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Seven things you need to know when washing workout wear and gym clothes

With temperatures rising, you could be getting a sweat on. Here's our top tips for washing your active wear

Seven things you need to know when washing workout wear and gym clothes

We’re all allowed unlimited exercise outdoors now, so you could be getting more use from your workout wear.

First published: 27th May 2020

Most active wear is made from synthetic fabrics, such as acrylic or polyester, which means you should wash them slightly differently to the rest of your wardrobe.

Read on for our top tips for cleaning your workout gear to help keep them in pristine condition.


Go to our exercise equipment guide and yoga equipment guide to find out how to set up a workout space in your home.


1. Let sweaty clothes breathe before washing

It’s very tempting to bundle all your sweaty, smelly clothes into the wash basket as soon as you’re done, but this isn’t a good idea.

With no room to breathe and for sweat to evaporate, the smell and bacteria can linger for longer and become worse, as well as even more difficult to wash out.

2. Turn clothes inside out

Smell-making bacteria will collect anywhere that’s warm and wet. As such, your armpits are their favourite breeding ground.

In addition, antiperspirants and deodorant can build up in the underarms of your workout wear.

To give your washing machine the best chance of removing all of this, turn your clothes inside out before bunging them in the machine for a wash.

This will also help to protect your favourite items from pulls and snags.

3. Use less detergent

If your clothes smell, it’s very tempting to be overenthusiastic and use lots of detergent. But too much will cause product to build up on your clothes.

This build-up of detergent acts as a harbouring ground for bacteria, quickly creating lingering smells.

Sometimes your clothes will smell just fine when fresh from the washing machine, but soon become smelly when you’re wearing them. This is because the bacteria multiply due to your body heat and the moisture helps create the perfect environment for them.

Try using half the detergent you would normally use.

And if your clothes are already suffering from this problem, add between 100ml to 250ml of white vinegar (depending on the size of the load) to a rinse cycle. Then wash the clothes as normal.


Find the best detergent by reading our washing powder and laundry detergent reviews


4. Don’t use fabric conditioner

Synthetic fibres do not need fabric conditioner like natural fabrics do.

In fact, fabric conditioner can build-up on some clothes and lead to bacteria lingering in particular places.

This bacteria can make your clothes smell more easily. So even after washing and smelling fine initially, the item will begin to smell bad soon after wearing it for a bit.

If you’re washing elastane, you’ll also want to avoid fabric conditioner like the plague. It will just stay on your clothes and leave a residue that can dull the finish and attract smelly bacteria.

5. Avoid heat for stretchy items

Heat degrades the elastane in stretchy parts of your clothes, including leggings.

Consider going down to 30°C or as low as 20°C when washing to keep your clothes in good condition.

Our recent investigation into washing at lower temperatures found that if you use a liquid detergent, it should still clean well.

If you want to iron your sportswear, we’d advise choosing a low heat setting and avoid any stretchy parts.

6. Know how to cut down on microplastics

Every time you wash synthetic clothes, you release thousands of tiny plastic fibres which are called microplastics.

But there are ways we can reduce our impact.

  • Wash your synthetics separately, and remove hard fabrics like denim.
  • Choose a program that uses less water, such as an eco program. You can normally find the water usage of different programs in the instruction manual.
  • Invest in a laundry bag that protects your clothes and collects microplastics

For more on microplastics and the damage they cause, read our story on how to stop plastics from your clothes polluting the planet each time you do your laundry.

7. No tumble drying!

It only makes sense, if you’re avoiding heat during the wash, to avoid it while drying, too.

The harsh, drying heat of a tumble dryer will deteriorate the elastane in stretchy leggings or short waistbands.

Instead let your gym wear dry on an airing rack or a clothes line to better protect the fibres and help them last longer.


Find out what’s the best way to dry your laundry.


How to clean your exercise or yoga mat and towel

Man practicing yoga at home

Depending on what your yoga mat or towel is made from, it might be able to go in the washing machine.

Many yoga towels, designed to be used during hot yoga, are made from microfibres and can go in the washing machine on a cold wash.

For hard, rubber-like yoga mats, you will need to wipe them down with a disinfectant to clean them and stop smells developing.

Avoid using any abrasive chemicals or scrubs, as this could damage the rubber or plastic of the mat and cause it to peel away over time.

For more advice, read our full yoga mat and accessories buying guide.

How to wash boxing gloves

Unfortunately no matter how smelly, dirty or sweaty your boxing gloves get, you shouldn’t put them in the washing machine or tumble dryer.

The heat and water will ruin the leather on the gloves. While the saturation can cause mould and mildew to develop during the long drying time.

But all is not lost; you can prevent smells in the first place by wiping down the gloves with a cloth after every use and spraying disinfectant (made for sportswear).

To let smell escape you should leave the straps open so air can circulate and don’t leave your gloves in a bag between uses.

To find out how to wash everything from bras to Uggs, read our full guide explaining how best to wash your clothes.

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