How to Clean and Care for High-Performance Activewear

A row of people working out

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The entire purpose of going to a gym for a workout is to break a sweat. Once the workout is over, however, no one wants that sweaty smell to remain in the clothes, especially expensive high-performance activewear. Taking care of it correctly can make your investment last. These are not your plain old cotton T-shirts and sweatpants that can be thrown in a hot water wash. With just a few tips, you can keep gym clothes smelling fresh and looking good.

How to Wash High-Performance Activewear
Detergent

Mild or high performance-specific detergent

Water Temperature Cold
Cycle Type Gentle
Drying Cycle Type Low-heat or air-dry
Special Treatments Wash in small loads
Iron Settings Do not iron

Project Metrics

Wash gym clothes after every wearing. Allowing sweat-soaked clothes to dry and then wearing them again only builds up layer after layer of body soil and bacteria. If you can't wash them the same day, allow the clothes to air dry before you toss them in a hamper to prevent the growth of mildew that only adds to the problem.

Working time: 15 minutes

Total time: 1 hour

Skill level: Beginner

What You’ll Need

Supplies

Tools

Instructions

  1. Soak and Rinse

    Workout clothing often builds up unpleasant odors, even when it’s been washed. The key to breaking the bond between the body soil and the fabric is white distilled vinegar. This inexpensive product has a low level of acid that cuts through body oil and releases the bacteria to be flushed away in the wash. 

    Mix one part white distilled vinegar to four parts cold water. Submerge your workout clothes and let them soak for 15 to 30 minutes before washing. If wash day is several days away, place the clothes in the vinegar/water solution for a 30-minute soak. Rinse with plain water and allow to drip dry before tossing the clothes in the hamper.

  2. Turn Clothes Inside Out

    The grime on your workout clothes is pretty much all on the inside, not the outside. Close up any zippers and turn the clothes inside out before you put them in the washing machine. It keeps the colors brighter and helps avoid snags inside the machine.

  3. Add Gentle or High Performance-specific Detergent

    No matter how bad the clothes smell, stick to the specified amount of laundry detergent—about 2 teaspoons. Too much detergent will build up on the clothing, which creates a perfect environment for fungus to breed. 

    If you’re dealing with very bad smells, try a sportswear-specific laundry detergent that’s designed to clean moisture-wicking synthetic materials. Options include Hex Performance and Nathan Power Wash.

  4. Set the Washing Machine Properly

    Wash your high-performance workout gear in cold water on a gentle cycle. Hot water and too much agitation can damage the fibers of your activewear and shorten its lifespan.

  5. Air-dry Workout Gear, If Possible

Ideally, let your high-performance workout clothes air dry. If you must put them in the clothes dryer, use the lowest heat setting possible to avoid damaging the fabric.

Storing High-Performance Workout Clothes

Some people find it helpful to sort their workout gear by type, such as bottoms, tops, and sports bras. Others like to put matching outfits together to make it easy to grab a set of clothing that goes together.

Repairs

Repair your high-performance workout clothes like you might repair any other clothing, such as with a needle and thread.

Treating Stains on High-Performance Workout Clothes

If you see a waxy build-up of deodorant or yellowing on the underarms, dip an old soft toothbrush in the detergent and scrub the area to loosen the soil before you wash the clothes.

For other types of stains, combine 3 parts baking soda to 1 part water and rub the paste on the stain. Let it sit for 10 to 20 minutes, and then blot it with a damp towel. Wash the clothing, following the proper instructions.

Tips for Washing High-Performance Workout Clothes

  • Never add liquid fabric softener to a load of workout clothes. Fabric softeners coat fibers to create a silky touch. That coating of fibers locks in any remaining soil and the bacteria and odor and removing the fabric softener coating will take many, many washes. Fabric softener also breaks down the elastic fibers that give workout clothes their stretch. You'll end up with smelly, baggy clothes.
  • For extra odor-busting powder, add a half-cup of baking soda to the washing machine when cleaning your workout clothes.