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How to Wash Activewear?

Meredith Provensal

If you take your workouts and sports seriously, you’ve probably invested in several pieces of activewear clothing. The athleisure trend has more guys and gals dressing for the gym even if the only running they’re planning on doing is errands, and it’s because of the exceptional comfort and flattering fit of best seller activewear. While the Oxford dictionary defines activewear as “clothing designed to be worn for sports, exercise, and outdoor activities,” the days of activewear being for getting sweaty only are long gone. These days, it’s not uncommon to have an entire drawer or closet full of activewear, but it’s certainly not the cheapest clothing around. Women's activewear that is made of synthetic materials can start to smell pretty funky over time if not properly cared for, and poor washing and care practices can lead to early deterioration of your favorite gear like leggings, racerback sports bras, hoodies, sweatshirts, sweatpants, tank tops, joggers, bike shorts, crop tops, jumpsuits, pullovers, and high-rise yoga pants. Activewear is an investment, so if you want your apparel to last, it’s important to know how to wash activewear properly. 


Step 1: Use the Right Detergent

Have you ever washed and dried a pair of your favorite running shorts only to find that they still stink afterward? If so, you’re not alone, because this is a common problem for synthetic fabrics that are commonly seen with workout clothes. Those stretchy, high-performance materials that feel so good when you’re running and walking are comprised of synthetic tubes that help pull moisture away from the skin, which expedites evaporation and keeps you cooler and drier. However, this technology has a major downside, because all of those tiny tubes are magnets for dirt and odors that don’t get washed out easily. The best way to avoid the chronic stench is to air out your gear if you can’t wash it right away, as dumping your clothes in the hamper or keeping them in your gym bag will only make the smell worse. If you can’t wash your clothes right away and you can’t air them out, at least make sure to choose the right detergent. It’s possible to buy special detergent that is specifically created for activewear, but you don’t have to. Persil and Tide each make detergents that will do the trick. Just don’t use too much detergent, as this can make the stench even more likely to stick. Of course, the problem of stinky activewear can be avoided almost entirely by choosing sportswear and loungewear products made from natural fibers that have moisture-wicking and anti-odor properties, like bamboo and merino wool. 


Step 2: Wash Properly

You’ve got the right detergent, so now it’s time to load up the washing machine. It’s always a good idea to separate your whites from your darker colors, and if you’ve got nasty stains on your gear, take the time to pretreat them. If your short sleeve shirts have built up deodorant or yellowing in the underarm area, you can use an old toothbrush soaked in detergent to loosen the stains before washing. Use only the amount of detergent directed on the bottle, because if you add too much, it will build up on your clothing and track even more odors and grime. Activewear should not be bleached, and OxiClean or similar products should not be used especially on patterns like camo or tie-dye. Always skip the fabric softener too, as the remaining residue can attract dirt and odors. Your activewear should be washed on your washing machine’s “Activewear” cycle if one is available, or on the “Delicate" or "Lingerie” cycle otherwise, and you should always use cold water. Hot water can cause deterioration of the fibers in your strappy sports bras, skorts, long sleeve shirts, rompers, or capri leggings. 

Step 3: Dry With Caution

You may have read the warnings on some of your favorite activewear pieces stating that the products should never be dried in a dryer, and for the most part, it’s best to skip the dryer if you’re unsure about how the fabric will respond. In an ideal world, all activewear would air dry naturally on sweater racks that support its weight instead of being hung to dry, but we all know that this isn’t an ideal world. If you need to speed up the drying process, it’s possible to dry your activewear on your dryer’s lowest setting or, even better, with no heat at all. High heat should never be used to dry your activewear because it can reduce the fabric’s stretchiness and cause warping in the size and shape or affect logos on graphic tees. Some fabrics are more sensitive to drying practices than others; for example, bamboo fabrics can be dried in a dryer on a low setting, while merino wool should be laid flat to dry and should never be tumble dried. Make sure to read the care instructions on your clothing and swimsuits. 


Step 4: Soak Out the Stench

If you’ve tried all of the above with no success, it’s time to take more decisive action against your smelly biker shorts. When all else fails, soak your still-stinky gear in a cup of white distilled vinegar with four cups of cold water for 15 to 30 minutes and then put them back in the washing machine. If you won’t be washing your clothes for several days, soak your clothes for the full 30 minutes and then rinse them with water and allow them to air dry before you throw them in the hamper. You can also try adding half a cup of baking soda to your washing machine when cleaning your activewear if you really need some extra odor-killing power. 


Step 5: Don’t Forget Your Shoes

Your activewear isn’t the only thing that can build up a nasty smell over time - sneakers and running shoes are some of the worst offenders! If you notice a strong smell coming from your workout shoes or trainers, adding a sprinkle of baking soda to the inside of your shoes will help absorb extra odors. Dryer sheets can also help. If your running shoes are wet and smelly, remove the insoles and stuff them with newspaper to soak up the moisture, then place them on top of or directly underneath an air vent or fan. The circulating air and newspaper will help speed up the drying process without warping or damaging your shoes.