How to Extend the Life of Your Favorite Workout Clothes

This post has been sponsored by OdorKlenz.

how to take care of your workout clothes

Workout clothes are getting better and better with each season. The latest and greatest fabrics featured in today’s high-performance activewear are designed to not only fit well and look good, but also keep us well-supported, comfortable, and cool in the sweatiest of workouts.  But with all that added performance comes a higher price tag.  Plus, those advanced fabrics often require extra care when it comes to washing and cleansing.

So if you want to protect your investment and keep your clothes in the very best shape, here are 10 quick and easy tips on how to properly care for them…

1) Wash after every use.

Many of us wear workout clothes more than once before washing them. But even after the lightest workouts, your gym clothes soak up sweat, which can cause bacteria and yeast to start building up. This is especially true if your gear is tight-fitting – think tight yoga pants, sports bras, and compression shorts!  Wearing those dirt pieces again and again only gives the bacteria a greater chance to survive and thrive.  And by keeping them happy and feed (they just love feasting on sweat and skin cells!), you run the risk of developing skin irritations, acne, and even infections.

That’s why dermatologists and workout enthusiasts alike recommended that you wash your clothes after every workout. Generally, with most workout pieces it’s as simple as popping them into the washer on gentle cycle with cold water, and letting them air-dry afterwards!

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2) Let each piece dry before putting them in the hamper.

If you don’t have the time to wash your workout clothes – or if you aren’t ready to make a trip to the laundromat or laundry facilities just yet – at the very least leave your workout clothes out to air dry. This can be as simple as hanging them on the side of my hamper for a few hours before throwing them in with the rest of your clothes.  Even better, leave them outside and turned inside out for a speedier dry that will also help kill bacteria thanks to the sunshine.

Otherwise, if you leave damp, sweaty clothes all scrunched up in your gym bag, laundry basket, or on the floor, they can become a breeding ground for bacteria. Even worse, if they are left to sit too long, they can grow mildew and mold, or get a musty odor that’s difficult to remove.  Save yourself the hassle of having to remove it later by adding this one simple step to your routine!

3) Pre-soak in vinegar before you wash.

When we exercise, our workout clothes absorb sweat, oil, and dead skin cells, aka ‘body soil’.  One of the best ways to break the bond between the body soil and fabric, and free any trapped bacteria, is with a distilled white vinegar wash.  It’s an inexpensive yet very effective method for cleaning and killing bacteria – most little microbes can’t stand acidic environments.  In fact, vinegar works great for all sorts of household cleaning – from bathrooms and kitchen counters to shoes and jewelry!

Here’s how to do a vinegar wash to clean your workout clothes:  Mix one part white distilled vinegar to four parts cold water. Submerge your workout clothes in a (clean!) sink or tub and let them soak for 15 to 20 minutes. (It’s best not to leave your clothes to soak for longer than 30 minutes as the acid could start to damage the clothing). Once they’ve had a soak, pop them in the wash as normal.

If you don’t want the hassle of pre-soaking, add a quarter to a half cup of vinegar to the wash instead, either at the beginning of the wash cycle or during the rinse cycle.

how to take care of your workout clothes 1

4) Keep like fabrics together to avoid wear and tear.

When loading up the washer, separate your clothes so that you’re washing like fabrics together.  Avoid mixing synthetics with sturdier cottons, and delicate workout clothes with heavier pieces (like jeans and sweatshirts) – this added friction can cause the thinner fabrics to pill or worse, tear into little holes. Also, look out for anything that has a zipper or Velcro – it’s best to put them in a laundry bag to create some separation between the other pieces to avoid snags.

5) Use the right water temperature.

Most workout gear tells you just how to wash them on the labels, so make sure to check that first.  In general, most activewear is made of synthetic fabrics, which are best washed in cold or warm water as it helps them maintain their shape. Hot water might seem best when it comes to killing off bacteria, but it can be damaging to delicate fibers and cause them to lose their shape, support, and elasticity.  So skip it and opt for a vinegar wash instead.

The one time hot water is best is when you’re washing sturdier fabrics like cotton.  So toss those dirty white cotton socks, towels, and t-shirts in the wash using the hottest water possible. This will also help remove odors and disinfect them, since bacteria hates heat!

6) Wash your clothes inside out.

The fibers inside of our clothes come in direct contact with all the sweat, oil, and skin cells that accumulate during workouts. Turning them inside out will expose those areas and allow the odor and bacteria-attracting buildup to be more easily removed.

how to take care of workout clothes

7) Opt for specialty sport detergents or laundry additives.

With the rise in advanced workout gear and high-performance fabrics, many detergent manufacturers are now offering specialty sport detergents and laundry additives.  These formulas focus on getting rid of odors while also gently cleaning our clothes without the use of harsh ingredients.

One of my personal favorites is OdorKlenz’s Sport Laundry Additive. Similar to their other laundry enhancing products, the Sport Laundry Additive uses non-toxic, natural earth minerals to remove and neutralize stubborn sweat and body odors at the source.  It’s completely free of masking agents like perfumes and fragrances, as well as harsh chemicals (which is a huge plus for me as I have very sensitive skin that reacts to pretty much everything, including certain scents and strong detergents). At the same time, the formula is gentle enough to use on water-repelling, Dri-Fit clothing and even more delicate, stretchy yoga pants.  Plus, the minerals rinse clean and won’t clog fabrics, so workout clothes stay breathable and supportive.  The only difference is, they’ll smell so much fresher!

I just recently finished a few loads where I used OdorKlenz’s Sport Laundry Additive in addition to some normal detergent.  In the first wash, I tossed in three pairs of my favorite (and somewhat pricey) yoga pants.  And in the second, I washed a set of running clothes – sweaty sports bra included.  Everything came out completely odor free in both washes, including my tight-fitting, cotton yoga pants that absorb sweat like crazy!  It even removed the pit odor from my running hoodie, which I thought was never going to come out!

how to wash & deodorize workout clothes

8) Go easy on the detergent.

Whether you choose to use a specialty product and/or your normal detergent, never use more than what’s recommended.  If you do add more, chances are there will still be soap lingering on your clothes following the rinse cycle.  And when that happens, it makes the fabrics far less effective at keeping us cool and dry.  With water-repelling fabrics especially (like Lycra and Spandex), it’s recommended that you use no more than three-quarters of what you’d use for a normal load, as they can easily get clogged by the ingredients found in our regular detergents.

9) Avoid fabric softeners at all costs!

While we love the fresh scent of fabric softener, workout clothes and fabric softener should never be mixed. Why’s that?  For one, fabric softener breaks down the elasticity in stretchy fabrics like nylon and spandex that give your workout clothes their shape and stretch. Fabric softeners also coat fibers to create a silky-smooth feel.  When applied to high-performance workout fabrics, it creates a barrier on the garment that traps in odors along with any remaining sweat, dirt, and bacteria.  It also clogs the pores of workout fabrics, decreasing their moisture-wicking capabilities.

Another thing to avoid is anything with fragrances.  Like fabric softeners, they can clog the fibers of your workout clothing, causing them to hold onto more odor. Scent-free detergents work best!

10) Skip the dryer.

Activewear is super delicate. Just as hot water can cause shrinkage, and eventually break down the elasticity and damage the fabric, high temperature settings on dryers can have the exact same effect.  That’s why it’s always best to air dry them, either by hanging them up or laying them flat.  Typically, high-performance fabrics dry quickly anyway. Even better, leave them to hang outdoors and in the sunshine for a couple of hours.  The sun will make it more difficult for bacteria to grow.  (It can cause fading though, so make sure to hang your clothing inside out.)

If you really need to dry the garment, go with air-only, or the lowest heat setting possible to avoid shrinkage or lose of shape. Even on lower settings, 20 minutes or less should be enough time to dry most workout fabrics.

And though you probably wouldn’t ever need to – since they rarely wrinkle – don’t iron your workout clothes.  The hot heat can damage and even burn synthetic fabrics!

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Don’t forget your workout accessories!

Now that we covered all our workout clothes, let’s not forget about our sneakers, gym bag, and exercise mat!  These all need to be cleaned regularly as well.

Workout sneakers – Sneakers can be popped right into the washing machine. Wipe off any mud or dirt beforehand, then remove the laces and put them in a pillow case/laundry bag to prevent them from getting all tangled.  Wash everything on the coldest setting with some laundry detergent, and toss in some towels to add a bit of cushion if you need to (dark ones preferably).  Remove your sneakers from the washer after the rinse cycle and allow them to air dry. (Never put shoes in the dryer – the heat can melt the glue that holds them together.)

To keep sneakers fresh and odor-free in-between washes, try a moisture-absorbing powder like OdorKlenz’s Sport odor eliminating powder.  It’s both non-toxic and perfume-free, and can even be used on gloves, helmets, and other sports equipment for a quick refresh.

Accessories – And lastly, our accessories – including our gym bags and mats – often get ignored.  Bags should be cleaned at least once a month as they make the perfect warm, cozy dark spots for bacteria and fungus to thrive. Exercise mats should also be wiped down often as they’re constantly exposed to everything from sweat, dirt, oil, and anything else lingering on the gym floor.  Take 1-2 antibacterial wipes and thoroughly clean both sides.  Or, wipe with distilled white vinegar when you get home!

how to properly wash workout clothes

Shop activewear laundry essentials from OdorKlenz here and use coupon code ‘JESS15’ to get 15%!

OdorKlenz offers a 30-day money back guarantee, plus free shipping on orders over $75!


How do you care for your favorite workout gear?  Do you wear them over and over (that was me up and until last year!), or do you wash after every wear?

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