How to Keep Costumes Clean

Unicorns, bulldogs, dinosaurs…oh my! School nutrition departments have gone wild with fanciful animal menageries at emergency feeding operations. It is now commonplace to spot school mascots, sharks, prehistoric critters, unicorns and other creatures delivering meals to families and students.

These costume-clad employees and volunteers are on a mission to inject more fun at mealtime pickups—a time that could be incredibly stressful and worrisome for students and parents. The use of costumes at these sites was just one creative solution that school nutrition directors across the country have implemented with great success, and mentioned in School Nutrition’s May article “Creativity in the Time of COVID-19.”

Now, the costume alone doesn’t count as wearing personal protective gear (PPE), so masks, gloves and other protective items should be worn underneath. But multiple people could wear the same costume throughout the day or week, so how can it be kept clean to ensure the safety of each wearer?

To keep fabric costumes clean and safe, the best recommendation is to hand wash, according to Fill a sink or plastic tub with cool water and add a small amount of gentle detergent and fabric softener. Turn the costume inside out and submerge into the soapy mixture. Knead the costume gently by hand for about one minute and rinse well with cold water. Turn the costume right-side out and allow to air dry. If possible, allow the costume to dry outside under the sun—while the sun’s ultraviolet rays are not good for your skin, they are good at killing bacteria and acting as a natural disinfectant.  

Should your department be borrowing a school’s mascot costume, talk to the administration on the best methods for cleaning and sanitizing. However, the bodysuits of most mascot costumes can be washed in the washing machine on a gentle cycle. Costumes with faux fur need to be brushed while damp to ensure the fur does not clump. Thoroughly wipe the head of the costume with a disinfectant wipe or spray. Does the costume come with feet, too? These should not be emerged in water and should be spot cleaned by hand. Allow all the pieces of the costume to fully dry, and again, if possible, airdry in direct sunlight.

Inflatable costumes have become quite popular for their larger-than-life presence and ease of use, but they too need cleaned. Use a mild soap or disinfectant spray to wipe the costume clean—inside and out! Because a fan is needed to continually blow air throughout the costume, be sure to wipe the fan blades, too.

With all costumes—regardless of fabric type—make sure they are fully dry before storing. Try to limit one wearer to the costume per day, and wash the costume each day between uses—regardless if the same person wears it day after day. With a clean costume, you can continue to spread smiles and not germs.

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