You spent half your paycheck on your Lululemon 7/8 length workout pant, so it goes without saying that you need to take care of them. How you wash your workout clothes is crucial to making them last.
Your body puts your workout gear—including UPF (ultraviolet protection factor), compression, antimicrobial, and perspiration-wicking garments—through their own extreme workout. Working up a sweat can really take its toll on your expensive workout tops, pants, capris and bras. Dead skin cells slough off and stick to fibers while oils and sweat from your body soak into the fibers, leaving those garments smelling yucky. However, tossing those garments in with your regular wash can be detrimental to the life and performance of your gear.
Workout gear is made from pricey fabrics that are specially engineered to stretch, while supporting your body. Unfortunately, most of these fabrics react poorly to regular detergent and traditional fabric softener. Washing your gear with your regular loads can clog up the special fibers that are designed to wick moisture, wreak havoc with the antimicrobial properties of the fibers, and actually break down the fabric, so your favorite workout clothing ends up a hot mess.
But don’t sweat it!
Some ground rules to keeping your workout clothes looking and performing at their prime
Prep before the Wash Cycle
- Launder ASAP. Skip the temptation to leave those sweaty workout clothes inside your gym bag or in the bottom of the hamper. This can cause accelerated deterioration of the fabric and make them even more difficult to launder appropriately.
- Read the garment’s care label. Always follow the recommendations on the care label–the manufacturer knows best.
- Turn the garments inside out. This protects their colors and exposes the interior of the clothing (where all the sweat and skin cells are) to more detergent.
- (Bonus step) Give the garments a pre-soak in cold water and Bleach Alternative. Let them soak for around 30 minutes to help break down the excess oils deposited into the fabrics during that hearty sweat.
The Detergent You Use Matters
- Wash the garments in cold water – unless the manufacturer recommends hand washing. Why? Because hot water can break down the fabric and may cause shrinking.
- Choose a fragrance-free laundry detergent. Grab Green’s fragrance-free detergent pods are a good choice. Going fragrance-free prevents the buildup of added ingredients that can clog up the wicking in the fabric, making it less effective at wicking perspiration.
- Use a “clean-rinse” detergent. A clean-rinse detergent is easily rinsed out during a normal rinse cycle, so that little to no residual detergent is left behind. Excess detergent can damage your clothes and cause mold and mildew to grow in the fibers of your clothes. Particles of dead skin, oils, and sweat, cling to the build up of excess detergent, causing mold and mildew to grow. A residue-free quality is also important in avoiding risk of contamination and infections.
- DO NOT overdo it on the detergent! Some people take a whiff of their post-workout gear and think that adding an extra cap-ful of detergent will help their garments come cleaner.The truth is, it has the opposite effect—the excess detergent does not rinse out during the wash and builds up on the garment, trapping dead skin, oils, sweat and more. This creates the ideal atmosphere for fungus and other microbes to take root. Sound unpleasant? It is.
- Avoid the urge to use fabric softener. Again, softeners can interfere with the wicking properties of your workout gear. Fabric softener can also lock in odors, leaving your freshly washed gear smelling a little suspect. Over time, buildup from fabric softener can essentially ruin your gear.
When it Comes to Drying Workout Clothes, Less is More
- Allow your garments to air dry, or tumble dry on the lowest heat setting. High heat from the dryer can cause your gear to shrink.
- Skip the dryer sheets, since they work much like liquid fabric softener and can cause buildup on your garment.
All Athletic Apparel Has a Lifespan
Even with proper care, your athletic apparel isn’t made to last forever. Antimicrobial workout gear loses its antimicrobial powers after around 50 washes, because its antimicrobial properties are contained in its finish, which is applied topically to the fabric. Likewise, UPF finishes wear off after about two years. When you notice chafing, faded tags, straps and bands that are stretched out of shape, or an odor that seems to never go away despite the garment’s proper laundering, it’s time to replace your gear.
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