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Wash After Sweating
Whether you're running errands or heading to a Pilates class, athletic clothing is a closet staple for many. It's absorbent, durable, lightweight, and comfortable for everyday wear, plus it keeps you cool while exercising. But because it's often made of moisture-wicking materials, like polyester, the garments can easily hold onto the pungent smell of sweat. Knowing how to clean the fabric effectively can remedy this, however. There are a few ways to make sure your workout clothes emerge from the washer stench-free, such as using the correct detergent, keeping them separate from other clothes, and leaving them to air dry.
How Often to Wash Workout Clothes
Unlike jeans, which can withstand a few wears before being washed, athletic clothes should be cleaned much more frequently. Patric Richardson of The Laundry Evangelist says exercise garments should be cleaned after every workout. When running errands, like going to grab a coffee, they can be worn twice before washing. It's important to clean athleisure after hitting the gym, because buildup from sweat and atmospheric allergens can cause stains and even skin irritation, says Madeline Miller, product specialist for The Laundress.
Materials You'll Need
Before tossing your clothes into the washer, ensure you have the proper materials needed for cleaning—like a detergent made specifically for athleisure and a stain remover that gets rid of and prevents sweat marks.
Detergent designed for athletic wear
Enzymatic stain remover
A tub or wash basin (for hand washing)
Mesh bags (for machine washing)
How to Prepare Workout Clothes for Cleaning
Once you have your detergent and other materials ready, search your workout clothes for stains and start there. If you don't see any, feel free to skip straight to the second step.
If you have sweat stains or other color based stains—think coffee spills—an enzymatic stain remover will do the trick. "Just one drop of this liquid gold for stains can melt away existing stains, as well as prevent future yellowing by removing stain-causing sweat proteins," Miller says. If you have dirt, grease, or chalky deodorant marks, she suggests using an oil-based remover rather than an enzymatic one.
Have clothes that refuse to let go of their sweat smell? There's an easy solution. Miller says to pre-soak them in a bath of cool water and three to four capfuls of distilled white vinegar for about 15 to 30 minutes before laundering.
How to Wash Workout Clothes
Hand-washing workout clothes is the gentlest method, but you can also clean the clothes in your machine—just be sure to place them in a mesh bag to protect them from snagging or tearing.
Most activewear and durable spandex blends can be cleaned in the washer. Start by turning the item inside out and placing it in a mesh bag, which Miller says preserves its elasticity and prevents tearing in the machine. "Generally, we recommend washing workout clothing separately for a more efficient clean," she says. "That being said, if you prefer to mix loads, we recommend sorting items by color and placing them inside a mesh bag for protection from snagging."
Select the delicate cycle and use cool water, then add in the correct amount of detergent, according to the machine and load size. "Try to avoid any detergents that are overly scented as they hold oil and that can decrease the stretch in your workout gear by coating the fibers," says Richardson.
You can also wash your activewear by hand, which Miller says is the gentlest method for fine mesh items and pieces with embellishment. It's also an eco-conscious way to tackle small laundry loads that only have two to three pieces of workout gear. For this, add a squirt of detergent to a basin or sink filled with cool water, then submerge the item and gently agitate the water with your hands to distribute the soap. Soak for 30 minutes, then rinse well with running, cool water until the item is no longer soapy. Remove excess water by pressing on the piece of clothing, rather than wringing.
How to Dry Workout Clothes
It's always better to air dry activewear, says Richardson. Not only is it already a quick-dry material, but the high heat of a dryer can sometimes reduce the fabric's elasticity and absorbent properties. "Lay the items flat in their natural shape on a drying rack or hanger," Miller says. When drying, avoid direct sunlight and heat sources, such as the radiator, because they can also degrade fibers." Even if you're not immediately washing your workout clothes after exercising, Miller says to air dry them before placing them in the hamper, which will avoid milder and set-in odors. Once dry, fold each item and store in a breathable area of your closet or dresser. Avoid hanging, as it can place strain on the fabrics, Miller says.