Summer in SMOs or AFOs: 7 Ways to Deal With Sand, Sweat, Swimming Pools, and More

by Lem Bach

Summer is a magical time, full of barbecues, fireflies, beaches, and special memories with family. But parents want to know, “Can SMOs go under water? Can my kiddo jump in a splash pad with the other kids? What if sand gets inside an AFO?” And much more. 

I got to hang out with three Surestep Educators, Anne, Camille, and Katie and chat about summer issues. They fully believe your kids should be able to fully participate with other kids. 

In their clinical practices, they supported parents in helping kids have fun and fit in with others year-round. So, check out their tips* below to help your child have more fun in the summer heat! 

* Check with your own orthotist about any special care instructions for the orthotics they have supplied. This post includes information based on our own experiences with patients but is not personalized medical advice.

1. Deal With the Heat

Summer gets hot! And kids who wear orthotic devices need a little extra help with it. If your kiddo is going to play outside for a while…

Bring Extra Socks

With some good, dry socks, you can relieve hot, wet feet when the first pair of socks gets sweaty or wet from a puddle or splash pad. 

This will make your child more comfortable right away, plus it helps to prevent blisters and fungal infections. 

Remember, whether your child wears shoes or sandals with braces, socks are important for safety and skin protection. High-quality socks can even pull sweat away from the skin, improving hygiene, even on hot summer days.

Just have your kiddo take a little break, while you take the shoes and socks off. The shoes can air out for a minute. Then, put fresh socks on and shoes. 

Try a Cooling Towel

Some children who need braces also have trouble regulating their own temperature. They need help cooling down. 

You can find cooling neck towels in stores and online. Just soak one in cool water for a couple minutes and drape it for your child like a little necklace. It’s an inexpensive way to keep them more comfortable in the summer.

2. Don’t Be Afraid of Splash Pads

Imagine you’re on a field trip at the zoo, the group of kids see a splash pad, and they just run to it. Should you hold your child back? Should she have to tell the other kids, “Hold on, I have to take off my braces”?

Well, our group of orthotists firmly believes kids need the freedom to participate with others. So, here’s how you prepare for spontaneous splash pads (and puddles too): 

  1. Good Shoes: Make sure your kiddo is wearing stable shoes that fit their braces well. This can keep their braces from slipping around inside their shoes when they get wet.
  2. Towel: Pack a towel. When they’re done playing, press the towel against braces’ straps to get moisture out. 
  3. Electric Dryer (Optional): If you’re near a public restroom with a hand dryer, you can also dry the braces a little more using it.

When you’re leaving for a day out, packing a bag with a towel, extra socks, and maybe a cooling neck towel can keep your kiddo more comfortable—and more excited about the next adventure.

(Remember, check with your own orthotist about the braces they provided—especially if they include metal hinges.) 

3. Have Fun at the Pool

One question we get a lot is whether Surestep SMOs can go underwater. Our orthotists say, “Yes!” Kiddos can swim in a pool in SMOs, wade through creeks, and jump in a lake. Here are pointers to keep in mind: 

  • Get Dry: Use our earlier tips to dry your child’s socks, feet, and braces after a dip. This will help protect their skin from blisters and bacteria.
  • Check for Hinges and Screws: If the braces have metal hinges or screws, rinse them off really well with plain water and let them air dry. That’s usually fine, even after getting in salty or chlorinated water. (You can check with your own orthotist to be sure.)
  • Use Pool Shoes: If you take your kiddo’s braces off at the pool, put them in pool shoes. Often, patients’ feet have fewer calluses than average, and the rough surfaces in and around pools can tear up their sensitive soles.

We’ve heard concerns that the glue in the SMO will separate from being submerged or that the screws will rust. But these things rarely happen. Check with your own orthotist, but we think your child should play in the water and have a wonderful time.

4. Deal With Sand Like a Pro

Our lead education orthotist, Katie, told me that she used to worry about sand getting inside of braces and socks at the beach. She said there are two solutions: 

  1. Let your kiddo wear the braces at the beach. Clean the sand out afterwards. 
  2. Leave the braces off at the beach to help your child participate fully with their peers—great if they feel really uncomfortable with sand getting inside the braces.

Remember, it’s safest for a child to wear socks inside of braces, so you might want to give your kiddo time completely barefoot in the sand. 

“We don’t want to say, ‘You must wear your SMOs at the cost of living your life,’” Katie told me. So, try letting your kiddo play in the sand with braces on and with braces off for a limited time, and see what works.

When you’re ready to go home, here’s a quick checklist to go through: 

  • Rinse any sand or dirt off of your child’s feet (along with algae and other organic materials, if at a lake)
  • Shake any debris out of shoes and braces
  • Use a damp towel or tissue to clean the braces
  • Put your kiddo in a fresh pair of socks with no sand in them

Sand is everywhere! Kids play in it at daycare. It gets in everything like glitter. Get used to a cleaning routine to make your kiddo comfortable. Braces that have no sensory irritants in them are more likely to be worn and give the benefits you want.

5. Care for SMOs and AFOs the Right Way

I’m putting together a few general cleaning tips here that you can reference later: 

    1. Wipes: Clean the plastic on the braces with alcohol wipes. You can use them on your kiddo’s hands, then clean any extra sweat and bacteria out of the braces. Baby wipes work too! We don’t recommend Clorox wipes, which can cause a reaction. 
    2. Gentle Soap: While your child is taking a bath, put a little of the gentle soap they’re bathing in onto a damp washcloth, and wipe the sweat from their braces. Use plain water to rinse. The soap in their braces will be the type they’re used to! This helps avoid allergic reactions.
    3. Air Dry: After a plain water wipe down, you can leave braces to air dry overnight—great after a hot summer day. 
    4. Strap Care: Strap hooks and loops can get dirt and lint in them. You can use a comb to pick it out, or find another tool that works for you.
    5. Prepare: If your kiddo is going to stomp through gravel and mulch, put him or her in taller socks and fold the socks down over the braces. If the braces have exposed rivets or screws, avoid getting dirt and mud in them, which could jam them up. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. 

6. Bring an Extra Pair of Shoes

If it’s hot and everyone’s sweating, you may need to pack an extra pair of shoes. Switch partway through a day, because sweat gets into braces, socks, and shoes. 

Also, you can try sandals to get more air circulation to their little feet. But for best results, sandals should enclose braces firmly. The back should close, preferably, and your child’s feet should not slide around inside.

New Surestep Sandals

We really love our newly redesigned and improved green sandals, because they: 

  • Are wide and deeper to accommodate different sizes of feet and braces
  • Include a removable insole and soft, fuzzy material underneath 
  • Have an easy rear entry and are simple to put on
  • Are highly adjustable with back straps and top straps
  • Include extra material in the sole for lift adjustments
  • Give 20–30% more airflow than shoes

Reminder: Your kiddo needs to wear socks inside of braces, even with sandals. The plastic should not rub against their bare skin. 

If you’re interested, check out our ultimate guide to finding footwear that pairs well with braces. Or shop right now for Surestep shoes and sandals that we designed to accommodate SMOs and AFOs.

7. Help Your Child Enjoy the Rhythms of the Seasons

Give your child something to look forward to in every season of the year. It might be allowing them to run into a splash pad spontaneously, arms flailing, with their friends. 

It might mean switching to sandals and shorts in the summer to signal, “We do other kinds of activities in these months.” Then switching to autumn flannels, then warm winter clothes. 

Kids love to fit in with their peers and siblings as much as possible. Sure, your kiddo needs braces for now. But different types of clothes and activities keep them in sync with the community around them, helping them participate fully in life. 

Let’s Keep in Touch!

What do you do differently in the summer? What has been working? What have you tried that hasn’t worked? 

We have an online community of supportive parents who know what you’re going through. Plus, some struggling parent might need to hear your experience! Life is better when it’s shared, so let’s keep this conversation going. 

If you’re interested in sharing your thoughts with other parents like you, drop by our Facebook or Instagram page.