How To Properly Clean And Care For Your Fencing Equipment
By Will Spear
Your fencing gear is such an important part of the sport - you wear it every time you get on the strip! It’s vital that your gear is in top shape when competing and practicing to ensure your safety and to keep your focus on what’s most important – your fencing!
This is the first installment of a two-part article about fencing equipment. In this first installment, we’ll discuss how to maintain your fencing equipment to make sure it’s as pristine and functional as possible for as long as possible. In the second section, we’ll go over how to repair the most common equipment breaks and how to recognize malfunctions so you’re ready to go on the strip, whether you’re at a tournament or at practice.
To write this article, we consulted with Bill Murphy, the manager of Leon Paul USA since 2005. Bill has been involved with fencing since 1982, and has participated in countless NACs, five US World Championship Teams, two Olympic Games and two Paralympic Games.
Storing Your Fencing Equipment
In this section, we’re going to go over the basics of how to store your fencing gear so it doesn’t fail prematurely.
Store Fencing Gear in a Cool, Dry Place
You’ll want to take your entire uniform out of your bag and air-dry it after every use. This is the best way to prevent mold and mildew, which will weaken your fabrics and create odors. Additionally, leaving conductive equipment, such as a lamé or mask bib in your bag is one of the quickest ways for it to develop dead spots. For white gear, hanging it on the back of a chair or anything else is fine, but for your conductive equipment you’ll want to use a real hanger.
Keep Sweaty Fencing Gear out of Bags
You’ll want to keep your sweaty fencing gear out of your bags for the reasons mentioned above. Keeping your gear in a bag all the time will not only result in terrible odors but will also significantly reduce the lifespan of your fencing gear.
If you have to store your lamé in a bag for extended periods of time (such as after a tournament when you have a plane to catch), make sure to give it a few minutes to dry off before folding it and putting it in your bag. Crumpling your conductive fencing equipment will make it fail weapons check tests prematurely. If your other fencing gear is still sweaty, try to keep your electrical equipment as far away from the wet gear as possible. If you’re in a real rush, you can use a hair dryer on wet equipment for a few minutes to speed up the drying process but avoid using the hot setting on your conductive equipment.
Keep Your Blades Away From Other Fencing Equipment
Any blade can rust if exposed to moisture long enough. This is the single biggest issue you’ll face when caring for your weapons. However, with a little preventative care you can avoid rust before it breaks down your fencing blades.
Never store your weapons with other sweaty clothes or fencing gear. The moisture and salt in the bag will rust the weapons, and if the rusty blades touch your clothing, they can leave permanent stains on your clothing or fencing gear. Most fencing bags have two compartments for this reason. Always put your blades in one compartment and your sweaty clothes and gear in the other. Usually larger fencing bags have two different sized compartments; the larger one is best used for the sweaty gear.
If you need to keep your weapons and fencing uniform in the same pocket, storing your blades in cut PVC pipe will mitigate the problem. Storing your blades in PVC pipe, which you can get at any local hardware store, will also help prevent unwanted bending and wear, so it’s a good idea even if you don’t keep all your gear in the same place.
If you want to go the extra mile to prevent rusting, you can put some WD 40 on a rag, wipe it on the blade, and then wipe it off with a clean rag. You want just enough of the WD 40 to remain on the on the blade to prevent it from rusting, but not so much that it will get on your opponent’s uniform while fencing. Do this once a month.
Wrap Your Fencing Wires
You’ll want to wrap up your wires to avoid annoying tangles and unnecessary strain. Wrapping your wires prevents the cords from being bent at an angle that may cause damage while not in use. A common way to wrap foil and sabre cords is to loop the ‘main’ section of the cord, and then coil the ‘A’ line (the line that connects to the lamé) around the loop to keep them in place. For epee cords, a simple loop is sufficient. Make sure not to wrap your cords too tightly, as this can cause them to wear out faster than simply throwing them in your bag.
Also, never store your body wires or mask wires in a plastic bag, as they will not be able to dry properly. Use a cloth bag or small pillow case.
Cleaning Your Fencing Equipment
No matter how carefully you store your fencing gear, you’ll eventually need to clean your equipment. In the following section, we’ll go over how to properly clean all of your fencing equipment to avoid unnecessary damage and to help it last longer. You’ll be smelling better in no time!
Hand Washing Your Fencing Equipment in 10 Steps
Unfortunately, most fencing gear requires hand washing. Since the technique for hand washing isn’t always common knowledge, we’ve included this brief section on the basics of it so you can jump right in and clean your gear.
- Start with a large bucket (5 gallons is usually the perfect size, but you can get away with larger or smaller)
- Fill halfway with cool or room temp water and add a small amount of whatever detergent you’re using to clean the item (Proper cleaning supplies will be outlined in the sections below)
- Zip up and/or close any velcro fasteners on whatever you’re washing and place it in the water.
- Soak it for a few minutes, using gentle motions to swish the item through the water. Avoid scrubbing and twisting movements which can damage your gear.
- Recoil in horror as the water turns black.
- Fill the bucket with clean water. Repeat process.
- Let soak for a few minutes (or longer if it’s dirtier).
- Completely rinse until all soap is gone. And then rinse again to make sure. A tub or large sink works well for this, but you can keep emptying and refilling the bucket as well.
- If you’re unsure if all soap is removed, sniff garment to ensure that it’s no longer scented.
- Put it on a hanger or lay the item (like a glove) flat on a towel and let dry. Keep in mind that if you hang it, it’ll drip for a while so be careful where you put it (outside in the shade or over the tub works best).
Don’t put your fencing gear in direct sunlight, it can fade dyed material and UV rays can weaken the fibers of the fabric. If you need to remove stains, you can pre-treat your equipment with a non-bleach stain remover before you wash.
Also, never use fabric softener with Velcro (or any similar mechanism) because it can damage the soft side which is essential to make the two sides stick together. To preserve this “stickiness”, close the Velcro before washing to keep it from rubbing against the uniform material. Always check the label inside your uniform for specific washing instructions.
Now that you know what we mean when we say “hand wash,” we’re ready to get into the specifics of cleaning your fencing gear.
Washing Conductive Fencing Equipment – Lamés and Electric Gloves
- Hand wash conductive equipment with bleach free laundry detergent. Woolite is a popular option, but any will do. Make 100% sure that whatever you use is completely bleach free (Bleach can destroy the conductivity of your equipment in a single wash).
- A nylon brush can be used gently to remove green spots from your gear.
- Adding a cleaning product with ammonia to the wash will help dissolve the salt in the sweat on the gear, which will make it last longer.
- Rinse very thoroughly.
- Leaving anything but water on your electric gear will ruin it.
- Hang dry or lay flat out of direct sunlight.
Note lightweight lamé such as these may be more sensitive to detergents than nickel or stainless steel lamé. It is recommended that you use the above process with lukewarm water and no detergents, unless otherwise directed by the manufacturer.
Washing Fencing Whites – Jackets, Knickers, Underarm Protectors and Non-electric Gloves
There are two basic kinds of whites. The cheaper brands are usually made out of cotton, while the more expensive (often FIE) brands are made out of a mix of polyester fibers. Check to see which type yours is before washing.
- Machine wash cold (or hand wash) with regular bleach free laundry detergent (Bleach will break down the polyester fibers and make your equipment wear out much faster).
- Do not use hot water
- Some gloves shouldn’t go in the washing machine, particularly if they’re leather. Be sure to check the tag.
- Hang dry or lay flat out of direct sunlight.
Washing Fencing Masks
A common belief among the fencing community is that masks can be safely washed in the dishwasher. While this is true to a certain extent, repeated washing in the dishwasher does add up over time which creates extra wear and tear on your fencing gear and will reduce the life of your mask.
- Hand wash in the sink with a regular bleach free detergent.
- Avoid using brushes as this will wear out the padding. Scrubbing out the mask with just your hands is the way to go.
- Rinse out the mask thoroughly. Any soap left in the mask padding can get into your eyes, when you start perspiring.
- For masks with removable padding, make sure to remove them while washing and wash each part separately.
- Left too long, the padding will fuse to the mask making it nearly impossible to remove (and non-conductive, for sabre masks).
- Dry out of direct sunlight.
Removing Rust from Fencing Blades
The process outlined above should significantly help you avoid getting rust on your blades but, eventually, it is likely that you will have to deal with rusty blades at some point.
- To remove, rub the blade with an emery cloth, which is a sandpaper-like surface to remove the rust (avoid using actual sandpaper, as this can wear down your blade).
- Once the blade is rust-free, oil & wipe the blade as described earlier in this article.
Washing Fencing Shoes
You’ll only need to wash your shoes a few times a year or as needed to control odor. Here’s how:
- Mix a small amount of warm water and soap
- Do NOT submerge your shoes
- Dip a sponge or cloth in the mixture and wring out so it’s only slightly damp
- Wipe insides and outsides thoroughly
- Let dry completely (can take a couple days - so plan ahead)
How Often Should I Wash My Fencing Gear?
Obviously, you should wash your equipment when it starts to smell and feel gross. What this translates to will depend on your personal preference (and the sense of smell of the people around you), as well as how often you practice and use your fencing equipment. However, you should try to wash your stuff a minimum of once a month regardless of how much you practice to avoid buildup on your gear.
Remember that it’s not necessary to wash your fencing gear every time your practice; this will actually wear out your equipment faster.
We hope you learned a thing or two in this guide to caring for your fencing equipment. If you carefully follow the guidelines above, you should not only be able to keep your gear feeling fresh but also extend the life of each piece of gear you own!
Images are courtesy of Bill Murphy and Leon Paul USA
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