your uniform will be in great shape.

Another excellent idea for any job or occupation is to have multiple uniforms, so you can still wear one while washing another. 

It also makes getting dressed in the morning much easier since you have multiple folded and ready to go. 

If you’re unsure what detergent to use, no worries. I wrote up a list of my top picks below.

The 6 Best Laundry Detergents For Uniforms

Uniforms have more than their fair share of sweat, dust, and grime. This is especially true of jobs in polluted conditions where your uniform is exposed to oil, grease, high temperatures leading to profuse perspiration, and several other pollutants.

By the end of the work shift, the uniform is literally worse for wear. Naturally, your regular laundry detergent won’t cut it with all these stains.

Laundry detergents for uniforms are heavy-duty detergents that can break down the toughest grease stains without damaging the fabric or fading the colors.

Although most uniforms are made of sturdy fabrics to handle tough working conditions, you still need to find the right detergent for your uniform.

The following are the 6 best laundry detergents for uniforms in the market today.

Best Overall
HEX Performance Advanced Laundry Detergent
Best Budget
OxiClean Odor Blasters Stain & Odor Remover
Best Multipurpose
WIN Activewear Laundry Detergent
Best for Allergies
Arm & Hammer Sensitive Skin Free & Clear
Best Heavy-Duty
Sweat X Sport Original Activewear Laundry Detergent
Best for Odors
Tide PODS Laundry Detergent
Best Overall
HEX Performance Advanced Laundry Detergent
Best Budget
OxiClean Odor Blasters Stain & Odor Remover
Best Multipurpose
WIN Activewear Laundry Detergent
Best for Allergies
Arm & Hammer Sensitive Skin Free & Clear
Best Heavy-Duty
Sweat X Sport Original Activewear Laundry Detergent
Best for Odors
Tide PODS Laundry Detergent

The 6 Best Laundry Detergents For Uniforms

Please note that all the product links below are paid links to Amazon.

1. Best Overall: HEX Performance Advanced Laundry Detergent

  • Contains 2 Pack (64 Loads) – Includes (2) 32-ounce fragrance free Detergents. For all machines (including HE) and water temperatures.
  • Cleans Tight-Knit Activewear – The patented HEX molecule is designed to clean tight-knit, synthetic fabrics like activewear to remove odors and stains trapped by traditional detergents.

Both uniforms and activewear have a lot in common. They are exposed to the toughest stains and conditions.

So you need a laundry detergent that can handle different types of stains without the need to treat the stains before washing them. For that, HEX is the right detergent for your uniforms, activewear, and other work clothes with tight-knit and synthetic fabrics.

The fragrance-free detergent is specially designed for people with allergies. People with sensitive skin can use Hex without worrying about toxins or harmful chemicals in the detergent.

Its unique formula targets the stains without damaging the fabrics or affecting their performance. It works on everything from uniforms to towels, tight-knit leggings, and yoga pants.

The two-bottle package gives you 25 loads.

2. Best Budget: OxiClean Odor Blasters Stain & Odor Remover

  • One 5 lb box of OxiClean Odor Blasters Versatile Odor Eliminator and Stain Remover Powder to get out tough stains and stubborn smells
  • Oxygen-based, water-activated laundry booster gets out tough dirt, persistent spots and set-in stains, plus eliminates sweat, musty towel and body odors
  • Works with regular detergent as a laundry stain remover and odor neutralizer to get clothes extra clean. For best results, use as a presoak before washing

If your uniform gets dirty after every shift and you have to wash it regularly, this could cost you a lot in detergents. Not to mention that the fabric will wear off quickly.

What you need is a cost-effective detergent that also protects the uniform. OxiClean checks both boxes, and when it releases its stain-blasting and odor-removing powers, the uniform comes out of the washer clean and smelling good.

Most detergents will target the stains but leave the laundry smelling bad. OxiClean does a good job working on the toughest stains and then infusing the clothes with a pleasant fragrance.

It doesn’t contain chlorine, so the colors and textures of the fabric will not be damaged in the process.

The powder detergent comes in a 5-pound bucket at an affordable price that works with all types of washers.

3. Best Multipurpose: WIN Activewear Laundry Detergent

Naturally, your uniform is not the only item of clothing you wear even to work. There are tons of others clothes that need to be washed as well.

And buying a laundry detergent just for your uniforms, no matter how many you have, seems like overkill.

WIN is the kind of laundry detergent that works for all types of fabrics, from the delicate to the sturdiest jeans, activewear, and workout clothes. 

Its formula targets not just stains but also the odors that latch onto the fabrics from sweat, body odors, and armpits. Other detergents mask the bad odors in the fabrics, but WIN neutralizes the odors before adding its own fragrance to the fabric.

The biodegradable detergent is toxins-free and is safe to use, even for baby clothes. 

4. Best for Allergies: Arm & Hammer Sensitive Skin Free & Clear  

  • Free of Perfumes and Dyes
  • Dermatologist tested and hypoallergenic
  • Laundry detergent specially formulated for sensitive skin
  • Gentle on Skin
  • Clean rinse with low-suds formula, works in standard and High Efficiency (HE) models

People who work in extreme conditions are more susceptible to skin diseases due to their exposure to chemicals, dirt, and other contaminants.

For those people, the uniform should be the first line of defense that shields them from all these harmful particles in the work environment. The uniform shouldn’t be packed with chemicals and toxins from the laundry detergent.

That’s where Arm & Hammer comes in.

To keep the detergent safe and minimize the risk of any contamination with harmful chemicals, the formula doesn’t contain any colors, dyes, fragrances, or harsh toxins.

The hypoallergenic detergent produces fewer suds than other detergents to prevent interactions with the fabrics and colors.

This is a safe detergent recommended for people with allergies or those who want to keep their uniform free of chemicals and pollutants.

5. Best Heavy-Duty: Sweat X Sport Original Activewear Laundry Detergent 

  • KEEP YOUR ACTIVEWARE ACTIVE: Specially formulated high-performance detergent that uses NANOVASIVE technology to exfoliate stains and sweat known to cause nasty smells in activewear.
  • RESTORE FABRIC PERFORMANCE: Revitalize your training gear, including moisture-wicking, compression, and breathable textiles, so you’ll confidently step into each workout.
  • GET THE FUNK OUT: Just one cap of our detergent in your wash is all you need to remove tough stains like mud, grass, baseball clay, wine, pet food, or baby food.

Some stains are not easy to remove after one or even two washing cycles. Gunk, wine stains, tea stains, and even some food stains will leave behind a silhouette of the stain that is more obvious on whites.

Such stains require pre-treatment before you throw them in the washer. Or you could just use Sweat X Sport Original, which specializes in sweat, gunk, and oil stains in uniforms and activewear.

The cutting-edge formula can handle all types of activewear and workout fabrics, including high-tech fabrics.

What this means as far as uniforms are concerned is that the powder detergent can penetrate all types of fabrics, including synthetic ones, and remove stains and odors while preserving the integrity of the fabrics. 

6. Best for Odors: Tide PODS Laundry Detergent

  • Surprisingly powerful clean in 1 step
  • 3-in-1 laundry pacs: super concentrated detergent, extra odor fighters, extra stain removers
  • From America’s #1 detergent brand* (*Tide, based on sales)
  • Dissolves completely in any water conditions
  • Works in all washing machines

What Tide Pods does is that it neutralizes any bad odors in the uniform and prevents future odors from sticking to the fabrics.

The Pods also have a powerful formula and contain 90 percent active ingredients that work against most stains that you’ll find on the uniform, including sweat, mud, and food stains. The 3-in-1 formula removes stains, cleans fabrics, and protects colors.

Final Thoughts

Uniforms require regular cleaning and maintenance to maintain a professional and hygienic appearance. Each type of uniform is unique and requires a different approach to cleaning and caring for it. Regardless of the type of uniform, regular cleaning and maintenance are essential to ensuring that uniforms look their best and remain safe for use.

As for detergents, your uniform needs a special laundry detergent that can break down the toughest gunk, oil, and food stains. It should also protect the fabric and preserve the colors of the uniform no matter how often you wash it.

If you’re allergic to odors or chemicals in the detergent, choose one that is hypoallergenic and fragrance-free.

Next, you can check out my list of the 13 laundry detergent alternatives that actually work.


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