Quick Tip: Baking Soda and Vinegar for stains

Taking care of gear and clothing is as much as part of hiking as vistas, wildlife, and starry nights.

If you take care of your gear, it will take care of you.

And if you use your gear, you’ll get holes in the equipment, buckles will break, rips happen, and salts, dirt, and other assorted schmutz accumulates.

Dirt, sweat, salts, and oils are particularly bad for clothing and shoes.  Oils and sweat compromise the effectiveness of insulation. And sweat, dirt, and other schmutz can cause abrasion and degradation of the gear itself.

And, well, it can look awful.  Skeevy to use yet another descriptive word!

If you remember HomeEc 101, you know the wonders of white vinegar as a general purpose, inexpensive, and effective household cleaner. And baking soda is another staple in a similar vein.

Combine them? Well, you do get the classic “volcano” all elementary school students love…

Combine them in a bit more controlled manner? You have a combo that cleans a lot of the house effectively.

And using this combo for laundry is no different.  Be it for softening up towels, or (and the part crucial for outdoors people), getting oils and salts out of clothing and removing odors, judicious use of baking soda and white vinegar cleans up your nasty clothing effectively.

For me, I like to use this combo clean my ball caps in particular. I tend to wear a ball cap to and from hikes and around camp. And what I call “easy hikes” that still make a mild sweat over the long haul.  The everyday ball cap ends up looking, well, quite nasty.

So to clean my ball caps, and to help spruce up my other clothing once in a while, I’ll use the white vinegar and baking soda every-so-often.

And how to do it? Easy peasy!

  • Use your normal detergent amount for a full load of laundry. Add a half cup of baking soda directly to the laundry machine tub itself.
  • Wash clothes as usual for outdoor gear.
  • During the cold rinse cycle, add a half cup of white vinegar.

That’s it! The clothes will smell better, the oils and salt will be gone, and the clothing will look better. If you want to remove some particularly bad stains, run through the cycle again. Or do a pre-soak of baking soda ahead of time before throwing the clothing to the wash.

*** Don’t be tempted to take a shortcut and mix before the cold rinse cycle. See the volcano experiment above! ***

Good enough for my “everyday cap” facing inside. A pre-soak would have improved the difference even more.

Remove grease, sweat, and body oil stains from down gear?  Down garments and sleeping gear can also be cleaned with baking soda and some spot cleaning with a mild detergent.  The process is not fast, but could be effective.

After this spot cleaning, use your down wash of choice as normal if the stains and loss of loft is particularly bad.

However, depending on the amount of use and how long the stain has been there, don’t expect miracles. Nylon tends to soak up stains vs other fabrics and if you don’t wash the stain out right away, the stain can be difficult to remove.

The real reason for cleaning down garments and sleeping quilts is to remove the oils from the down itself. The oils compromise loft and effectiveness. So you will want to give the down garment a wash at some point after some noticeable loft lost vs. just stains. The stains on the nylon are mainly aesthetics.

Note: I am not associated with Gossamer Gear in any official capacity. I received this hat quite a years ago when I tested out some GG packs. It is just the hat I now happen to wear that gets beat on vs. other caps I try to keep somewhat presentable!  And if you are looking for trail themed outdoor hats, I need to put in a plug for my friend Whitney’s hat company. : Crown Trails Headwear.  Great selection of both trails themed and national park themed ball caps.

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5 years ago

Good to know. I’ve also found some hikers don’t know rubbing alcohol usually removes dried sap from tents and clothing. That can come in handy as well in many locations.

Joan Jarvis
Joan Jarvis
5 years ago

During the winter, I sometimes host Florida Trail thru hikers. I’ve never used baking soda, but keep a large jug of white vinegar by the washer. I’ve found that soaking the pits of shirts in the vinegar and then adding about a half cup of vinegar to the wash cycle.seems.to work too–at least.for.removing hiker stink.