The Best Way to Wash Your Workout Clothes and Gear
Spring-clean your gear
You know to declutter your closet and purge your makeup stash, but when was the last time you sifted through your workout wardrobe? If it's been a year (or three), it's smart to take stock. Worn-out bras and threadbare shoes aren't able to do their job—that is, keep you supported and safe. Use our handy cheat sheet to learn the signs that you should replace fitness wear, as well as the easy care tips that will help favorites last.
Life span: Six to 12 months
Washing 101: Don't use chlorine-based products or toss bras into the dryer, says sports bra scientist LaJean Lawson, PhD. Doing so can break down the fibers that make the fabric stretchy and strong. Translation: Your athletic supporters will quickly lose their holding power.
Make them last longer: You should have at least three bras in rotation in your fitness wardrobe, advises Rebecca duRivage-Jacobs, bra product line manager at Brooks Running. Yes, it's an investment, but in the long run your purse will thank you: "Rotating can extend the life of each bra," says duRivage-Jacobs.
Time to toss: Lift your arms. If your bra no longer feels snug in the cups or if it keeps riding up around the rib cage, you definitely need to say bye-bye.
Life span: Six months
Washing 101: Machines can be tough on these threads, so wash on delicate, spin-dry, and hang in a shaded area. High heat will eventually weaken elasticity and destroy fabric, explains Lorna Jane Clarkson, founder and CCO of Lorna Jane Activewear. You'll also want to avoid fabric softeners, which can trap sweat so it doesn't wash away (meaning your gear will still stink) as well as nix the shirt's sweat-fighting properties, says Brooke Berger, head of product for Sweaty Betty.
Make them last longer: Your top's worst enemy? Rough surfaces. Yep, those wall sits may do wonders for your booty, but your shirt will bear the brunt of them. Always keep a barrier between you and harsh surfaces to help prevent pilling or snags.
Time to toss: Holes, tears, and elastic that's lost its snap are all obvious signs to let go. Pay attention to the performance of the garment, too, notes Clarkson. If your fave T isn't wicking sweat or drying at crazy speeds like it once did, give it the boot.
Life span: Six months or longer, depending on how often you work out.
Washing 101: Go ahead and throw them in the wash—on delicate—but always hang to dry. The dryer can fluff up the fabric, explains Berger, and lead to an annoying lint coating. It also speeds up shrinkage.
Make them last longer: Give your favorite leggings at least a day to recover post-washing; this will help slow down the aging process.
Time to toss: "If they're sagging, falling down, lacking support or no longer fitting well, replace them," recommends Tracy Byrnes, senior manager of innovation at Athleta. Also, be on the lookout for fading and transparency—you don't want to bare all during Downward Dog, do you?
Running shoes and cross-trainers
Life span: For runners, 300 to 400 miles; six months for cross-trainers.
Washing 101: Think twice before treating your $140 running shoes like your child's muddy sneaks and tossing them into the wash. All that round-and-round can break down important parts of the shoe—like the midsole cushioning—that help you run safely and comfortably, says Jena Winger, associate product line manager of footwear at Brooks Running. Instead, remove mud or dirt with an old toothbrush and regular detergent. If your trainers are mesh or knit, they're safe to machine-wash but not machine-dry; stuff them with newspaper to help them keep their shape while they air-dry, advises Megan Garfinkle, women's product manager at New Balance.
Make them last longer: Reserve sneakers for the activities they were designed for. That means donning cross-trainers for your gym classes and sticking to runners for pounding the pavement.
Time to toss: Check the thread on your runners, says Winger: "If you see visual wear and tear, your cushioning is worn-out." Don't forget to eyeball those cross-trainers, too. "Thinning rubber on cross-trainers will lead to loss of traction," explains Garfinkle, "which is really important when performing lateral movements." Have unusual aches and pains in your knees and shins? These are also clues that your footwear is on its last leg.
Waterproof running jacket
Life span: Two years
Washing 101: You'd think hanging it up to dry would be the way to go. But check the label to be sure—in some cases, the water-resistant finish is reactivated by dryer heat, allowing the jacket to repel water better than if it had air-dried. If it's filled with down, put a couple of tennis balls in the dryer with it, suggests Byrnes. "This will break up clusters and evenly distribute the down throughout the coat's baffles."
Make it last longer: Don't hang it back up in your closet until it's completely dry or you'll have a smelly, mildewy mess. Also, resist the urge to wash it after every wear—this can cause the material to deteriorate much faster than it otherwise would.
Time to toss: Look for signs of "wet-out," meaning water no longer beads off the surface, says Byrnes. If this is happening, the fabric isn't keeping you dry.
Life span: Two to three years
Washing 101: To keep white ones looking brand spanking new, add a cup of white vinegar in with the detergent. The acid in the vinegar neutralizes and lifts away stubborn stains.
Make them last longer: Your first line of defense is to choose moisture-wicking socks over plain old cotton ones; they'll combat sweaty, foul stenches. It's also super important to keep your toenails trimmed to prevent holes (come on, guys—holey socks just aren't cute!) and to store your socks flat so they retain their shape, advises, Clarkson.
Time to toss: Obviously, holes and thinning are sure indications that your socks have got to go. Another red flag? They're so stretched out that they move separately from your foot, says Clarkson. "Exercise socks should always grip to your feet like a second skin."
Washing 101: Traveling from the stuffy locker to the mucky gym floor, your bag gets its own workout. If it's machine washable and starts to smell, toss it in for a quick clean. If not, give it a soapy sponge bath using a teaspoon of detergent once a week, then air-dry. Between washes, keep bacteria at bay by wiping off the exterior and interior with disinfectant wipes and removing sweaty clothes as soon as you can.
Washing 101: Are you so obsessed with tracking every single step that you never take your gadget off—not even after the most sweat-drenching routine? Neglecting to scrub down your tracker turns it into an ideal environment for bacteria. Wipe off the band between workouts with isopropyl alcohol.
Washing 101: Despite what Internet yogis say, don't put yours in the machine. You'll ruin the material, says Sky Meltzer, CEO of Manduka, and cause dents that let in water, making them a breeding ground for germs. Instead, surface-clean after each use with an all-natural 50/50 solution of water and organic apple cider vinegar to slow the rubber's breakdown and keep the mat grippy; air-dry in a cool place away from direct sunlight.
Washing 101: Raise your hand if you use earbuds. Now raise your hand if you've ever cleaned them. Exactly. Dirty buds can cause lackluster sound. So if yours suddenly went from "wow" to "whomp, whomp," they may be filled with earwax. Remove any gunk stuck in the holes with a toothpick, then wipe them with a tissue or microfiber cloth dampened with 70 percent isopropyl alcohol. (Make sure the cloth isn't dripping.)