How to Clean and Care for High-Performance Activewear

washing workout clothes

The Spruce / Erica Lang

Sweating through a workout is great, but once the workout is over, however, no one wants that sweaty smell to remain in their clothes, especially expensive high-performance activewear. Taking care of your garments correctly can make your investment last.

Workout gear requires washing after every use. 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 items to air-dry before you toss them in a hamper to prevent the growth of mildew that only adds to the problem.

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

Washing high-performance gear takes some extra care. These are not your plain old 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 enough time aside to let them air-dry.

Working time: 15 minutes

Total time: 1 hour

Skill level: Beginner

What You’ll Need



items to wash workout clothes
The Spruce / Erica Lang


  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 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.

    soaking workout clothes
    ​The Spruce / Erica Lang
  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 during the cycle.

    inside out workout clothes
    ​The Spruce / Erica Lang 
  3. Add Gentle or High Performance-specific Detergent

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

    adding 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.

    choosing a washer setting
    ​The Spruce / Erica Lang
  5. Air-dry Workout Gear, If Possible

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

    air drying workout clothes
    ​The Spruce / Erica Lang

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 detergent and scrub the area to loosen the soil before you wash the clothes.

For other types of stains, follow the stain removal guidelines for the specific type of stain before washing.

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. Fabric softener can also break down the elastic fibers that give workout clothes their stretch. You'll end up with smelly, baggy clothes.
  • For extra odor-busting power, add a half-cup of baking soda to the washing machine when cleaning your workout clothes.

Storing High-Performance Workout Clothes

Some people find it helpful to sort their workout gear by types, 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. These fabrics can be hung or folded.


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.