How to Clean and Care for High-Performance Activewear

A workout top hanging from a white sink

The Spruce / Erica Lang

Overview
  • Working Time: 15 mins
  • Total Time: 1 hr
  • Skill Level: Beginner

Sweating through a workout is great, but, once the workout is over, however, no one wants that sweaty smell to remain in their clothes. At the same time, high-performance activewear can be quite expensive, so you don't want to ruin it in the wash. Take proper care of your garments—and make your investment last—with these simple tips.

How Often to Clean High-Performance Activewear

Workout gear requires washing after every use. Allowing sweat-soaked clothes to dry (such as in the bottom of your gym bag) and then wearing them again only builds up layers of body soil and bacteria. If you can't wash the items the same day, air-dry them before tossing them in a hamper to prevent mildew.

Washing high-performance gear takes some extra care. These are not your plain cotton T-shirts and sweatpants that can tolerate hot washes and machine-drying. Each piece of activewear requires examination and preparation before and after washing, and be sure to set aside enough time to let them air-dry.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Sink
  • Washing machine
  • Drying rack

Materials

  • White distilled vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons mild or detergent specific for high-performance fabric

Instructions

A workout top near a white sink
The Spruce / Erica Lang
How to Wash High-Performance Activewear
Detergent Mild or a formula for high-performance fabrics
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
  1. Soak and Rinse

    Workout clothing often builds up unpleasant odors, even after washing. 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 helps release soil and bacteria from the fabric, which is 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 15–30 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.

    Workout clothes soaking in a sink
    ​The Spruce / Erica Lang
  2. Turn Clothes Inside Out

    The grime on your workout clothes is mostly 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 during the cycle.

    Workout clothes turned inside out
    ​The Spruce / Erica Lang 
  3. Add the Correct Detergent

    No matter how bad the clothes smell, stick to the specified amount of laundry detergent, usually about 2 teaspoons. Too much detergent will build up in the clothing fibers, creating a perfect environment for the breeding of bacteria and fungi that cause odors. 

    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.

    Someone holding a capful of detergent
    ​The Spruce / Erica Lang
  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.

    Someone choosing a washer setting
    ​The Spruce / Erica Lang
  5. Air-Dry Workout Gear When Possible

    Ideally, let your high-performance workout clothes air-dry on a drying rack. If you must put them in the dryer, use the lowest heat setting possible to avoid damaging the fabric. Before putting clothing in the dryer, do a sniff test, and rewash it if the odor is still in the fabric. Machine-drying tends to set the odor into the fibers.

    Workout clothes on a drying rack
    ​The Spruce / Erica Lang

What Is High-Performance Activewear?

Workout clothing is often made of stretchy, high-quality fabric designed to move with you during a workout and keep you cool by wicking sweat away from the body. This type of fabric is typically made from blended synthetic fibers, including nylon microfibers and elastane. These fibers are highly engineered to be breathable, and many brands have built-in UV protection. Since the fabric repels moisture, it's tougher to get these types of clothing clean and smelling fresh in the wash.

Storing High-Performance Activewear

These fabrics can be hung or folded. Some people find it helpful to sort and store their workout gear by type, such as bottoms, tops, and sports bras. Others like to put matching outfits together so they can easily grab a set of clothing and go. Regardless, make sure the garments are clean if you're storing them away for a long time. Though bugs or larvae won't eat synthetic high-performance activewear, they'll be attracted to any lingering organic stains on the clothing.

Repairs

Rips in seams are simple to repair by hand with matching thread and a needle. Rips in the body of the garment can be stitched the same way but will leave an obvious seam. High-performance fabrics will not unravel, but holes can become bigger if stretched.

Treating Stains on High-Performance Activewear

If you see a waxy build-up of deodorant or yellowing on the underarms, dip an old soft toothbrush in detergent, and scrub the area to loosen the soil before you wash the clothes. For other types of stains, follow stain removal guidelines for the specific type of stain before washing.

Tips for Washing High-Performance Activewear

  • Never add liquid fabric softener to a load of workout clothes or you'll end up with smelly, baggy clothes. Fabric softeners coat fibers to create a silky touch and thus lock in any remaining soil, bacteria, and odor. They can also break down stretchy elastic fibers.
  • For extra odor-busting power, add 1/2 cup baking soda to the washing machine when cleaning your workout clothes.
  • When air-drying items, keep them away from heaters or direct sunlight because high heat sources can degrade the fibers.