A new year brings new fitness goals, and maybe even some cute new workout outfits to encourage you on your way to achieving those goals. But with those goals comes a whole new problem: Your gym clothes need to be washed, and they need to be washed in a very specific way to ensure they last a long, long time and, more importantly, don’t come out still smelling like last week’s spin class.
We consulted with experts to ask about the dos and don’ts of washing gym clothes, from the right washer settings to use to the best detergents for the job — and what to do about the dreaded permastink.
Sorting gym clothes
Getting your gym clothes as clean as possible begins right when you take those sweaty togs off.
It’s a good idea, if your setup allows for it, to let gym clothes dry out before tossing them in the hamper or laundry bag; when wet clothes sit in a heap, they develop bacteria that cause odors. A mesh laundry hamper that allows air to circulate can also help damp clothes dry out, keeping odor-causing bacteria from taking root in the fabric.
Mesh Pop-Up Laundry Hamper ($12.99; amazon.com)
“To keep the prints and colors vibrant, it helps to turn your workout clothes inside out prior to washing,” Jennifer Chevchek, vice president of design for Fabletics, says. The inside of workout gear is also where body soils like sweat and dead skin that contribute to odors build up, so washing clothes inside-out allows the water and detergent to provide a deeper clean.
Don’t wash gym clothes alongside towels, heavy sweats, fleece and other linty fabrics. “We recommend that you avoid washing workout gear alongside products with coarse fabric such as denim or apparel that has hardware like zippers or Velcro,” Chevchek adds.
- Let sweaty clothes dry out
- Turn inside-out
- Avoid washing gym gear alongside heavy, embellished or linty items
How to wash and dry gym clothes
Washing workout gear is straightforward, and less is more — you may be surprised to find out that the biggest mistake people make when washing gym clothes is using too much laundry detergent.
Chevchek says, “We recommend machine washing in cold water with like colors.” Use the gentle or delicate cycle, and don’t overstuff the drum of the machine so that the clothes have room to move, allowing water and detergent to fully penetrate the fibers.
Tide Sport Liquid Laundry Detergent ($15.84, originally $16.95; amazon.com)
When it comes to detergent, you don’t need a specialty product for washing gym gear — but one can be nice to have. While the type of detergent you use isn’t important, how much detergent you use is important. “Don’t use too much detergent!” says Cheryl Nelson, a lifestyle expert who shares her preparedness tips on her website, Prepare With Cher. “Too much detergent makes it difficult to rinse your garments thoroughly, which can lead to more buildup that will trap sweat and fungi.” Excess detergent will leave product buildup that will contribute to lingering odors in clean clothes, and lend a dingy appearance to your workout outfits.
Similarly, there are products you should avoid using entirely when laundering gym gear. “Be sure to avoid fabric softener or bleach,” Chevchek says.
Fine Mesh Laundry Bags for Delicates ($4.99, originally $10.99; amazon.com)
Chevchek recommends using a mesh lingerie washing bag to extend the life of sports bras, adding that, “removing the cups from sports bras will also help to keep their shape and stay in great condition.”
While machine drying isn’t the best option for workout gear, it’s the one most people will use and that’s okay — as long as you use the right dryer settings. Always opt for the low- or no-heat setting to help preserve elasticity and avoid odors. “Hot air, like hot water, can also break down fabric elasticity, leading to shrinkage and a shorter garment lifespan,” Nelson says. “Hot air can also amplify odors.”
Yuming Stainless Steel Foldable Drying Rack ($54.99, originally $57.99; amazon.com)
The experts we spoke to agree that air drying is the best choice for gym clothes. “We recommend hanging or laying flat to dry. We also recommend keeping bright-colored fabrics separate when wet,” Chevchek says, to avoid dye transfer and staining from bright-colored clothing on lighter-colored items.
- Wash gym clothes in cold water using the delicate or gentle cycle
- Put sports bras in protective mesh washing bags
- Don’t use too much detergent
- Avoid using fabric softener or bleach
- Air dry or machine dry on a low- or no-heat setting
How to treat — and avoid! — the dreaded ‘permastink’
If you’ve followed all these guidelines, you should never have a problem with permastink — the term for when freshly washed gym clothes come out of the wash still smelling like last week’s workout. There are a few factors that contribute to workout clothes’ coming out of the wash less than clean, and a simple way to fix it when it happens.
“It’s important to avoid letting wet, sweaty clothes sit in a bag for too long,” Chevchek says. “Letting your clothes dry out after a workout is key to not letting bacteria build up.” Being mindful not to use too much detergent and avoiding fabric softener and high-heat drying will also help to ensure that product buildup on clothes doesn’t lead to odor retention.
Fabric softener is especially important to avoid when washing synthetic fibers. “Most fabric softeners contain silicone,” Chevchek explains, “which can block the tiny pores in the fabric and diminish its moisture-inhibiting capabilities. Also, using too much detergent can prevent the water running clean and contribute to buildup on the garments.”
Lucy’s Distilled White Vinegar ($14.99; amazon.com)
When malodor due to product buildup does happen, Nelson offers this simple fix: “Add one-half to one cup of distilled white vinegar to the wash, and use half as much detergent.” The vinegar will help to break down the buildup and eliminate odors that have gotten trapped in the fibers, and because you’re trying to wash out an excess of detergent, you’ll only need half of a regular dose to get the clothes clean.
- To avoid lingering odors in otherwise clean clothes, don’t use too much detergent
- Never use liquid fabric softener or dryer sheets when washing workout gear
- Air dry or use a low-heat dryer cycle
- Use white vinegar in the wash to treat lingering odors