How to Clean and Care for Martial Arts and Karate Uniforms

Karate uniform shirt and belt handing on wooden shelf

The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 20 - 30 mins
  • Total Time: 10 - 12 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner

Whether you are a student of karate, tae kwon do, kung fu, or another martial art, the uniform is a symbol of your skill. How you present yourself is important for your art. But keeping your karate gi and uniforms bright and stain-free doesn't need to be a challenge.

Most martial arts uniforms are made from 100 percent cotton or a cotton-polyester blend. They typically come in three weights: lightweight, middleweight, and heavyweight. Lightweight uniforms are often called "student weight." Lightweight is usually appropriate for a child as he or she moves through classes and outgrows uniforms. The uniforms are made of a thin layer of fabric doubled over and reinforced at the seams. To cut down on costs, they are also likely to be made of polyester or a cotton-polyester blend. Middleweight uniforms are just a bit thicker, more like a heavy T-shirt, but are not durable for a serious or advanced student.

A heavyweight uniform, often called "instructor weight," is usually made of 100 percent cotton. It often feels like canvas or denim before a few washes soften the fabric. The fabric is doubled over and reinforced like lightweight uniforms. Some uniforms include fabric pads in high-use areas like the knees and elbows. Heavyweight uniforms are durable, often lasting up to 10 years of active use if laundered properly. Here's how to care for martial arts uniforms of all kinds.

How to Wash Martial Arts and Karate Uniforms
Detergent Heavy-duty
Water Temperature Warm to hot
Cycle Type Normal
Drying Cycle Air-dry only
Special Treatments Wash alone, whiten with oxygen bleach, do not use chlorine bleach
Iron Settings 400 degrees for cotton

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Washing machine or large sink
  • Clothesline or drying rack
  • Iron
  • Ironing board

Materials

  • Heavy-duty laundry detergent
  • Oxygen-based bleach
  • Water conditioner (optional)

Instructions

Materials and tools to clean a karate uniform on a white surface

The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

Warning

It may be tempting to use chlorine bleach on white uniforms, but it is not effective for polyester or cotton-polyester fabrics and can even damage the material. White polyester fibers have an inner core that is yellow. The chlorine bleach reacts with the fiber and strips away the outer layer, making the fabric permanently yellowed and dull. For cotton uniforms, excessive chlorine bleach can weaken the fibers and cause excess wear. And, if you have patches or embroidery on your uniform, chlorine bleach can remove the color from these items.

  1. Presoak Uniforms

    Presoaking is essential for getting your uniform clean and keeping it white. After each wearing, fill a large sink or bucket with warm, not hot, water. Add two tablespoons heavy-duty laundry detergent (Tide and Persil are considered heavy-duty, with enough enzymes to break apart stain and odor molecules) and one cup baking soda to neutralize odor. Then soak the uniform for at least one hour or, even better, overnight.

    Karate uniforms soaked in large white bowl with heavy-duty laundry detergent and baking soda

    The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

  2. Select the Washer Temperature and Detergent

    After the uniform has presoaked, fill the washer with warm water and detergent, and launder as usual. Do not add fabric softener as this may reduce the uniform's ability to absorb perspiration. Hot water may cause excessive shrinking.

    Washer set to warm setting

    The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

  3. Wash the Uniform Alone

    Do not wash the uniform with other items besides additional karate uniforms. This will prevent dye transfer and wear and tear from buttons, zippers, or other embellishments. Never wash a colored belt with your white uniform. Belts should be hand-washed using a gentle detergent and allowed to air-dry.

    Karate uniform hanging off edge of open washing machine

    The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

  4. Whiten Dingy Uniforms

    To whiten yellowed or dingy uniforms, mix a solution of oxygen-based bleach (such as OxiClean, Clorox 2, and Country Save Bleach) and cool water, following the package directions. Completely submerge the uniform, and allow it to soak for at least eight hours.

    Check for any stains and the color of the fabric. If the stains are gone and the fabric looks whiter and brighter, wash as usual. If the problem remains, mix a fresh solution, and repeat the process. Be patient: It may take several soakings to remove the stains and restore whiteness, but it should work.

    Karate belt soaking in small white bowl with oxygen-based bleach for whitening

    The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

  5. Air-Dry

    Never put a martial arts uniform in the dryer. High heat causes shrinking and sets in stains. Hang the uniform to air-dry. Sunlight can help keep cotton uniforms white due to the bleaching effect of ultraviolet rays.

    If you must use the uniform right away, tumble dry on low heat with a couple of white terry cloth towels to absorb moisture more quickly.

    Karate pants and belt hanging on white wired rack for air drying

    The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

Storing Martial Arts and Karate Uniforms

Never store a dirty or damp uniform. Stains will set, and mildew can form, ruining the uniform. Martial arts uniforms can be hung or folded for storage.

Repairs

If your uniform rips, it can be challenging to repair depending on the size and location of the tear. For a small hole, it can often be hand-stitched along the edges from the inside of the garment. If the rip is large and in more than one direction, you probably need a tailor to do the repair, or it's time to replace the item.

Treating Stains on Martial Arts and Karate Uniforms

Most martial arts are practiced indoors, so excessive soil is unusual. But there can be blood, and that means using cold water. Hot water will only set blood stains and make them nearly impossible to remove. If the above presoaking techniques don't take care of the stains, then inspect the uniform before you put it into the wash, and treat any remaining stains with a pretreatment or by rubbing in a bit of extra detergent.

Ironing

If your uniform is 100 percent cotton, it will be heavily wrinkled after air-drying. Select the proper temperature on your iron (cotton setting), and use an ironing board to get the best results. Begin with the pants, and iron the legs flat so that the creases are at the side of the leg, not the front. Iron the top or jacket like a T-shirt, with the creases running down the outside of the sleeves.

Tips for Washing Martial Arts and Karate Uniforms

  • Since martial arts uniforms are so heavy, they may need to be washed several times before wearing so they don't feel stiff.
  • It is important to know if the water in your area is hard or soft. Hard water contains an excess of minerals that make detergents much less effective in removing soil. If you have hard water, your uniform will be harder to clean, and you will need to add some water conditioner to your presoak bucket. This is not fabric softener; it is an additive that helps your detergent work better.
  • Martial arts shoes, or "kung fu shoes," are often worn during outdoor practices and events. They have cotton uppers and rubber soles and can be washed like any canvas athletic shoe.