Workout clothing can be some of the most expensive stuff we buy. Most of us are willing to shell out a little extra to make sure our girls are firmly supported, our feet are comfy and our butts are opaquely covered while we get our sweat on. So how do you take care of these fancy duds? If you’re like me, you toss them in a drawer and get on with your day.
Unsurprisingly this may not be the best way to care for workout clothes. Not only do I waste an inordinate amount of time every day pawing through my drawer o’ despair, but I may be making my clothes worse at the one job I really, really need them to be good at: keeping the stank away.
It’s true. How you wash, dry and store your workout gear can make a big difference in how well they perform. Here are eight things I wish I’d known sooner about the care and keeping of spandex.
1. They need to breathe too. Raise your hand if you strip off your sweaty duds and immediately ball them up in your gym bag or laundry basket. (Guilty.) You know how all those technical fabrics are designed to wick sweat away from your bod? Well, that moisture has to go somewhere and that’s in your clothes. Cramming them into a dark, damp space with other dark, damp things will only encourage stinky bacteria to multiply. This is especially true for synthetic fabrics like polyester, spandex, Lycra, CoolMax and other performance fabrics according to Douglas Gantenbein, Outside mag’s “gear guy.” So if you can’t launder them immediately (and who can?), try draping them over a chair or the side of the tub for a few hours to air out.
2. The really gross stuff is on the inside. Think of everything the inside of your workout gear is touching when you wear it — pubic hair, dead skin, crotch sweat, blood, skin oils and maybe a liiiittle urine (it’s OK, we won’t tell). You want all of that inside stuff to come out, so take a quick second to flip them inside out before throwing them in the wash.
3. You’re using too much soap. More stank requires more laundry detergent, right? No, actually. It turns out that excess soap builds up in your workout clothing, causing bacteria to grow and multiply, according to a survey done by HEX. Researchers put 174,000 E. coli bacteria (yes, the poop germ) on a pair of Lululemons and then washed them in regular detergent. After? They now had 747,000 bacteria. Moral of the story: Use less soap (so skip those cute little packs) or use a detergent specially formulated for workout gear. And if you’re still having odor issues add a cup of white vinegar to your workout wash.
4. They might not need to be washed after every workout. I know, this is workout heresy, but it’s true. Some items can be rinsed with water and left to dry before your next workout, especially if they weren’t heavily soiled. Sports bras especially can stand up to more than one workout before they need to be fully washed, as many girls can attest to. Just rinse it out in the shower and hang it over the showerhead.
5. Dryer sheets are clothing kryptonite. Dryer sheets and liquid fabric softeners can cause a layer to build up on the surface of your workout clothes, negating their super-cool wicking technology entirely, Gantenbein says. And it’s not like your gym tanks are made out of Oxford cotton — skipping the dryer sheets likely won’t make any difference when it comes to softness, wrinkles or static.
6. You can cook bad smells in. High heat dryer settings were not made for workout gear. Blasting stinky clothing with hot hair doesn’t kill bacteria (it’s not that hot!) and can actually seal the odors into the fabric. No one is saying you have to line dry everything, but putting them on low- or air-dry settings is a quick fix.
7. Organize by sport. Unlike other clothing, workout gear is often used for a specific purpose. For instance, running shorts for running, leggings for yoga, compression gear for kickboxing and blinged-out shredded neon tees for Zumba (just me?). So instead of putting all your tops together or even sorting by color, save yourself time by storing the items you wear together, together. You can even roll them up in outfits (socks included!) for maximum morning efficiency.
8. They may be worn out before they look worn out. The standards we use to judge regular clothing — holes, stains, pilling — don’t work for workout clothing. Rather, consider their primary functions to determine wearability. Do your pants sag, go sheer when you bend over, pull at the seams or have constant crotch rot? Ditch ’em. Do your bras no longer support the girls or are they the wrong size? Say sayonara.