Cleaning your fencing mask is an important thing to do from time to time, to prevent it from smelling bad, and to keep the insides a little healthier for when you wear it. With enough use, a fencing mask accumulates a lot of sweat. If it has been in storage for a while, it can accumulate quite a bit of dirt and dust. These can all be dealt with quite easily.
This article is going to deal with fencing masks designed for HEMA purposes, or for modern fencing with “steam” (non-electric) equipment. Masks with conductive materials for modern fencing with electric equipment should be washed much more carefully, to preserve the conductive materials.
It is possible to wash your fencing mask in the dishwasher. Although I haven’t done this myself, I know several people who have done it and have been quite successful. The advice seems to be to wash it separately from your dishes (hopefully for obvious reasons), not to use dishwasher tablets or powders, and to set the machine to a low or non-drying setting.
Washing a mask by hand is something I have done several times. It’s a relatively simple process.
1) For a single mask, you need a plastic tub able to hold about 25-30 litres of water.
2) Put the mask into the tub (removing any external overlays first, of course), then fill the tub with warm (not hot, not cold) water, with some of whatever laundry liquid you normally use for your clothes.
3) Leave it to soak for 20-30 minutes, turning it if needs be to make sure that the whole mask spends time submerged.
4) Once it has soaked for a while, give the mask a scrub with a sponge. Make sure you scrub it inside and outside, on the mesh and on the bib. Sweat, dust, and dirt can go anywhere in the mask, so give it a good going-over.
5) Take the mask out of the tub and rinse it in cold water. Pay attention to the bib, and squeeze it gently to remove any liquid that has soaked into the soft material.
6) Dry the mask. Give it a quick rub with a towel to remove the worst of the water, then leave it to dry. You can leave it in the sun, although you should avoid long exposure to sunlight if you care about the colour, or just leave it to dry in the air in any room of your house.
Note: it is probably sensible to avoid leaving the mask in the water for too long. I have received an account from personal experience where someone forgot about their mask and left it in the water for several hours; when they finally remembered and came back for it, the glue holding the padding to the mask had dissolved. While that may not be the likely result for every mask, it is a useful cautionary tale!
After your mask has dried, spray it inside with a little Febreze (or similar air freshening, odour-eliminating spray).
This is probably a good thing to do at regular intervals anyway, especially on a club’s loaner masks. No one likes to go head-first into a smelly mask, and this can be dealt with quite easily by a few quick sprays of Febreze on a regular basis.
Keith Farrell teaches HEMA professionally, often at international events (why not hire me to teach at your event?), and has an interest in coaching instructors to become better teachers. I teach regularly at Liverpool HEMA, and help behind the scenes with running HEMA in Glasgow at the Vanguard Centre.