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.
Know Your Uniform Material
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.
Learn the Presoak Move
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.
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.
No Chlorine Bleach
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.
If you have patches or embroidery on your uniform, chlorine bleach can remove the color from these items.
Instead, mix a solution of oxygen-based bleach (OxiClean, Clorox 2, Country Save Bleach, Purex 2 Color Safe 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 the stains and color. 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.
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.
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.
Never wash a colored belt with your white uniform.
Forget the Heat
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.
Blood, Sweat, and Tears
We know there is no crying in martial arts, 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.
Now Is the Time to Pump Iron
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.