Washing a SPES Jacket

The “Axel Pettersson” jacket by SPES Historical Fencing. Image from the SPES website.

This article was originally posted on Encased in Steel on 15th November 2016. It has been modified a little for reposting here.

How do you wash your SPES jacket? There are some brief washing guidelines on the SPES website, but I feel that more could be said on the subject.

First, why is is worth washing a jacket? There are several reasons: the most obvious, for you and the people around you, is probably the smell of sweat. Other reasons could be to preserve the colour of the jacket and to ensure it does not look too dirty, or to clean it of mould developing from sweat and poor storage conditions, or perhaps to rid the jacket of a stain.

You can give jackets a brief and easy treatment, by spraying it inside with Febreeze, to deal with the smell. A similar treatment is to mix a little vodka with water in a spray bottle, and use that to spray the insides of the jacket. This is a reasonable way to improve the odour of the jacket, and to deal with smell in the short term – for this reason, it would be worth keeping a small bottle of Febreeze or similar concoctions with your training gear, so that you can give a little bit of maintenance to your gear on a regular basis. However, it’s not always the best way to keep the jacket in good condition for several months at a time, so you might need to take the plunge and wash it properly.

Another piece of advice for looking after the jacket in the short term is to take a look under any supplemental protection you wear on top of the jacket, for example elbow plates which remain attached for any length of time. You may find that sweat and dampness develops in these places, but is trapped and unable to evaporate properly because of the plastic protector, and so it becomes an ideal environment for mould to develop. If your jacket begins to go mouldy, it’s not the end of the world: just give it a thorough rubbing with white vinegar, and make sure to give the entire jacket plenty of opportunities to dry out properly in a warm environment, rather than storing it in cold or damp conditions.

If you need to give your jacket a proper wash, then there are three ways to do it: dry-cleaning, hand-washing, or using a washing machine. SPES recommend dry-cleaning or hand-washing in water up to 30º Celsius. I have no experience with dry-cleaning these garments, so I can’t comment on that option. If you have a friendly dry-cleaner nearby, then it might be worth taking your jacket along to talk to them about it, and see what they can suggest.

The SPES jackets weigh around 2.5-3 kg when dry. When you wash them, they absorb a lot of water, and become exceptionally heavy – it feels like they quadruple in weight, at least. Something to be aware of if you choose to wash them by hand!

To wash them by hand, fill a tub with warmish water (no more than 30ºC), and perhaps add a little white vinegar or some gentle detergent for delicate clothes. Add the jacket, and do what you usually do when washing by hand: make sure the jacket is fully soaked, and give it a decent rubbing in the water to dislodge any dirt, mould, whatever. Be generous with the length of time you spend on this, don’t expect it to be complete in a couple of minutes.

Once you have finished washing the jacket, tip out the dirty water, and give the jacket a rinse under fresh cold water, to remove any lingering dirt or detergent. Then hang it up to dry, and be prepared for this to take a couple of days! Make sure to keep the environment warm but not hot when you are drying the jacket; a damp jacket in a cold environment may develop mould as it dries. However, too hot, and the jacket might shrink. Similarly, this is a risk if you use water that is too hot when washing the jacket, so keep it warm without being hot.

While letting the jacket dry, keep it out of direct sunlight, as that may cause the colour to fade. If your best method of drying the jacket is to leave it outside in the sun, then you can turn it inside out, so that if any colour fades, it will only be on the inside.

If you choose to put the jacket into the washing machine, ideally keep the temperature of the water to 30ºC or below, and use a “delicates” setting if you have one. SPES don’t recommend this method, but it seems that some people have had success with it, myself included.

So there you have it – some further ideas about washing a SPES jacket. I hope this helps.

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 have authored Scottish Broadsword and British Singlestick and the award-winning AHA German Longsword Study Guide, and maintain a blog at www.keithfarrell.net where I post regularly.