In the early days of British kendo the washing of kendo equipment appeared to be frowned upon. Bogu was left to ripen without the benefit of drying or disinfecting and hakama and keikogi were hardly ever washed. Even in hygiene conscious Japan, people spoke about the 3 k’s of kendo – kitsui, kurushii and kusaii, (hard, painful and smelly).
My own realisation that the contents of my bogu bag did not smell like the perfume counter at Harrods came when I was entrusted to help a young female model wear my equipment for a photo-shoot. As this was back in the days when I was also young and single, it seemed like a fairly good gig. Unfortunately I had neglected to take my stuff out of the boot of the car where it had sat for a few days since my last keiko. Her shudder and look of sheer disgust as I wrapped my rancid, wet keikogi around her shoulders will stay with me for ever.
Fortunately things have changed over the past few years. Most people are aware of their obligation to themselves and their dojo mates to keep their hakama and keikogi laundered and their bogu aired. Indirect sunlight is a great way of deodorising bogu. If you leave it out in sunlight or in front any other source of direct radiant heat, the chances are that it will dry and crack the leather. So it is best to keep it under cover in warm weather. We don’t see much sunshine in the winter months in the UK but I have reached a stand-off with my wife where my kit goes outside to air and then into a cupboard housing a hot water tank.
I wrote some-time ago about the use of child labour in the care of kendo clothing http://wp.me/ptBQt-sx . This is not compulsory and you are at liberty to wash your own kit, but I would suggest that you use cold water in a container that won’t hold the stain of indigo and then let the garments drip dry, so that they don’t shrink or lose too much colour.
More recently a number of boguya have come up with methods for washing kendo armour and there are a number of links on the internet, including this one from Andy Fisher of All Japan Budogu www.youtube.com/watch?v=eh8tmi2Zv5s.
I have personally never been brave enough to immerse my men in a bucket of water, but I have had men and kote professionally washed in Japan and the results are tangible. As well as getting rid of the smell, washing makes them lighter and restores their original texture.
Had I known then what I know now, the poor lady would have had a far less unpleasant experience.