Today, we’re going back to activewear basics. Caring for your specialty gear is key to making it last as long as possible. Below are all the details on my strategy for tackling laundry day with my workout clothes.
Keep in mind that you don’t have to follow these tips. Doing these things will generally make your workout gear last longer and look better, but don’t freak out too much about it. Let’s be real, it’s not like going against these guidelines will mean your yoga pants will instantly catch on fire or disintegrate in your hands. But these are all of my best tips, and I think they’re all helpful in making your gear looks its best and last the longest!
The biggest two rules for washing your activewear: wash cold and hang to dry.
So, what’s all the fuss over this? The reason behind both rules is the same: heat is the enemy of spandex. Heat breaks down the fibers faster, which means that, eventually, your leggings won’t hold their shape anymore and your sports bra won’t give you the support you need. Avoiding heat by using the cold cycle and air drying means the stretchy fibers will do their job for longer.
The next most important rule is to wash active fabrics together, separate from your other clothing. Don’t mix your leggings with your jeans and your sports bras with your towels. The big reason for this is pilling. When technical fabrics rub against things like cotton towels, it causes the fabric to pill more quickly and look worn out quicker. Keep ordinary fabrics and active fabrics separate on laundry day.
Another important rule: avoid using fabric softener. Additives like this can wedge their way into the fibers of your activewear and plug them up. This makes your gear less breathable and kills its sweat-wicking properties. Stick to detergent only.
If possible, use the delicate cycle. This will help prevent items from getting tangled as well as prevent the washing machine from pulling on them and stretching them out. They’ll still get clean!
When it comes to air drying, I recommend against hanging things on hooks. Instead, drape them over something like a drying rack or a shower rod. If you hang your activewear on a hook, all the weight presses down on a small area, which can lead to the item getting awkwardly stretched out where it’s hung. I also don’t recommend drying tank tops on hangers for the same reason. When the tank is wet, it’s heavier, and the weight can pull down on the thin straps, stretching them out.
I also recommend separating colors. Usually, I do a dark load, white/light load, and a bright/neon load. If I only have a couple of brights/neons, I’ll toss them in with the darks. Keep in mind that dye is less likely to transfer in cold water compared to hot, but I like to play it safe!
If you have items that are particularly prone to bleeding, like a brand new neon pink top, I’m extra-careful about segregating them with only similar colors to avoid color bleeding. If I don’t have enough similar colors to justify a load of laundry, I’ll hand wash them in the sink for the first few washes. After the first few washes, dyes have generally settled in, so you can go back to less paranoid color separation rules.
Extra tips and tricks
Turn it inside out. If you have an item with a special finish or a particularly vibrant color, turn it inside out before washing. This will cut down on rubbing in the wash and slow down fading. Not to mention, it’s the inside of your gear that’s rubbing up on the sweat and oil from your skin anyway, so it’ll still get super-clean even when it’s inside-out!
Use a delicates bag. I’m a huge fan of mesh laundry bags for all kinds of purposes. If you have strappy gear that tends to get wrapped around other things in the wash, zip it up in a mesh bag. Bags are also handy for protecting delicate items from rubbing up against other things in the wash, since the mesh offers a layer of protection while still letting soap and water through. I got these bags from Amazon, but you can find similar bags all over the place both online and in stores.
Take it easy with the detergent. Since your activewear gets so dirty, it’s tempting to go crazy with the detergent. I get it: it seems like more detergent means more clean, right? Actually, no! Using too much detergent can lead to build-up in the fabric. Use only the amount of detergent recommended for the load size and no more.
Stop the stink. Although a lot of gear these days is designed to be anti-bacterial (and therefore anti-stink), funky gear happens. One easy cure for the fitness stank is probably already in your kitchen: plain white vinegar. You have two options here. One simple solution is to add 1/2-1 cup of vinegar to your load of laundry. You can add it with your detergent, add it alone, or add it only on the rinse step of the wash–I see all of these strategies recommended. Alternatively, for extra oomph, fill up a sink with water and add 1/2-1 cup of vinegar. Soak your stinky gear in the sink and wash it after.
I’m a big proponent of wearing your activewear like you mean it rather than letting it sit untouched and pristine in your closet. That means getting it dirty–literally.
My absolute, all-time FAVORITE stain remover is, without a doubt, plain ol’ powdered Oxiclean (this stuff). For general dirt-fighting power, I add a scoop of powder to a normal load of laundry. I don’t add it to all my loads of laundry. I most commonly add it to white and other light colors, or to a load that happens to be dirtier than usual.
Another trick I use is an Oxiclean soak. For extra-dirty items, I fill up my bathroom sink (make sure it’s clean!) with hot water. I add a scoop of Oxi so it’s more concentrated than usual. I let the item soak for at least an hour, sometimes overnight if it’s really bad. After that, I pull it out of the sink and wash it right away. An occasional deep soak is really helpful for items that are dirty all over, especially whites.
That said, my beloved Oxi is not great with grease stains. My trick for grease is regular dish soap like Dawn. Place a little drop of dish soap directly on the stain and rub or dab it firmly into the stain. Be careful not to overdo it with the detergent–too much detergent can be hard to rinse out and can actually leave a mark of its own! Use only just enough to work it into the stain. Let the detergent sit for a few minutes, then rinse it throughly with HOT water. Repeat if necessary for particularly bad stains.
And yes, I know I told you earlier not to use hot water on your activewear. However, hot water is crucial to removing stubborn stains. Remember, one hot rinse to get out a stain is not going to kill your activewear. You just don’t want to make a habit of washing in hot water unless you really need it.
Common active laundry questions
How often should you wash your activewear?
If you get very sweaty in your workouts, you should wash after every wear. On the other hand, if you don’t sweat much and/or wear your activewear casually, washing it every time would be overkill. Wash it as often as you would your normal clothing; wearing it a handful of times (3-4, ish) is fine before tossing it in the hamper.
The same rules apply to sports bras. Most people agree that it’s best to wear ordinary bras ~3 times before washing rather than wash every time you wear. So, if you wear your sports bras in a low-sweat or casual environment, treat them like your ordinary bras.
Washing activewear–especially sports bras–can be hard on the fabric. Being too zealous with the laundry can be bad because the more you wash, the faster the fabric will start wearing out. But on the other hand, you want to be clean and prevent bacteria buildup. So, it’s a balance.
Do you need to use a special laundry detergent?
No. Normal laundry detergent work just fine. If you want to go the extra mile for stink-prevention, there’s nothing wrong with using a specialty detergent, but it’s not an absolute necessity. I’ve been thinking of experimenting with activewear-specific detergents; if I do, I’ll report back!
Can you wash different brands and different active fabrics together?
Yes! I commonly see people ask if you can wash lululemon with other brands of activewear, and if you can wash luon fabric and luxtreme fabric together. The answer to both is yes. As long as it’s a technical, synthetic, active fabric, it’s safe to combine them.
Take note that some yoga clothing can be made of cotton. Check the tag! If it’s cotton, don’t wash it with your other activewear.
Another exception is merino wool. I wash merino by hand or with other non-activewear delicates. Since it’s not a synthetic fabric, I like to keep it separate.
Do you need to take bra cup inserts out before washing?
No, you can leave them in your sports bras. I’ve washed by sports bras both with the cups inside and taking them out first. Both work! And if you sweat heavily in your sports bras, washing the cups is important since they can soak up a lot of sweat. The only downside is that sometimes the cups can crease in the wash and therefore wear out faster. If they do fold over on themselves, make sure you un-crease them before hanging them to dry so they can dry more quickly.