How to Take Better Care of Your Gym Clothes


sports bras and performance gear hanging from a clothesline

Photo: Anak Surasarang (Shutterstock)

When you peel off your sweaty workout clothes, you may be tempted to just throw them in the laundry with everything else. But performance fabrics and anything elastic benefit from some extra attention. Try these tips to keep them smelling great and lasting longer.

Rinse synthetic fabrics if you can’t wash them immediately

Do you have a shirt or a sports bra that just has a certain…smell when you put it on, even when it’s clean? That’s because odor-causing bacteria glue themselves to synthetic fabrics, and once they do, they’re nearly impossible to fully wash off.

The bacteria eat your sweat and body oils, and create the stink as they do, so a simple way to keep them from multiplying is to cut off their food source. Instead of letting a stinky shirt fester in the laundry, wash it or at least rinse the sweat out of it immediately after your workout.

Turn clothes inside-out

The dirtiest part of any workout garment is the surface that was touching your body. Turning the clothes inside-out makes it easier for the inside to be washed, while potentially protecting the outside (for example, if there are logos or reflective details).

Close any zippers or fasteners so they can’t snag during washing. Sports bras with hooks especially benefit from lingerie bags, which protect them in the wash and keep their hooks from snagging on other clothes.

Use a detergent made for activewear

If you’re happy with how your clothes have been coming out of the wash, it’s fine to keep using your regular detergent. Follow the instructions on the label and use an appropriate amount.

But if you need an extra boost, look for a detergent that’s made for performance fabrics. These are often better at killing or removing those odor-causing bacteria, and they do the job with less potential damage to the fabric than using something like bleach.

Don’t use bleach or fabric softener

Bleach can harm some fabrics. Check the tag on your clothing; many workout garments say not to bleach them.

Fabric softener coats the fibers of a fabric, which makes them feel smoother to your skin, but it also inhibits their ability to absorb moisture. Sweat-wicking performance gear should be washed without fabric softener, and so should wool items like Smartwool socks.

Hang them to dry

The dryer is tough on clothes, especially anything with elastic or Spandex. If you must dry workout gear, use the lowest heat setting possible.

But what works better is hanging them to air dry. Fortunately, performance fabrics don’t absorb much water, so you can take them out of the wash, maybe give them an extra squeeze, and hang them to dry in your laundry room or in your shower. Add a second shower curtain rod and hooks on the inside of your shower, and you’ll always have a convenient place to hang things to dry.