Just like your favorite shirt probably requires special attention at the cleaners, your go-to workout gear might also need a little TLC in the laundry room. How you wash and dry your apparel can make the difference between gear that gets you through “I’m on fire!” workouts and sweat sessions that feel a little too…sweaty.
“Garment performance and life is dependent on how you care for them,” says Joanne Whiteside-Mayor, senior apparel developer at Reebok. Throwing that high-performance (ahem, and pricy) apparel in with the rest of your laundry can break down its fabric, wreck antimicrobial properties and clog up the fibers so they’re anything but wicking.
To make sure you’re getting the most out of your gear, follow this easy guide.
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Maintaining Moisture Wicking, Antimicrobial & UPF Gear
We’re not going to lie: Performance fabrics, whether sweat wicking, antimicrobial, compression or ultraviolet protection factor (UPF), are high-maintenance. Luckily, you can follow the same guidelines, no matter the type.
- First, get those stinky clothes out of your gym bag and onto the side of your hamper (where they can dry) or into the wash ASAP. “If you leave clothes sweaty in a gym bag, the garments could begin to deteriorate quicker than if it they are laundered shortly after use,” says Whiteside-Mayor.
- Next, you’ll either want to machine-wash them on cold or — and we know this sucks — hand wash them. “If a tag states ‘hand wash,’ it’s because of the delicate nature of the fabric or the type of treatment that has been applied to the fabric. It’s always best to follow marked care instructions,” says Lauren Hallworth, apparel product line manager for Brooks.
- Skip fabric softeners and opt for detergents that are free of fragrances or dyes. Those “extras” can get in between and “clog” the fibers of your fabrics to limit their ability to wick sweat and fight odors, she says. If you want bonus points, use sports washes, detergents that are specially formulated to be used on sports fabrics. It’s not vital, but it can still help your pieces last longer.
- Tumble dry your gear on a minimal heat setting, Hallworth says. Skip the dryer sheets: They can also clog your fabrics.
What’s more, even with proper care, it’s important to remember that your pieces’ antimicrobial could wear off sometime after you hit the 50-wash mark, says Whiteside-Mayor. That’s because garments with antimicrobial properties owe their smell-fighting powers to topical finishes that are applied to the fabric, she says.
As a good rule of thumb, you can expect UPF finishes to last for a good two years with normal wear and tear, says Whiteside-Mayor. If you notice you’re starting to get a tan under a piece of UPF wear, it’s time to throw it out.
You’ll want to pay attention to how your garment is wearing over time, too. “Stretched bands and straps, faded tags, possible chafing spots, and a less-than-fresh scent are all signs it might be time to upgrade your running apparel,” she says. In other words, time to toss the old and bring in the new.
Sprucing Up Your Kicks
Plunged into a muddy puddle on your last long run? Repeat after us: Step away from the washing machine. Instead, get out an old toothbrush and bar of soap to scrub away that gunk, recommends Jena Winger, associate product line manager of footwear at Brooks. Submerging shoes in a spin cycle can break down the bits and pieces, cushioning included, that are vital to preventing sports injuries, she says.
If it’s sneaker stink that’s the problem, try spraying the interiors with Odor-Eaters or Febreze. You can also stuff them with crumpled up newspaper post-run to absorb excess sweat.
Regardless of the state of your shoes, Winger recommends replacing your running shoes every 300 to 400 miles. In the case of both running and cross-training shoes, pay attention to any aches and pains that can’t be attributed to any changes in your training, she notes. If something hurts, it’s a sign that you’re ready for a new pair of sneaks.
Soaping Up Sports Bras
If you’re just “airing out” your sports bra after the gym, you’re doing it wrong. Just like underwear, you need to wash your sports bras every time you wear them, says Audrey Kirkland, New Balance’s brand manager for sports bras. Doing so will 1) get the fabrics’ fibers back into place for optimum fit, and 2) de-clog the fibers of sweat, salt, dirt and bacteria, which can all build up between the fibers to prevent the bras from breathing and wicking sweat.
We hate to break it to you, but you should really start hand washing and line-drying bras, too, Kirkland says. While it may seem like your sports bra is made of steel, it’s actually very delicate and rubbing against other pieces of laundry can cause microscopic abrasions that build up over time. Plus, the heat from the dryer, even if you keep it low, can dry out the lyrca, making your bras way less stretchy than you want them to be. Luckily, since high-performance sports bras are generally designed to wick sweat, they air dry pretty fast, she says.
We know that life can get in the way of your hand-washing hopes. So, if you need to throw some sports bras in the washing machine, first place them in a lingerie bag or pillowcase to minimize how much they rub against other clothes, Kirkland says. Add them to your load of delicates and wash them on a gentle cycle, using cold water. (Never wash them with jeans or anything with metal zippers or clasps that can rough-up the bras’ fabric.) And remember, you won’t want to use any fabric softeners, detergents with dyes or fragrances, or dryer sheets here, either. Opt for “free and clear” detergents or specialty sports washes.
Do that and even if you wear them regularly, your sports bras will last a good six months to a year. Kirkland’s tip: Replace them every time you switch out your running and cross-training shoes.
Cleaning That Jockstrap
Dudes: We hope you’re already washing these after every wear, but it’s also best to either hand wash them or machine wash them on the lowest temperature possible, says Jason Richter, vice president of product marketing at ShockDoctor Sports. Over time, hot water can decrease the waistband and straps’ elasticity, and the last thing you want is to have to adjust and pull up your jockstrap when it starts sagging. If you’ve got a protective cup in yours, take it out and wash it separately, he says. Air dry your jocks or tumble dry them on low, Richter says. Follow those rules and, depending on how frequently you sport your jockstrap, it should last one to two years.
Now that we’ve revolutionized the way you do laundry, go unload that gym bag full of sweaty stuff, scrub up your sneakers and prepare to enter the gym looking fresher than ever.