How to clean all of your most-used summer gear

We’re talking beach towels, pool toys and much more

Published August 9, 2022 5:30PM (EDT)

 (Rocky Luten / Food52)
(Rocky Luten / Food52)

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Summer is prime time for outdoor activities, and if you're anything like me, chances are you spend every possible weekend hanging by the pool, lounging on the beach, or riding down the bike path with friends and family — after all, New England summers are fleeting, so I have to make the most of the nice weather! There's no shortage of fun things to do in the summer, but a lot of these seasonal activities require special gear and, in turn, special gear requires special cleaning.

After a long day of fun in the sun, you probably don't want to think about cleaning. (Personally, it's never one of my favorite topics to dwell on.) However, it's important to wash your gear properly if you want it to be in top shape for summers to come. After, lawn chairs, pool toys, coolers and more are all prone to mold, mildew, unsavory odors and deterioration if they're left dirty. The good news? Most of these items are truly easy to clean — here's what you'll want to do to get them looking like new.

Here's how to clean . . .

Beach towels

After a day at the beach, your towels, blankets and bags will likely be covered in sand, and while it may be tempting to just toss them in the washing machine, sand particles can wreak havoc on the appliance, causing leaks and clogs. Instead, shake off as much sand as possible from your towels when you get home, then leave them outside to dry completely.

Once your towels and other beach supplies are dry, give them another good shake — this will get most of the lingering sand off. (If you're cleaning a tote bag, it's often useful to turn it inside out and shake it out that way, as well.) From here, you can go ahead and launder the linens according to their care directions. Avoid using fabric softener on towels, which can decrease the absorbency of towels, and treat any sunscreen stain with a pre-wash stain remover.

Inflatable pool toys

Inflatable pool toys such as floats or balls can develop mold or mildew if not cleaned periodically, so at the very least, you'll want to give them a good wash before storing them away for the winter. The good news is that it's quite easy to clean these toys, as they're generally just made from vinyl or plastic.

Depending on how dirty your pool toys are, there are a few ways to clean them. For regular maintenance, you can wipe them down with a mixture of dish detergent and water. Use a soft sponge or cloth to avoid popping or scratching the material.

If you've used the toys in a river or lake, you might want to dial the cleaning power up a notch by diluting a tablespoon of bleach into a gallon of water. Wipe the mixture over the toys, let it stand for two minutes, then rinse it off. Make sure to let the inflatables air dry in the sun before putting them into storage or back into the pool.

A stained or smelly cooler

If you've ever forgotten to clean a cooler after taking it camping or to the beach, you know they can get quite smelly and even grow mold or mildew thanks to the damp environment — my partner and I have admittedly done this on several occasions. Luckily, most coolers are easy enough to clean, even if they've been neglected, and a little bit of scrubbing will get them looking (and smelling) like new.

After you rinse out the cooler, go in with warm, soapy water on a soft cloth or sponge. You'll want to wash both the interior and exterior, making sure to get into the corners and around/inside the drain hole. Rinse the cooler thoroughly, then check it over again. If there are still stains or odors, try making a paste from baking soda and water and gently scrubbing it on the trouble spots. Once you're finished cleaning, rinse the cooler thoroughly, and leave it to air dry with the lid open. This step is key to stopping new odors or mold from developing.

Camping or lawn chairs

Lawn and camping chairs tend to get a lot of use during the summer months, being toted along to backyard cookouts, camping trips, beach days and more. Chances are they're going to be spilled on or stained at some point, but like other outdoor gear, they're fairly easy to clean up.

Start by sweeping off dust and dirt with a soft-bristle brush, then mix up a bucket of dish detergent and warm water. You can use this solution to scrub the nylon or vinyl material and remove any gunk that's stuck to the chair. For the frame, you can use a cloth dipped in the same soapy water to wipe down the legs and other metal pieces. Give everything a good rinse — a garden hose comes in handy here — then let it dry in the sun. Don't forget that the sun's UV rays can also help to fade stains!

Your family's sleeping bags

Even if you only used them a few times during the year, sleeping bags tend to collect body oils and grime, and they definitely should be washed before you put them back into storage. However, don't just toss them into your washing machine and call it a day — using the wrong washing machine or detergent can significantly decrease the life of your sleeping bag.

To properly wash a sleeping bag, you'll want to use a front-loading washer, and if you don't have one at home, it might be worth a trip to your local laundromat. Why? The harsh agitation and central column of a top-loading machine can cause the delicate shell material to rip.

Start by unzipping the bag completely before you load it into the machine, and wash it on a gentle cycle with warm water and a specialty detergent such as Nikwax Tech Wash for synthetic sleeping bags or Nikwax Down Wash for down-filled bags. These products are designed to clean the out shell of the bag while maintaining the loft of its fill. To dry a sleeping bag, use a low setting and toss a few dryer balls into the cycle to help keep the fill fluffy. It might take a few cycles to get completely dry.


Whether you ride on the road, in the park or on tough mountain trails, you'll want to clean off your bicycle regularly to keep it in tip-top shape. Using warm soapy water, scrub dirt and grime off your bike's frame, handlebars, and seat with a soft-bristle brush. You can also scrub down the chainstays, chain rings, cranks and cogs, but you'll want to use a rotor cleaner or rubbing alcohol to clean the brake pads and rotors.

Once everything is dirt-free, rinse the bike off and dry it using a clean rag. From here, you may also want to lubricate the chain, especially if it squeaks or looks dry. If there's too much grime on the chain, a little bit of degreaser will help get it cleaned up and looking like new.

By Camryn Rabideau

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