Baseball Mom Off the Record: To Scrub or Not to Scrub

I am a veteran baseball mother of two.  As such, I have logged thousands of miles schlepping one son or the other to and from various training sessions, practices and games.  I’ve made countless peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for consumption between double headers. And I have soaked, scrubbed, machine laundered and even boiled more filthy baseball uniforms than I care to remember.  A baseball mom dedicates herself to getting her sons’ uniforms clean.  Some moms soak.  Some scrub.  The protocol and the products vary, but one thing is certain.  Baseball moms in Georgia are far more dedicated to the process than the average Jane.  Ask any baseball mom visiting from out of state.  The answer is always the same. ”I pre-treat the stains and throw everything in the wash with detergent and color safe bleach.”   Yeah.  Okay.  In my dreams it’s that easy.

It’s not that Georgia boys get dirtier than boys from other places because they dive for more balls, reach or steal more bases.  It’s not because they play the game harder.  It’s because they play the game on Georgia red clay.  Red clay stains are insidious and that’s why getting a Georgia baseball player’s uniform clean is a Herculean task.  It comes with the territory.

Oh, how I long for the day when a spritz of Spray ‘n Wash and a cap-full of Tide tossed in my front loader would do the trick, but it doesn’t do the trick and it never will.  It’s why, whenever you find two or more Georgia baseball moms gathered in conversation, the topic is… to scrub or not to scrub.  We discuss it in the bleachers, in line at the concession stands, and on the Northwest Georgia Baseball website under a forum created especially for baseball moms called Pants.  See for yourself if you don’t believe me.

Once upon a time, I walked into the kitchen of a friend, a fellow baseball mom.  She was standing at the stove, stirring a large pot of something.  It turned out she was boiling her son’s dirty baseball pants in a concoction of vinegar and lemon juice, an effort aimed at avoiding scrubbing.  I have no idea what compelled her to try it.  Although I never found scrubbing that contemptible, I immediately went home to try it myself.  The blue piping down the legs melted.  I ended up dropping $80 on a second set of baseball pants and devoted myself to finding a better way.

First I conducted a survey among baseball moms across the Peach State (and even included a few from Tennessee and Alabama).  They shared their secrets, successes and failures.  I compiled a list of products and methods, and I tested each and every one of them myself.  Following are the top three ranked by:

  • popularity;
  • effectiveness;  and
  • amount of scrubbing needed to achieve the desired result.

#1 IRON OUT is the overwhelming favorite among baseball moms because it completely eradicates red clay stains with little to no elbow grease.  It “chemically changes rust and iron into a clear, soluble state that easily rinses away without scrubbing” (

To use Iron Out safely and effectively, a three-step process is recommended.

  1. Dissolve about ¼ cup of Iron Out powder in a bucket of water and soak stained garment overnight or for several hours.
  2. Rinse thoroughly with cold water.
  3. Machine wash with detergent only.

Iron Out is caustic to clothes and washing machine parts, and should not be combined with bleach or peroxide.  Be warned: this product is highly corrosive.  Prolonged use damages and impairs the function of snaps and zippers found on baseball pants.  It removes dye from appliqués and embroidered items as well as colorfast fabrics.  It is recommended for use only on solid white pants.  It is not safe for use on jerseys, caps, or pants with piping.  It emits a foul stench…really foul, as in car-ride-home-after-a-trip-to-Willy’s-for-bean-burritos foul.

#2 FELS-NAPTHA has been around for over 100 years so chances are, you’ve witnessed your grandmother using it.  It’s a bar soap that is found in the laundry section of most grocery stores.  To use Fels-Naptha safely and effectively, one of the following two-step processes is recommended.

  1. Dampen the bar and rub it directly onto the stained areas of the garment working up a good lather.
  2. No rinsing necessary.  Machine wash.  Bleach if desired.

     You also may grate the entire bar of Fels-Naptha and store it in an airtight container.

  1. Mix one tablespoon of the grated soap with a small amount of hot water to form a paste.  Spread the paste on the stained areas and use a soft bristle brush to scrub.
  2. No rinsing necessary.  Machine wash.  Bleach if desired.

Red clay stains were non-existent after both methods, but required a fair amount of scrubbing.  Fels-Naptha is a pleasant-smelling, pure soap.  It can be used with bleach and other detergents.  Fels-Naptha may be in the two spot overall, but it hits a homerun in my book.

#3 WHINK places third because although it’s a dedicated rust stain remover, visible red clay stains remained after the recommended three-step process.

  1. Dampen garment and apply liquid Whink directly onto stains.
  2. When stains fade (this can take up to several hours), rinse thoroughly with cold water.
  3. Machine wash with detergent only.

Whink should not be combined with other cleaning agents.  A skull and crossbones, the universal symbol for POISON, is on the label.  This makes me nervous.  Plus if I’m going to risk my life using a product, it darn well ought to render pants that come out of the washing machine looking like they’ve never been worn.

I also tested Murphy’s Oil Soap, Cascade, Simple Green, S-32, Clorox Toilet Bowl Cleaner (for rust and minerals), Oxyclean Max Force, and Borax, but none came close to achieving the desired results and did not warrant a spot in the rankings.  There’s one method I didn’t test, but it’s so intriguing, it bears mentioning.

One desperate baseball mom told me she drove her son’s uniform to a do-it-yourself car wash.  She spread it on the ground and using the coin operated pressure washer, attempted to blast the red clay stains from her son’s pants and jerseys.  A little dramatic?  Maybe.  But we have reputations to uphold.

I know what you’re thinking.  Why go to such extremes when they’re just going to get dirty again?  True, but any self-respecting baseball mom will tell you a clean, unblemished uniform is worth ten points to a batting average and two miles per hour on a fastball.  Baseball moms dedicate themselves to making dreams come true…one pair of pants at a time.

©  2011 by Antoinette D. Datoc


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