How to Wash Martial Arts and Karate Uniforms

How to Wash Karate Uniforms

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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. Keeping your karate gi and uniforms bright and stain-free doesn't need to be such a chore.

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 most likely to be made of polyester or a cotton/poly 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.

How to Wash Martial Arts Uniforms
Detergent Heavy-duty laundry detergent
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 Cotton: 400 F/ 204 C

Project Metrics

Work Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 12 hours

Skill Level: Beginner

What You'll Need

Supplies:

  • Heavy-duty laundry detergent
  • Oxygen-based bleach

Tools:

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

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 to appear. And, if you have patches or embroidery on your uniform, chlorine bleach can remove the color from these items.

Instructions

  1. Presoak Uniforms

    Presoaking is essential in 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 of a heavy-duty laundry detergent (Tide and Persil are considered heavy-duty with enough enzymes to break apart stain and odor molecules) and one cup of baking soda to neutralize odor; then soak the uniform for at least one hour. It is even better if it can soak overnight.

    Tip

    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.

  2. Check for Stains

    Most martial arts are practiced indoors so excessive soil is unusual, but there can be blood and that means cold water. Hot water will only set blood stains and make them nearly impossible to remove. If the pre-soaking 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 pre-treater or by rubbing in a bit of extra detergent.

  3. Select the Washer Water Temperature and Detergent

    After the uniform has pre-soaked, 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.

  4. Wash the Uniform Alone

    Do not wash the uniform with another laundry other than 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.

  5. Whiten Dingy Uniforms

    To whiten yellowed or dingy uniforms, mix a solution of oxygen-based bleach (OxiClean, Clorox 2, and Country Save Bleach are brand names) and cool water. Follow the package directions as to how much product per gallon of water. 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 color looks whiter and brighter, wash as usual. If the problem remains, mix a fresh solution and repeat. It may take several soakings to remove the stains and restore whiteness, but it should happen. Be patient.

  6. 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 ultra-violet 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.

  7. Iron Properly to Remove Wrinkles

If your uniform is one hundred 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 trousers 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.

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.

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 during storage.

Tip

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.