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How to Wash Your Workout Gear

Mackenzie L. Havey
by Mackenzie L. Havey
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How to Wash Your Workout Gear

Remember the iconic scenes from the “Rocky” movies when Sylvester Stallone runs up the stairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, pumping his fists in triumph as he reaches the top? Now, do you remember what he was wearing? Allow me to jog your memory: a full cotton sweat suit. While Rocky remains an inspiring character, when you consider the advances made in the materials used to construct workout wear, his choice of ensemble would be questionable at best in today’s world.

In 2015, you’d be hard-pressed to find any serious workout gear made from the same fabrics Rocky relied upon. To be sure, there’s a saying in the fitness industry, “Cotton is rotten.” This is a result of the fact that cotton absorbs and holds sweat during (and long after) workouts, making you feel heavy, hot and wet during exercise and then chilly when you stop moving.

The newest class of workout gear made from “technical” fibers will wick sweat away from your body and control temperature close to your skin. This means you’ll be more comfortable while working out, rather than lugging around heavy, sweat-soaked cotton. You’ll pay more for the performance wear, of course, but once you switch, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.

Just because today’s workout wear is high tech, however, doesn’t mean it’s stink-free. Some brands tout special antimicrobial properties, but, in most cases, a single workout will leave your duds rank and in need of washing.

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Since tech fibers can be more delicate than those of Rocky’s famous sweat suits, there are some general rules you should follow when washing them if you hope to preserve them. If you’ve ever washed your workout clothes only to find that they still stink after the fact, you’ve probably already come to this conclusion. Not only can washing them the wrong way mean they don’t get clean, but it can also degrade the fibers and shorten the lifespan of some very expensive exercise ensembles.

Here are the do’s and don’ts of washing your workout gear:


Fabric softener can often be blamed for keeping workout clothes from getting totally clean when they are in the wash cycle. Since it tends to coat these types of fibers, fabric softener prevents them from being able to absorb the water when being washed.


In the same way that fabric softener can keep water in the wash cycle from penetrating fabrics, so can detergent. Use slightly less than you would for your regular clothes, and this should limit the viscosity enough to do the job.


There are a number of special detergents on the market formulated for washing workout clothes. If you find your duds are particularly stinky, this is a good thing to try.


Mold and mildew can begin to grow on workout gear that is left in a gym bag or laundry basket. Be sure to get those items in the washing machine sooner rather than later to prevent the buildup of nasty stenches.


By soaking the worst-smelling garments in a nontoxic sport-specific detergent and cold water, you can often eliminate anything that’s particularly pesky when it comes to odors. Throw them in a bucket or sink for a half hour prior to washing.


Since technical fibers are generally on the delicate side, in most cases it’s best to use cold water to wash them. This will help maintain any special performance properties for many workouts to come.


Consider hanging your gear on a clothes rack to dry, or try line-drying outside. These approaches prevent you from drying out spandex, Lycra and other similar fibers.


Unless you’re ready to turn your workout footwear into lawn-mowing shoes, don’t put them in the washing machine. You can degrade the midsole cushioning and render them less protective when it comes to pavement pounding and other active endeavors. Instead, use a sports odor spray to neutralize odors. For best results, remove the insoles and spray both sides and the bottom of the shoes.


Performance fabrics often require special care beyond these do’s and don’ts. Always check the label to ensure you’re maintaining the integrity of the performance fibers and any special attributes, like UPF, anti-odor or compression.

Written by Mackenzie Havey, a freelance journalist and coach based in Minneapolis. She holds a master’s degree in Kinesiology from the University of Minnesota and is a USA Track and Field certified coach. When she’s not writing, she’s out biking, running and cross-country skiing around the city lakes with her dog.

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Sponsored by - Sweat X Sport
About Sweat X Sport

Sweat X Sport is a specially formulated, high performance laundry cleaning line, designed to eliminate odor, remove stains and restore sports gear, so athletes can own their performance - and their stink. Sweat X is an ultra-thin, proprietary formula using NANOVASIVE™ technology; it lifts and removes embedded sweat beads and related odors from all types of fabrics. All products are biodegradable and non-toxic. Shop the detergent, odor spray, and stain spray today.

About the Author

Mackenzie L. Havey
Mackenzie L. Havey

Mackenzie is a freelance journalist and coach based in Minneapolis. She contributes to a variety of magazines and websites, including TheAtlantic.com, OutsideOnline.com, espnW.com, Runner’s World and Triathlete Magazine. She holds a master’s degree in Kinesiology from the University of Minnesota, and is a USA Track and Field certified coach. When she’s not writing, she’s out biking, running and cross-country skiing around the city lakes with her dog.


36 responses to “How to Wash Your Workout Gear”

  1. Avatar Confused sports gear says:

    Do I need specific detergent for specific sports?
    I play volleyball and basketball, am I able to put them in the same wash or should I do two seperate wash cycles?

    • Avatar Queneshia Granger (BraidedScor says:

      No, sweat is sweat, you can wash them together unless the garments specify different wash cycles. You should wash them seperated from regular clothes though, in order to use the right amount of detergent and fabric softener.

  2. Avatar Alexandra says:

    Soak your clothes in salt or add a tablespoon to the wash, helps get rid of odors without special wash. I have also found freezing some of my tops before washing even works…

  3. Avatar 3LittleBirds says:

    Any tips on getting out sweat stains from my husband’s workout t-shirts? I’ve tried just about everything.

    • Avatar Doc Holliday says:

      Try Oxi clean. It works very well. Or, as the late Billy Mays would say: “TRY OXI CLEAN !!! IT WORK’S VERY WELL !!! – Ok, I’ll show myself out.

    • Avatar Vicki C says:

      I had issues with this as well and used Oxi Clean, too. I made a paste with the oxi clean powder and water, then used a scrub brush and scrubbed it into the stain and let it sit for a bit (hour or so) then washed it normally. Be careful to wash it alone or with clothes that won’t matter if they get oxi clean on them. That took most of it out. If it didn’t, then I repeated it or I put it in an oxi clean bath in a pail with more oxi clean and water and left it overnight and washed the next day. It was a lot of effort for his old nasty shirts, so will probably pitch them and buy new next time. haha

    • Avatar Julie Meadows says:

      Underarm sweat stains are often not caused by sweat, but by a build up of the aluminum in deodorant. To remove, mix crushed baby aspirin and water and spray on stains. Let sit for a while, then wash as usual. I am sure you can google the specifics.

  4. Avatar peppery422 says:

    I use Sports Suds as a pre-wash (my machine has a setting for it) or soak, and then “wash” with white vinegar. Line dry. Works great (and my gear REEKS)

  5. Avatar Mystica says:

    You forgot ‘Don’t use front loading washing machines, aka mold machines’ if you don’t want your clothes to smell worse going out than they did before they went in.
    Front loaders are disgusting.

    • Avatar Doc Holliday says:

      I love my front loading machine! Most people don’t know that you have to leave the door open when it’s not in use so it can dry out. Granted, it makes my OCD rage a little bit to see the door hanging open but it does a much better job of cleaning the clothes by having the water passing through them instead of the clothes just soaking in the water. Kinda like giving your gear a shower instead of a bath.

      • Avatar Ellen O'Loughlin says:

        Use powder detergent , not liquid, in front loading machines

        • Avatar Doc Holliday says:

          My machine specifically says to use HE liquid detergent only. It works REALLY well too, but I have been know to throw a little Oxyclean in there too when needed. (Gotta remember: White shirts are for grown-ups)

          • Avatar Ellen O'Loughlin says:

            Thanks Doc. My machine said the same thing. Upon a friends advice I tried HE powder. I no longer had any smelly workout clothes or an occasional smelly machine. Use whatever works best. Yes keep the washer door open when not in use.

    • Avatar Master V says:

      Any machine is only as smart as its user.

  6. Avatar jtwizz says:

    I generally wash my workout gear in the delicate cycle with my other delicates (and use a delicate fabric detergent that is specific to lycra, spandex, and rayon)… No fabric softener and lowest heat setting on the dryer. No stink issues, but i do have these odd greasy looking spots on some of my tops. Anyone ever have anything similar?

    • Avatar Jennifer Matlock Sager says:

      I have a few greasy looking spots on a few of my tops as well. Mostly my lighter colored ones. Any suggestions on what might cause this and how to get it out?

  7. Avatar cactusjack says:

    Dont forget to make a simple task as complicated as possible :S

  8. Avatar Chrisski says:

    I find washing workout clothes with vinegar added to wash works wonders

  9. Avatar Christin Seegers says:

    Heavy wash cycle to shake out the gunk with Ivory detergent. Tumble dry low. Some times the load dries before due time, so I take out the load so it don’t get hot.
    The rest of my workout gear: neoprene belts, knee straps and phone arm straps, they’re hung on the towel handle in the shower while I shower then left to hang dry.

  10. Avatar AC says:

    For a really bad set, we soak in baking powder prior to washing and it eliminate everything. For lighter smells, we just add baking powder to the watching machine load. Using a front loader.

  11. I disagree that you can’t wash your kicks. This is all dependent on the style of shoe. I use Skecher GoWalks for my walking routine and have washed them with zero repercussions. I toss a half scoop of Nellie’s in each shoe and place each in a lingerie bag. I wash on delicate and let them air dry. They come out like new every time.

    And ditto on vinegar. Not only does it eliminate odors, it prevents static cling, so you don’t need dryer sheets either. It’s an all-natural softener that leaves no residue.

  12. Avatar Cathy Paper says:

    Perfect timing. We were just wondering why our workout clothes smelled. Thanks for the vinegar tip!

  13. Avatar ctsmithiii says:

    Just travel with one set of dry fit. When you’re through working out, get in the shower with your clothes on, wash with shampoo, rinse and air dry. It’ll be fresh and ready for your workout the next day.

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  14. Avatar bill says:

    I got all the latest high-tech workout gear, then couldn’t afford the entry fee for the race!

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  15. Avatar Deborah says:

    What are the suggestions for water aerobic gear (swimsuit & water shoes) ? Should the water shoes be washed after each session?

  16. Avatar Jarin Hutchison says:

    Another good option? Wear merino wool. Naturally anti microbial, it absorbs odor and kills bacteria, and you can wear it more than once before washing. Plus it’s temperature regulating- keeps you cool, but is warm even when wet. Icebreaker is my fave, but Smartwool is another good option.

  17. Avatar Truman Handy says:

    I have found that using some ( about a quarter cup) borax with much less HE detergent (I use about a third of the recommended amount, remember, the manufacturer wants you to buy LOTS of their product) with cold water in my front loader does a great job of removing stink & dirt from my gear. Also, leaving the door open in between washes is mandatory to allow the machine to dry out and prevent mold and mildew stinks from occurring.

  18. Thanks for the amazing write-up! The best and quick way to help kill any bacteria and freshen your clothes is to soak them in a vinegar & water mixture. Try one part vinegar and four parts water for about 30 minutes right before washing.

    • Avatar Sophie King says:

      I put vinegar in the bleach dispenser of the washer and do an extra rinse so that I don’t smell like salad dressing.

  19. Avatar rbfx4x says:

    Washing mine is easy. My wife does it for me <3

  20. Avatar Suzanne Elvidge says:

    I use ordinary eco laundry liquid with a tablespoon of bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) in the wash, and fill the fabric softener dispenser with white vinegar. If it’s bad, I also add soda crystals to the wash.

  21. Avatar Sophie King says:

    I tried the Tide with Febreze and it caused an awful rash.

  22. Avatar braidedscorpio says:

    I tried the laundry sanitizer by Lysol its ok I didn’t notice a rash.

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