This is a guide to how to clean and care for your HEMA (Historical European martial arts) fencing equipment. We will discuss how to clean fencing jackets, pants, sparring gloves, shoes and other specialty equipment for fencing in HEMA. While there are many articles about how to maintain your fencing equipment on search engines, the majority of these articles discussing contemporary modern Olympic fencing. There is not as many published resources for cleaning the kind of heavier duty fencing equipment used by the historical fencing community. While the process is not complicated this can lead to hesitation or mistakes in cleaning the equipment which is why we have created this guide with helpful tips on how to clean and protect your HEMA fencing equipment.
As an important note before we get further into this, many manufacturers of Historical fencing equipment are mom and pop operations. Some of the gear is handmade and this equipment may require hand washing. A lot of it cannot be used in a washing machine. Always check labels and instructions from the manufacturer of your equipment.
How to Properly Clean and Care for your Historical Fencing Equipment
Historical fencing, also called HEMA (Historical European martial arts) is a thrilling sport, and its popularity has continued to grow over the years. However if you want to enjoy historical fencing then you must have the appropriate gear to protect yourself from injuries. You must have a fencing mask, neck protection (gorget), a fencing jacket, sparring gloves, fencing pants, shoes, and more. If you are male then you also need a jockstrap to protect your nether regions.
As the equipment used for HEMA historical fencing can be pricey you want it to last as long as possible so it does not need repairs or replacement. Improperly cared for gear can fail during a free play / sparring match, which will lead to injuries. So you need to take proper care of your fencing gear, including cleaning it. With that said this guide will cover how you can properly clean and care for your historical fencing equipment.
Cleaning Your Historical Fencing Equipment for HEMA Sword Fighting
Cleaning Your Fencing Mask
Firstly never use fabric softener on Velcro straps, as it will damage the soft side, making it less effective at gripping. This is also why bleach should be avoided, too.
There are several procedures to wash your fencing mask, and none of them are complicated. First you can wipe the mask surfaces areas using a disinfecting wipe. Alternatively you can spray the mask with a mixture of rubbing alcohol then leave it to dry. This will disinfect the mask in a pinch and is a good idea to do after class in our current post COVID epidemic world.
Next fill a sink or a bucket with 5 gallons of water and mix it with a little vinegar. Soak your mask in the mix for a while and rub it using your hands. After confirming that the mask is clean you should be sure to rinse it thoroughly in normal water.
Another way to clean your mask is by first taking out all its removable padding. You can then place the mask in your dishwasher and add regular detergent. Before running a cycle in your dishwasher make sure to turn off the heat-cleaning and drying settings. Due to the convenience of it this is the most thorough method to clean a fencing mask. Fencing masks are generally believed to be safely washable in a dishwasher.
Washing your Historical Fencing Uniform – Your Fencing Pants and Fencing Jacket
Technically speaking, washing your fencing jacket and pants follows a similar process as with your fencing mask.
Before you begin the washing process make sure that you’ve zipped all the zippers. Also make sure that all the Velcro is fastened before you dip your pants and jacket in the water. Once you’ve done this place your clothes in cold water. Only use regular detergent and never use bleach, as bleach can to reduce the fabric’s strength, as bleach is known to increase softness by 2 to 3% and that’s not really what you want in your puncture resistant fencing equipment. If you are cleaning borrowed or loaner gear it’s recommended that you use fragrance-free detergent as some people can be allergic to artificial fragrances.
Do your pants or jackets have stains? Well, that should not stress you out. You can soak the uniform in a reliable detergent such as OxiClean. The aim is to make sure your uniform is sparkling clean and that the fabric remains intact.
It is also worth noting that some fencing jackets can be machine washed in a laundry machine, on cold only water setting and using low spin cycles. You should check the manufacturer label though to ensure your fencing jacket can do this.
After washing you should hang your jackets or pants to air dry. This drying process may take longer but it’s the most effective one. Fencing jackets can be made from material that will be damaged by high heat environments such as a machine laundry dryer.
If you use a jockstrap, you want to wash that, too. Most jockstraps can be washed in a laundry machine once the plastic cup has been removed. Check the manufacturer’s label for instructions.
Fencing socks can also be cleaned normally as part of your laundry.
Cleaning a Fencing Chest Protector
Many fencers (especially females) will wear a plastic chest protector to protect against thrusting blows. So this chest protector also needs a good cleaning. Some fencing enthusiasts neglect cleaning it because it’s made of plastic but that’s not advisable, as it can still accumulate bacteria and fungus from being so close to your body, and they do get sweaty.
Cleaning a chest protector is not very complicated. First you need to wipe down the plastic surfaces using a disinfecting wipe. Afterwards, just spray the straps with rubbing alcohol. It’s that simple.
Cleaning Historical Fencing Gloves and your Gorget (Neck Protector)
Your fencing gloves also need proper cleaning and here’s how you go about it. This advice applies to both hard-shell lobster style fencing gloves used in longsword and light padded leather ones used by rapier fencers.
First, you need to know that gloves are not machine washable. You should not wash your gloves in one because it will likely damage the faux leather they are made from.
When handwashing your gloves leave the pair to soak in soapy water for approximately 20 minutes. Next scrub them with your fingers and make sure to rinse thoroughly before laying the gloves flat to air dry.
You should not try to cut corners with your fencing gloves; never dry them in the dryer or clean them using bleach.
This same process can also be used to clean your neck protector / gorget.
How to Clean Your Fencing Shoes
Be careful with washing fencing shoes. You should not wash them in a washing machine, as this will damage them. You should wash them by hand, never fully submerging the shoes, as needed to control odor.
Before you do anything it is important to note that you only need to wash fencing shoes occasionally. As you should only wear them when on the fencing hall floor and not use them for any other purpose it’s unlikely you should ever have to deal with cleaning mud or major dirt from them. You’ll likely only need to clean your fencing shoes a few times annually. Simply using anti-odor balls will generally keep bad bacteria and mold from growing and address odor issues.
But it’s still a good idea to clean your shoes a few times a year so here’s how to clean your fencing shoes.
First you need to mix a small amount of water with soap. However, it would be best if you never submerged the shoes in this mixture. Instead you should dip a cloth or sponge in the mixture and then make sure to wring most of the mixture out of the cloth or sponge. This ensures you only clean the shoes with a cloth or sponge that’s slightly damp.
While using the rag or sponge make sure that you wipe the insides and the outsides of your shoes thoroughly. Next you should leave them to air dry completely.
Never put your fencing shoes into a washing machine or machine dryer, it will damage them.
Cleaning Plastic Pieces of Historical Fencing Equipment
There are many pieces of protective equipment used by HEMA fencers to protect the shoulders, elbows and knees that are made entirely out of plastic and fastened to the body with Velcro straps. These pieces of fencing equipment also requires proper cleaning and care. For the best outcome, you need to wash them in a sink; the kitchen sink will do just fine. Here’s the procedure to follow.
This equipment should be cleaned using the same instructions used for cleaning fencing gloves.
How to Clean your Historical Fencing Training Weapons
For synthetic weapons you can simply sprat them down with rubbing alcohol and wipe them with a rag or paper towel.
For steel weapons there is more you have to do to care for them. Steel blades can rust if exposed to moisture for too long. The moisture and salt in sweat can also rust weapons which is why you should not leave your blades in your bag overnight once you leave the fencing hall and go home.
There is a certain process for cleaning your steel weapons and we have an article dedicated to this topic. Please read, ‘How to Clean your Historical Fencing Swords‘ for instructions on this process.
On that same note, specialty steel fencing masks that could rust then you need to give to be given the same care you as your fencing sword blades. A fencing mask that has deteriorated and become rusty is unsafe for you.
How Often Should You Wash Your Historical Fencing Equipment?
There are some HEMA fencers who may wonder how often they should wash their fencing equipment, but here’s the deal. It would be best to wash your fencing equipment once it begins to smell or when it feels gross.
Obviously if you only practice full contact sparring a few times a week you will need to wash your fencing jacket and pants less often than someone who spends many hours a day sweating up a storm inside their jackets. However if you practice regularly you should wash your gear at least once a month. Do not let the sweaty oils and odors build-up.
Even if you are a clean freak you should avoid rigorously washing your gear after every practice. This will make your fencing equipment wear out much faster and is not necessary; if you’re worried about catching COVID a light cleaning with rubbing alcohol spray or wipes will suffice.
How to Take Care of Your Fencing Mask and Uniform
By now you already know that historical fencing masks and uniforms tend to be black in color instead of white as is more common in Olympic style fencing. Therefore you should know it’s less of a concern to worry about stains and so on, but you should still try to keep your uniform well cleaned and maintained. To achieve this you should air-dry your fencing uniform after each practice session when you get home, instead of leaving it to rot in your bag. Additionally it would be best if you washed your jacket and pants regularly once a month at least, but probably no more than once a week.
What you should avoid is making the mistake of leaving your gear in your bag overnight after practice. Why’s that? Well, airing out the uniform helps to prevent the growth of mold and mildew, which is what makes your gear smell badly. Keeping it trapped inside a bag creates an environment where these things grow faster.
However if your mask or fencing clothing has already developed mold growing on it then you need to carry out repeated washings. You can also use vinegar on the surface areas to get rid of the mold. Whatever you do, do not use bleach unless the mold growth makes it really necessary. When you use bleach, make sure it is diluted because as mentioned before, bleach will soften your clothing and make it less effective as protective equipment.
Do not make the mistake of placing your fencing jacket or pants in the dryer. You may get lucky the first time you do it but repeated exposure to high heat environments can destroy your uniform and will damage the Velcro. And that includes uniforms made from both fancy fibers and cotton materials. Instead you should wash your uniform using cold or warm water and then air-dry it.
Rules and Tips to Follow About Keeping Your Historical Fencing Equipment Maintained
- Make sure to store and transport your HEMA fencing equipment bag in a dry location and in moderate temperatures.
- Never use your fencing mask as a storage for the pair of leather fencing gloves. Always make sure that the mask is empty and allowed to air dry.
- Don’t leave your fencing swords in a bag with sweaty fencing jackets and pants overnight, or it will start to rust.
- If your fencing sword blade has rust on it make sure to clean it immediately. This is because rust weakens your blade and can lead to infections if others are somehow cut by it from burrs that form during practice.
- Steel rapier blades can be protected during travel by storing them in cut PVC pipes, and larger pipes used for other kinds of blades, too.
We hope this information on how to clean your historical fencing equipment is helpful to you.
If you’d like to learn more information about historical fencing practices please check out our Learn HEMA page for a guide to learning about the historical weapon that interests you. You can also find more guides we’ve written about other topics at our Helpful Guides page. Also check out our forums for discussions with other historical fencers, sharing tips and giving advice. You can also join the our Facebook Group community.