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How to Wash Workout Clothes

The Cheat Sheet to Washing Your Workout Clothes the Right Way

Activewear can be crazy expensive. The first time I bought a pair of full-priced Lululemon leggings, I had a miniature stroke; I had never paid that much for workout clothes. I kept them untouched with the tag on for days, just looking at this glorious, luxurious piece of athletic fashion — it was this treasured, unattainable thing that had finally become my possession, and it felt surreal. I imagine it's how my dad or brother would feel if they bought a Lamborghini. My Lambo was $100 yoga pants.

The glamour dissipates the moment you realize you're going to get really, truly, disgustingly sweaty in those treasured leggings. You're quite literally going to soil your expensive pants. Then you're going to toss them in the laundry, because gross. Sweat. Ew.

When you're returning your cherished activewear to its immaculately clean state, make sure you're doing it the right way. Improper washing and mindless missteps can destroy or significantly reduce the life of your workout clothes — and if you're like me, that is the last thing you want for your investment pieces. Even if you're not into the expensive stuff, you likely have a favorite pair of running shorts, the sports bra that fits you better than anything has ever fit you, or that one tank that just looks SO good on you. Very much like Beyoncé, they're irreplaceable.

Here's a helpful guide to the right way to wash your clothes so they stay clean, fresh, and in your rotation for years. We chatted with the experts over at Nashville-based activewear brand Harper Knit, which essentially affirmed our laundry routine and gave us some solid stain-removing tips, too!

  1. DO: Use the right detergent. Sport-specific detergents can help fight odor from intense sweat sessions and remnant bacteria. Many of these detergents are also made to protect technical sports fabric.
  2. DON'T: Use too much detergent. Did you know that too much detergent can actually cause a new kind of stink? The experts at Harper Knit told us that because the washer only puts in enough water to wash out a set amount of detergent, the excess detergent gets left behind in your clothes, "creating a perfect environment for fungal growth, which can lead to a mildew-type odor." GROSS.
  3. DO: Turn it inside out. Since most of the sweat and bacteria is on the inside of the material, flip your clothes inside out. This will also help to protect the color and any kind of detail on your clothes (like foil logos or printed designs).
  4. DON'T: Use fabric softener. This is probably the cardinal rule of activewear maintenance. This is threefold: for one, fabric softener coats the clothing, which can trap the bad smells. Awesome. Secondly, coating can build up over time and damage fabric. And thirdly, if your activewear is moisture-wicking (drawing sweat to the surface), fabric softener will inhibit this technology — and usually that's the technology that warrants the inflated price!
  5. DO: Use cold water. Keep it fresh, keep it cold. Use a cold, gentle cycle to prevent shrinkage and the breakdown of materials. You'll also notice that on nearly every piece of activewear you own, the instruction label says cold-water wash only.
  6. DON'T: Throw your clothes in the dryer. Air-dry always! This prevents pilling, decoration dulling, and melting off (particularly reflective detail) and aids in the overall longevity of your product. I've seen too many cute reflective Nike logos fall off and perfect pairs of yoga pants start to pill and unravel to let you make the same mistake. Just air-dry it.
  7. DO: Remove stains safely. So you wore your yoga pants to breakfast after your AM Vinyasa and dripped acaí all over yourself (trust me, I've been there too. . . . Did I mention those $100 yoga pants were white?). Maybe you have some hardcore sweat stains from working out super hard (badges of honor, honestly). Don't freak out — Harper Knit gave us a DIY stain-removing paste. Use three parts baking soda to one part water, rub the paste on the stain, and let it sit for 10 to 20 minutes before blotting it with a warm, damp towel. Then wash (with cold water, inside out, and no fabric softener!) — those nasty, set-in stains should be gone!
  8. DON'T: Let it sit in sweat. Your clothes are going to get smelly and nasty in a way that is hard to combat. If odor is a major issue for you, try soaking your clothes in half a cup of vinegar before tossing in the washer.
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