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Cleaning Workout Clothes: Save Your Expensive Gear!


By: Erin Coleman, B.S. - Nutritional Science, R.D., L.D.,

Writer, The Fit Father Project & Fit Mother Project

cleaning workout clothes

Nike, Alo, Athleta, Lululemon, and many other brands make some amazing workout clothes. And if you want to get the most out of them, properly cleaning workout clothes is key.

Let's face it, today's workout attire looks and performs great, but it's not cheap!

So how can you effectively care for and make athletic gear last as long as possible?

Follow the simple tips below for cleaning workout clothes to keep them looking new, fresh, and free from stinky smells!

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25 Tips for Cleaning Workout Clothes

1. Don't Wash Clothes in Hot Water

When washing expensive workout clothes, avoid washing them in warm or hot water.

Doing so can break down certain fabrics, making them appear dull and worn.

Use cold water when cleaning workout clothes instead to make expensive attire look new and last as long as possible.

It's a simple tip that can produce dramatic results for your clothes and self-confidence!

2. Wash Clothes Soon After Exercise

Letting sweaty clothes sit in a pile of dirty laundry can cause bacteria buildup, making it difficult to get stinky smells out.

Wash your clothes the same day as you work out in them, whenever possible, to keep them smelling fresh and clean long-term.

If you can't wash clothes right away, air dry them or spray anti-bacterial fabric spray on clothes to keep bacteria levels at bay.

3. Turn Exercise Clothes Inside Out

Before cleaning exercise clothes by hand or in your washing machine, turn them inside out!

Doing so helps clothes look newer, longer, with less wear and tear.

You can actually do this with all of your clothes, but take extra time and care to do so with pricey athletic attire.


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4. Avoid Washing Clothes Too Often

The more often you wash workout clothes, the higher chance of them looking dull and faded.

If you sweat a lot during exercise, wash wet or stinky clothes right away.

But if you wear exercise attire around the house and they still smell fresh, consider putting them on one more time before you wash.

5. Choose No Heat or Low Heat Settings

The heat of your dryer can take a toll on new, expensive workout gear, making exercise clothes appear dull, faded, and worn.

Steer clear of drying clothes on high-heat dryer settings.

Instead, choose no heat or low-heat settings, or a “delicate” dryer setting if you have one on your machine.

6. Air Dry Clothes When Possible

Consider using a clothes drying rack instead of machine drying workout attire to maximize the lifespan of your favorite exercise clothes.

Doing so is one of the best ways to prevent the fabric from looking older than you'd like it to.

If you don't have time to air dry athletic gear, choose fluff or low-heat dryer settings and dry clothes for the minimum amount of time needed.

7. Choose Delicate Machine Settings

Gentle washing machine settings are best when cleaning expensive activewear.

Doing so can extend the life of your clothes, helping them look newer longer.

Your washing machine probably has a “delicate” setting.

Choose it over a high-heat dryer setting for workout clothes to keep them looking as new, bright, and fresh as possible.

8. Separate Your Clothes by Color

Before washing workout clothes, separate them by color to prevent clothes from becoming dull and worn.

For example, wash whites with other white clothes, dark-colored clothes with other dark-colored attire, and the remaining light-colored clothes together.

Doing so helps prevent white and lighter clothes from losing their luster.

Always wash dark clothes in cold water to prevent the different colors from bleeding.

9. Consider Using Sports Detergents

When it comes to exercise gear, consider cleaning workout clothes with a laundry detergent specifically designed for sweaty sports clothes, such as Tide Sport.

Doing so is one of the best ways to eliminate the undesirable odor that often occurs with exercise-induced bacteria.

Experiment with different sports detergents to find one that works (and smells) the best for you!

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10. Wash Like Fabrics Together

When maintaining new-looking workout gear is your goal, consider washing like fabrics together.

For example, avoid washing performance fabric with towels, rugs, sweatshirts, and other items that can add lint to exercise attire.

Separate dedicates from other types of fabrics to keep activewear (and other expensive clothing) looking its best.

If you can, wash exercise clothes in a separate load.

11. Don't Forget About Workout Shoes

Exercise shoes can get stinky, trapping in bacteria and odor, so don't forget to wash your athletic shoes too!

Clean workout shoes in cold water (use a delicate washing machine setting), and let them air dry to keep shoes looking and feeling fresh!

You can use an old toothbrush, plus detergent mixed with baking soda, to spot wash shoes in-between machine cleanings.

12. Steer Clear of Fabric Softener

While it might be tempting to use fabric softener for cleaning workout clothes, it's not necessary for washing your favorite workout gear.

In fact, substances present in fabric softeners can coat clothing, cause odor retention, and create a barrier that prevents detergent and water from fully penetrating fibers.

Fabric softener can also break down elastic fibers, making workout clothes fit less snugly or appear baggy.

A sports laundry detergent is all that's necessary, with a booster as needed for odor elimination, when cleaning workout clothes efficiently and making them smell fresh is your goal.

13. Use the Right Amount of Detergent

Using too much laundry detergent is a mistake many people make when cleaning workout clothes.

When it comes to effective laundry detergent, more isn't always better.

Too much laundry soap can build up residue in clothes, trapping bacteria and odor.

Use the recommended amounts of detergent based on the size of the laundry load you're washing.

Don't overdo it when cleaning workout clothes efficiency is your desire.

14. Soak Clothes in Vinegar Water

If you experience unpleasant odor in your athletic attire despite washing workout clothes regularly with a sports detergent, consider soaking sweaty clothes and rinsing them before placing workout gear in the washing machine.

Combine one part distilled white vinegar with four parts cold water and soak dirty clothes for about 15-30 minutes.

Doing so helps eliminate odor to extend the life of exercise attire and make you smell fresh during your next sweat session.

15. Avoid Ironing Workout Gear

This tip might seem obvious, but avoid using an iron on athletic gear.

If your clothes look wrinkled, fluff them in the dryer for a few minutes or dry them on a delicate dryer heat setting, but avoid ironing exercise clothes.

Don't place workout clothes in a dryer on high heat.

Folding your clothes neatly or hanging them in your closet right away after they dry is an excellent way to prevent wrinkling.

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16. Consider Using Baking Soda

If exercise clothes maintain a strong odor despite washing them regularly, consider adding extra odor-fighter power to your washing machine.

Place about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of baking soda in the machine along with laundry soap to get workout clothes extra clean plus reduce odor-causing bacteria.

Doing so helps keep your attire smelling as fresh as possible.

You can add the same amount of vinegar to your washing machine with sports detergent instead if you don't have baking soda on hand.

17. Smell Clothes before Drying Them

A simple sniff test can help you determine if the wash cycle and detergent you're using to clean workout clothes are working as they're supposed to.

If clothes still smell dirty after one wash cycle, don't place them in the dryer.

Soak exercise attire in vinegar, switch up your laundry detergent, or add baking soda to your next wash cycle to ensure fresh-smelling clothes prior to drying them.

18. Don't Bunch Up Sweaty Clothes

If you can't wash sweaty workout clothes the same day you wear them, avoid bunching the clothes up into a ball or gym bag to store them.

Let them air dry, rather than letting exercise attire accumulate additional bacteria and odor.

If you're on the go and can't wash or dry your clothes until much later, consider spraying them with antibacterial fabric spray to avoid odor buildup.

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19. Use the Freezer as a Hack

If you're staying in a hotel and you don't have access to a washing machine, place sweaty workout clothes in a bag in the freezer when you're in a pinch and can't do laundry the same day.

Icy cold air helps prevent bacteria growth and odor buildup until you have a chance to properly clean activewear.

20. Don't Forget to Use Deodorant

Using deodorant regularly helps prevent unpleasant underarm odor from accumulating onto expensive workout attire.

Make sure to apply deodorant daily, before and after workouts.

Doing so reduces bacteria and odor, making cleaning workout clothes (and eliminating unpleasant smells) easier.

21. Hang or Fold Your Clothes

To avoid unnecessary wear and tear, hang up workout clothes on a hanger or fold them neatly in drawers to keep activewear wrinkle-free.

Doing so means you can avoid the urge to throw exercise clothes in the heat of your dryer for wrinkle reduction.

For best results, hang or fold clothes as soon as they are dry!

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22. Wash Workout Clothes Daily

Do a load of laundry every day, especially if you work out regularly.

Prioritize sweaty clothes over other laundry items to avoid having wet clothes sit on the floor in a pile and collect odor-causing bacteria.

Make washing clothes a part of your daily routine.

In fact, doing so is an excellent way to keep your body moving to aid in healthy weight management!

23. Eliminate Shoe Odor

To avoid washing exercise shoes more than you need to, consider using baking soda or another type of odor eliminator to reduce unpleasant smells in your favorite footwear.

Simply sprinkle baking soda inside workout shoes or use another odor eliminator to keep shoes smelling as fresh as possible between washing machine uses.

24. Shop Smart for Exercise Clothes

Since you know it's best to wash workout clothes the same day as you wear them, you probably don't need an entire closet full of expensive workout gear.

If you want to spend a little more money on quality athletic attire, simply purchase fewer outfits and make cleaning workout clothes part of your daily routine.

25. Spray Clothes with Antibacterial Fabric Spray

If you're heading directly from the gym to another event and can't air-dry workout attire or wash it right away, consider spraying your clothes with anti-bacterial fabric spray to reduce bacterial growth and unpleasant odor.

Wash your clothes as soon as you have a chance at the end of the day.

You can use antibacterial fabric spray on your athletic shoes as well!

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How to Really Get the Most Out of Quality Workout Gear

If you'd like to achieve or maintain a tight, toned figure so you can confidently wear the fitted workout clothes you love, exercise most days of each week.

Want to get the most out of your workout gear? Put it to good use!

Complete effective, weight loss workouts that offer long-lasting results.

Eat a healthy diet in addition to getting regular exercise, to keep your body fat low and help you gain confidence.

Eat several small, regular meals throughout the day.

Fill half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables (greens, cucumbers, broccoli, asparagus, cauliflower, tomatoes, etc.) and one-fourth of each plate with chicken, fish, eggs, or other protein-rich foods.

The other fourth of your plate should contain fiber-rich starches (corn, potatoes, peas, beans, whole grains, etc.) plus heart-healthy fats like olive oil or avocados.

Don't forget to drink at least 12 cups of water daily.

For best results, combine strength-training exercises with aerobic workouts.

Try weightlifting or use resistance bands (or your own body weight as resistance) to build or maintain lean muscle.

Aim for at least 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise most days of the week.

Consider jogging, cycling, swimming, rowing, stair climbing, walking uphill, or using an elliptical machine.

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Erin Coleman

Writer, The Fit Father Project & Fit Mother Project

Erin Coleman is a registered and licensed dietitian with over 15 years of freelance writing experience.

She graduated with her Bachelor of Science degree in nutritional science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and completed her dietetic internship at Viterbo University in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Prior to beginning her career in medical content writing, Erin worked as Health Educator for the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Internal Medicine.

Her published work appears on hundreds of health and fitness websites, and she’s currently working on publishing her first book! Erin is a wife, and a Mom to two beautiful children.

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*Please know that weight loss results & health changes/improvements vary from individual to individual; you may not achieve similar results. Always consult with your doctor before making health decisions. This is not medical advice – simply very well-researched info on cleaning workout clothes.

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