Believe it or not, a new trend among English riders is to clean their ASTM-SEI safety helmets by sending them through a full cycle in their dishwashers. That’s right: Various versions of helmets–pretty much any styles not covered in velvet–are being loaded in a machine designed to clean dirty plates and silverware. Adherents to this practice claim that their helmets come out looking brand new and smelling as fresh as, well, clean dishes. But is this a safe way to get rid of layers of arena dust and that offensive odor referred to as “smelly head?”
“Absolutely not,” says Richard M. Timms, M.D., who is the chairman at Troxel helmets. “The heat and forces inside a dishwasher are too intense,” he says firmly.
Indeed. While your helmet may look brand spanking new when it comes out of the dishwasher, it may no longer protect your head in the event of a fall. Even the heat inside the trunk of your car is dangerous for the integrity of your helmet.
“Trunk temperatures can exceed 160 degrees,” Timms explains, “and that damages the helmet’s materials.” He also offers that the best way to preserve the helmet’s quality is to keep it out of the sun when not in use and store the helmet in a tote or carrying bag that allows drying while being stored.
A helpful tip is to tuck a fabric softener sheet, the kind you toss into your clothes dryer, into your helmet bag. That will help deodorize the inside of your helmet.
But if you’re still battling a case of “smelly head,” there’s hope. Many ASTM-SEI helmets, especially those designed for schooling rides, have removable liners.
“Wash and soak the liner in mild, soapy water, adding 4-6 drops of bleach,” Timms says, “and then rinse it in a dilute alcohol and water solution. Then allow the liner to air dry completely. The drying is important,” he emphasizes, and warns that it’ll only make matters worse if you put a not-quite-dry liner back into your helmet.
Methods for cleaning the outside of safety helmets depend on the exterior materials. Plastic schooling helmets can be wiped down with a soft towel and some soapy water. Allow it then to air dry. Then you can restore luster and shine with an application of a light wax protector like Pledge. Microfiber helmets, such as the newer Euro-styled helmets, can actually withstand the same mild soap and water treatment. Make sure you also rinse them well with clean water to remove all soapy residue. Again, air dry the helmet in the shade.
Resist the temptation to put your damp helmet—or its liner—into the clothes dryer. Please, when it comes to helmet care, step away from the major appliances.