Workout clothes bring a unique set of challenges to the laundry room. At once delicate and thoroughly filthy, these expensive garments demand special treatment to maintain their shape, endurance, and freshness. As a trainer, I often go through three or more workout outfits in a day; these are my personal tips on how to protect your workout wardrobe and keep it shiny and new as long as possible
1. Read the care label.
Make no assumptions. That “plain t-shirt” might be made of exotic unicorn hair, and one tumble in the dryer might be its end. When in doubt, follow the manufacturer’s directions.
2. Check the pockets.
Please don’t wash your ID, iPod, Garmin, FitBit, pedometer, etc….
3. Consider a natural detergent.
I’ve been using Ecover Laundry Detergent for years because it’s gentle on my clothes and, as a bonus, on the environment. I don’t like to have any extra scents or chemicals on my clothes when I’m working out to avoid allergic reactions and skin irritation.
4. Ditch the fabric softener!
Fabric softener will kill the wicking properties of your sport fabrics and may cause the fibers of your garment to wear out sooner.
5. Separate by fabric and color.
- Cotton, cotton/polyester blends, and polyester: hot or warm wash; can go in the dryer unless it’s running on the small side already. Separate bright colors from whites to avoid bleeding. 100% polyester shirts that have gone through the dryer are crackly, static-cling nightmares (looking at you, running jerseys), so consider air drying those as well.
- Anything with stretch: cold, gentle wash; no dryer (hang dry – I recommend a bamboo or other non-metal drying rack). Even if the label says something can be tumbled dry, I never dry clothes with stretch in them because the heat can break down the synthetic fiber!
- Modal: cold, gentle wash or hand wash; no dryer – reshape while still wet or this stuff will shrink like crazy. Hand wash really is best, but I know that not many of us are hand-washing anything in the year 2014!
- Fleece: cold, gentle cycle; no dryer if you want to keep the fluff intact, but finish drying with a 5 minute no heat (air only) cycle to re-fluff the fabric.
- Sport bras: cold, gentle cycle; consider using a lingerie bag to keep them from getting caught or tangled in the washer and stretched; no dryer.
- Socks: hot or warm wash with 1/4 cup of baking soda or borax added to help them stay white; can go in the dryer unless they’re polyester running socks, in which case they’re in the “fabrics that stretch” category and are better off air dried.
6. Pre-treat if clothes are stained or super gross.
For stains, I pre-treat by dabbing a bit of laundry detergent right on the stain and letting the garment sit for 5 minutes (usually just while I load the rest of the laundry into the machine).
For the persistent funk, I pre-treat by filling the washer with some cold water and swirling in a splash of detergent. If I remember, I add 3-4 drops of tea tree oil while clothes are soaking. Alternately, I pre-soak in cold water with 1 capful of Bac-Out – this stuff is amazing and also really good for pet stains on pretty much any surface. (And if you’re really feeling pressed for time, you can just add the Bac-Out along with your detergent to the regular wash cycle and skip the pre-soak.)
Bonus: De-Funk your Shoes
I’m not a shoes-in-the-washer person, although I’m considering converting. In the meantime, you can de-funk the insides of your shoes by:
- spraying the insides and insoles with Bac-Out
- putting 3-4 tablespoons of baking soda in an old sock and storing the sock inside your shoe to absorb odor (replace every month or so)
- leaving your shoes in the sun for 3-4 hours – it works!