A helmet can get pretty gross, says Tabitha Knaub, manager of Dominion Saddlery in Burbank, California. Especially if youre at a horse show, the weathers hot, and youve left your helmet on all day long.
Fortunately, you arent the only athlete who has to deal with helmet odor. Youre in the same boat as cyclists (motor and pedal), climbers, hockey and football players, and anyone else who participates in an active sport that requires head protection. Thats a big market for anti-stink remedies. So its no surprise that with a little legworkwhich well help you doyou can find products and strategies that will prolong the life and effectiveness of your helmet, increase the chances itll be dry and comfy the next time you put it on, and (best of all) banish that sweat-socks odor.
Why Your Helmet Smells
Warm, damp, dark environments are where mold, bacteria, and fungus tend to growso a sweaty helmet is prime breeding ground for all three. Fresh air is their chief enemy.
You may unwittingly encourage these unwelcome guests if, after riding, you stow your still-damp helmet inside your tack trunk or wrap it in a plastic bag to keep it dust-free. Either way, with no flow of fresh air to help it dry quickly, the lining stays damp, allowing bacteria and molds to flourish and give off foul smells. And the damage doesnt stop with an assault on the olfactory sensibilities: Persistent dampness can shorten your helmets protective life by causing glues to deteriorate and liner fabric and padding to rot.
Its Best to Be Proactive
because odors can be hard to eradicate once theyre established. After riding, the best thing to do is to not put your helmet in a bag or box, Tabitha Knaub saysparticularly if its fabric-lined. Instead, she advises, wipe the inside with a clean, damp cloth; then let the helmet air-dry.
If you must, go ahead and store your helmet in your tack trunk or a hat bagbut only temporarily. As soon as you can, take it out to allow some airflow and let it dry. If youre at a show and you need to lock the helmet away, keep it in your car or the tack-storage area of your trailer.
You can also invest in an electric helmet dryer that emits a steady stream of warm air. An Internet search for helmet dryers will reveal many companies (such as NBS-IT Inc. and Impact Racer) that sell devices specifically intended to dry helmets, in various designs, for a wide range of prices. Most dryers cant be used when the helmet is locked away in a cupboard, though. If you purchase a dryer, be sure not to leave it (or any other electrical heating devices) unattended.
When Your Helmets Already Smelly
Fabric-softener sheets (find them in any supermarket laundry-products section for a couple of dollars a box) dont necessarily kill odor-causing bacteria, but they do help to diminish the odor itself. One or two crumpled inside your helmet after riding make for an inexpensive, easy-to-do solutionand even help prevent static cling with your hair in the winter, Tabitha says.
Spray-on bactericides and odor removers, such as helmet-maker Charles Owens Hat Deodorizer (about $10) or English Riding Supplys No Sweat Sport Hat & Helmet Refresher ($12.50) are available at tack shops, online, and through many catalogs. Available online at motorcycle-equipment websites such as www.cyclegadgets.com is Helmet Fresh® deodorizer ($4.95). At www.paxtoniscool.com you can find Paxtons Tactical Gear Cleaner, a military-grade cleaner for police and army helmets ($7.95) and other equipment. Some riding helmets
labels warn against using alcohol-based cleaners because of their drying effects. If yours does, check the ingredients of any deodorizer youre considering to make sure it isnt
Deodorizers are not miracle products, Tabitha warns, but they do help. If your helmet lining is particularly smelly, you may have to use a lot of spray or several applications. Be careful not to over-saturate, Tabitha cautions. Not only will you have difficulty getting the lining dry again, but you may degrade the glue, fabric, and liner material of the helmet. (If your skin is sensitive, you may also increase the risk of an allergic reaction.)
For major disasterssay you stored your helmet in your tack trunk so wet and for so long that fungus worthy of a biology experiment has flourished in itCharles Owen makes a Hat Cleaner ($10.95), and Helmet Fresh has a big brother called Helmet Fresh Cleaner ($4.95). Both products are designed for heavy-duty cleaning, but with the delicate nature of rider-headgear linings in mind. Still, check the label. And always be sure to test a product on a small area of your helmet liner to make sure it doesnt cause any damage.
When all else fails, you may need professional help. Search online for clean sports gear and youll find companiessuch as Northwest Clean Gear (www.nwcleangear.com) in Portland, Oregonthat charge around $10 to $25 to clean a helmet (in many cases with a washing machine that is designed specifically for sports equipment). The downside: Youll have to ship your helmet to them. Most such companies specialize in football, hockey, and lacrosse-type helmets; make sure before you entrust your helmet to one that its familiar with the countless fabrics and materials on the in- and outside of todays riding helmets, and to confirm that its process wont cause damage.
And What About the Outside?
Dust and dirt, especially if turned to mud by rain, mean the outside of your helmet can get yucky, too. And cleaning can be a challenge because coverings, like linings, come in an assortment of fabricssynthetic suede, velvet, satin, silk, leather, plastic, microfiberthat some cleaners can damage. So youre always safest checking and abiding by the helmet manufacturers cleaning recommendations. (Failure to heed warnings could damage your helmet, reduce its effectiveness, and void your warranty). If youve lost the information your helmet came with, you can probably find care instructions on its makers Web site. (See the box on page 82 for a list of major manufacturers sites.)
A few standard tips: Alcohol-based cleaners can damage vinyl, so youre better off using a soft cloth dampened with plain water. For microfiber or velvet, allow mud to dry thoroughly, then whisk away with a clean, medium-stiff-bristle brush. Or you can clean and revive microfiber with a suede block (available at shoe-repair shops for less than $10) or a clean, dry sponge. To perk up velvets nap, hold the helmet over the steam from a pot of boiling water (protecting your hand with an oven mitt or towel); itll soon look good as new!
This article originally appeared in the July 2006 issue of Practical Horseman magazine.