9 Things You Don’t Know About Washing Your Gym Clothes

updated Nov 2, 2022
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It doesn’t take a gym rat to know that workout clothes require special cleaning care. Often made of sweat-wicking materials like Lycra, spandex, and polyester, it’s not uncommon for our exercise gear—even cotton ones—to get (and stay) stinky but don’t worry—there are nine things you can learn about how to wash your gym clothes to solve your stinky problems.

To help you take better care of your beloved gym clothes, we broke down some of the best things you can do to keep your workout gear looking and feeling fresh for longer. From vinegar soaks to specially formulated detergents, here are nine things you probably didn’t know about washing your workout clothes.

1. You should let your clothes breathe before washing

While your initial thought might be to bury your smelly gym clothes at the bottom of your hamper, letting them air out before washing them will make them much easier to clean. When you take them off, hang your dirty workout garments somewhere they can dry out (away from clean clothes) to make getting the odors out at laundry time a breeze.

2. Pre-soaking in vinegar helps

A little bit of vinegar can go a long way when washing your gym clothes. For an especially foul-smelling load of clothes, soak your clothes in a half a cup of white vinegar mixed with cold water for at least an hour before washing. This will help remove unpleasant odors and break down sweat stains and buildup.

(Image credit: Brittany Purlee)

3. Wash your gym clothes in cold water

Believe it or not, hot water might hurt your dirty gym clothes more than it could help. Extreme heat can actually break down the elasticity of stretchy textiles, like the material of your yoga pants and running shorts, leading to shrinkage and a shorter lifespan for your clothes.

4. Don’t machine dry them either

Just like hot water can hinder the longevity of your gym clothes, so can hot air. So instead of drying your workout gear on high heat in the dryer, consider air drying them out on a special hanger or clothes rack, or at least using the lowest possible heat setting.

5. Stay away from fabric softener

While it might seem like an easy way to eliminate odors in your dirty workout gear, using fabric softener can be counterproductive.

Turns out that fabric softener—both in liquid form and dryer sheets—can damage stretchy fabrics and create a coating on your clothes that actually traps smells—so for the sake of your gym clothes, avoid it at all costs. Or try out a rinse booster like this one from Dirty Labs for athletic gear designed to replace fabric softeners and reduce static cling.

6. Wash inside out

You probably already knew that washing your clothes inside-out will help safeguard colors, but it can also give your dirtier items—a.k.a. your activewear—a deeper clean in the washer, too. Considering that the inside of your clothes is where all the gross body bacteria accumulates (armpit stains, anyone?), turning your workout gear inside-out before washing will give them a more direct and thorough clean.

7. Try a specially formulated sport detergent

Sportswear-specific laundry detergents exist for a reason. Specially formulated with natural odor fighters to deep clean moisture-wicking fabrics and synthetic materials, detergents such as Hex Performance, Rockin Green Platinum Powdered Detergent, and The Laundress attack the bacteria that grows on your gym clothes directly—removing the true source of bad odors (and the potential stains they leave behind) head-on.

8. But don’t use extra detergent

If you thought adding a little extra detergent to the wash would help clean your activewear better, then think again. According to Shape, too much soap makes it difficult for your washing machine to rinse your garments thoroughly, and soap buildup is a magnet for sweat buildup up and funky smelly fungi.

9. Add an odor eliminator

When all else fails, you can always count on a good odor eliminator to keep your gym gear smelling fresh for longer. For an all-natural odor remover, add a half-cup of white vinegar to your wash’s rinse cycle. And for something a little more fragrant, try an anti-odor spray, like this from The Laundress, to freshen up your stuff faster.