Your activewear gets dirtier than almost anything else in your closet, and as a result, gets washed pretty much constantly. But sometimes, it can be hard to shake that nagging feeling that, after a while, your workout clothes aren’t really getting clean. Plus, if you’re spending a good chunk of change on your workout clothes, you want to be sure you’re taking good care of it so it can last as long as possible.
In a Facebook community I’m a part of, a woman shared her experience using laundry boosters to clean her lululemon shorts. She got great results, and I was definitely intrigued. I’d never heard of these fabled laundry boosters she talked about, so I investigated what they were and what to use them for. Apparently, the practice of using laundry boosters is very common in the world of cloth diapering. Some people call it “laundry stripping”, although people seem to have different definitions of that term. Basically, what you’re doing is using a mixture of chemical agents to target mineral buildup and general “gunk”. While detergent is very helpful and important, it can’t always fight things like minerals or other crap that can build up on clothes over many washings.
Although activewear is generally not as gross as dirty diapers, workout clothes and cloth diapers do have a couple of things in common. They both get a lot dirtier than basically any other clothes you wear, and they both get washed pretty much constantly. From a laundry standpoint, they’re actually pretty similar. Minus the poop.
The laundry nemesis: hard water
Where I live, the city water is classified somewhere between “hard” and “very hard”, which means my activewear was getting exposed to a lot of minerals in the wash. A few months ago I moved to a new house with a water softener, but for over a year I was doing heavy washing in untreated water. It’s pretty reasonable to assume that a lot of minerals had built up in the fibers of my beloved workout gear over that period of time. Since mineral build-up is one of the main things a good laundry treatment goes after, my well-loved workout clothes seemed like the perfect candidate for a deep clean.
I ordered two different types of laundry booster: Grovia Mighty Bubbles and Dapple Booster Pods. Both are marketed with baby laundry in mind, but there’s no reason they wouldn’t work on workout clothes. They’re not necessarily easy to find in stores (especially in a small town like mine), so I just got them from Amazon.
First things first, I tested out the laundry boosters on bath towels to make sure there weren’t any problems, especially with color. I definitely didn’t want something to go horribly wrong and ruin an entire washer full of my precious spandex. Fortunately, there didn’t seem to be any issues, so I (nervously) pressed on.
Round 1: shorts and sports bras
For my first load of workout gear, I tried the Grovia Mighty Bubbles. The instructions suggest you treat clean clothes, so I washed everything first. Remember: these treatments are not detergent. For the deep clean cycle, I added only the pod into the washing machine, no detergent, as the instructions stated. The instructions suggest just putting it in and letting the washing machine run as normal, but I decided to deviate slightly from the instructions and let it soak for a while first. I only used one pod, although some diaper sites suggest using as many as 3 for a single wash.
To soak, I filled up my washer with warm water. Anytime you’re doing an intense laundry treatment or stain removal of any kind, it’s helpful to use warm or even hot water. Yes, in the day-to-day, it’s better to wash your activewear on cold since it helps your gear last longer. That said, using warm water once in a blue moon so that you can really reap the benefits of a deep clean or stain treatment is a worthwhile trade-off if you ask me. The water I used ended up being about the temperature of bath water. Warm, but not ultra-hot.
I let everything soak for about an hour. As you can see, the water got gross. Reeeeeally gross. Who knows what the heck made it so dirty–sweat, dirt, minerals, dye…? I have no idea. After an hour, I let the washing cycle finish up normally. I turned on the option for a second rinse, per the recommendation on the package. You don’t want to overexpose your gear to the laundry treatment, so it’s important you rinse it really well to ensure there’s no residue left. Once the cycle was done, I hung everything to dry as I normally do. I’m not sure if the soak actually made any difference (versus just running the wash normally), but it made me feel better. Keep in mind you shouldn’t let your laundry soak for more than a couple of hours, because overexposure to this (rather harsh) laundry treatment can start to damage the fabric.
For my first pass, I actually put ALL of my sports bras and shorts in at once. Since everything going in the wash was older, I figured it had been through the wash enough times that dye transfer wouldn’t be an issue. These were also the items that were the most worn and dirtied, and therefore in the most dire need of a deep clean.
While things mostly turned out just fine, I did have one casualty. My quiet stripe speed shorts got some sort of dye transfer on them that I’ve been unable to remove thus far. I don’t think it was the laundry treatment’s fault, I just think it was me making a bad decision. In light of that, I would recommend separating whites, brights/neons, and darks to be extra-cautious. On the other hand, now I don’t have to worry about babying my quiet stripes and I can get them as dirty as I want!
If you have a small number of items that you’re particularly worried about, you can segregate bleed-prone items one or two at a time in the sink. After you’ve made sure the water + laundry treatment in your washing machine is dissolved and mixed, you can use a jar or pitcher to move some of the water into the sink. That way, you don’t have to use up another whole pod of treatment. Also, this way, the concentration will be the same. If you do opt for a sink soak, give it some good agitation before draining the treated water. And, like above, be sure you rinse sink-soaked items very thoroughly.
For my batch of bras and shorts, the treatment definitely helped. The straps, pits, and bands on my older, lighter-colored sports bras had accumulated a lot of discoloration, despite many washings and sprays with stain remover. A lot of that discoloration was noticeably reduced, though they still didn’t quite look perfect. My before/after photos didn’t turn out very well in my poorly-lit laundry room, but I think you can see a difference especially in the red bra above. Left is before, right is after.
One of the biggest differences I noticed was with my 2-way stretch lululemon speed shorts. Lulu’s 2-way stretch has a crisp feel off the shelf, but over time, some of my older pairs have gone a bit limp. After the laundry treatment, my 2-way shorts felt revitalized and crisp again.
Round 2: crops, pants, tanks, and tops
After success with the first batch, I raided my closet for more. I washed my other bottoms (pants/tights and crops) plus tanks and other tops. Basically, my rule was to only treat items that were at least 6 months old and had been worn and washed it many times. For newer items, I didn’t think they’d accumulated enough wears and washings for the treatment to be beneficial. Basically, I targeted items that were older and/or pretty grimy.
This time, I decided to try the Dapple pods. The main difference between the Grovia and Dapple treatments is that the Dapple pods include an assortment of enzymes chosen to break down a variety of stains. They’re the same sort of enzymes you’d find in pet mess cleaner and are especially useful in fighting the stains and odors from biological sources. So, while Grovia’s pods aren’t necessarily intended to be a stain remover, you could argue that Dapple’s are. That said, the stain removing powers may or may not work for the stains on your clothes, since you’re probably not getting those sorts of bodily excrements on them.
Another difference is that Dapple recommend using detergent and a booster pod in the same run. Again, I soaked everything before letting the washing cycle finish, but this time I added detergent in the mix, too.
More disgusting water ensued.
In general, I didn’t notice as much of a difference in my pants, crops, and tops as I did with my shorts and sports bras. My shorts and bras definitely get a disproportionate amount of wear and general sweaty crap, so this isn’t too surprising.
Both of the laundry treatment manufacturers suggest that some items may require multiple treatments to really get clean, especially if they have a lot of build-up. I treated some of my oldest, dirtiest shorts a second time but didn’t notice a huge difference to the eye, although who knows, it might’ve still done some good that I couldn’t see.
It was hard to tell whether the Grovia or Dapple pods were more effective, since there wasn’t really a way of comparing them side-by-side (besides cutting a pair of shorts in half, which I obviously wasn’t down for). Their ingredients lists are very similar, with the exception of the enzymes in the Dapple pods. In my opinion, you could go with either one and be just fine.
One thing to note about the Dapple treatment is that the package is larger. Instead of getting 10 pods, you get 25. One site I found recommended using 5(!!) Dapple pods for a wash (vs 3 for Grovia), so it may be that they’re a bit less concentrated and that’s why you get more. I’m not sure.
Also, to echo many of the Amazon reviewers, several of the Dapple pods came broken open. You can still use the powder though, so it’s not a total waste. For example, if you want to just treat a couple of items in the sink as I mentioned above, you could scoop a little bit of powder directly into a sink full of warm water.
Overall, doing this laundry treatment gave me good results. Although it didn’t erase all of their years, it seemed to infuse life back into a lot of my goods and will hopefully make them last even longer.
That said, it’s important to put some words of caution out there before you start going laundry stripper crazy. This is just my experience. While I hope it’s helpful, laundry can be an unpredictable beast, so your experience might not be anything like mine.
To that point, keep in mind that this kind of treatment isn’t something everyone needs to do. It’s most definitely not the end-all-be-all of activewear laundry care. I felt like it was a good move for me personally, because I knew with certainty that minerals were an issue for my laundry. If you don’t already know, Google can help you find out if hard water might be an issue for you, too. If it turns out that your water is as mineral-laden as mine, you could see some good results, too.
Also, a laundry strip treatment isn’t something you need to do every time you run the laundry. Quite the opposite! As tempting as it is to go crazy and do everything you can to get clean clothes, there’s definitely such thing as too much of a good thing here. These types of treatments can be very harsh on the fabric, and over-treating your laundry will eventually start to damage the fabric. It is NOT a gentle process. So, while laundry treatments like this can be helpful for reversing months/years of less-than-ideal washing, they shouldn’t be part of a regular washing routine. I probably won’t treat most items in my closet more than once or twice ever, if at all. If you’ve got your laundry routine on lock, this might not be something that’s worth it for you.
I’ve been investigating more ways to optimize my laundry routine lately, and this is just one piece of it. I’ve still got lots left to learn and lots of experiments left to do, so look for more laundry-related posts in the future!
Be a (laundry) stripper, too
You can buy the exact same products I used via Amazon here: