How to Wash Your Gym Kit. The Big Mistake You’re Probably Making.

Did you know that you should never use fabric softener when you wash your gym kit? I didn’t until I saw the tip mentioned in a magazine article I was reading this weekend. The piece didn’t give me much more information or a source and so, intrigued, I decided I had to find out more.

Row of coloured clothes pegs

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Why You Should Never Use Softener

It seems that the tip applies if you’ve got kit made from wicking fabric, which most specialist running or other athletic kit is likely to be made from.

The job of wicking fabric is to help lift sweat off the skin faster than normal which prevents chafing but also helps regulate your temperature as you work out.

It does this, primarily, because of the way it’s woven – the special weave has holes within it that the sweat enters, this is then ‘pulled’ up to the surface of the garment where it then evaporates into the air.

The problem with fabric softener is that it can get into these holes effectively plugging them prevent the ‘wick’ process from occurring. If you want your kit to wick well you, therefore, should skip the softener when you wash it.

Other Washing Tips

There are also a few other washing tricks that will help keep your gym kit lasting for longer.

Turn it inside out when you wash it – this allows the water and detergent to get to the bits that matter.

Don’t boil wash. Guilty as charged! I used to always boil my gym kit – it made sense to me as sweat has bacteria and hot temperatures kill bugs – but, it also kills the elasticity in your kit. Wash on a cool wash with a normal amount of washing powder.

flat lay showing sports bra, shorts, trainers and bottle

Don’t use washing powders with bleaching agents – they can also damage the elastic.

If you have super-expensive kit, then you might want to invest in special fitness detergent.

These use non-bleaching detergents to care for your wash – and some brands, like CleanKit claim to have technology that actually helps stop bacteria sticking to your kit which means it gets cleaner even on a 30-degree wash. If you’re in the UK you can buy CleanKit on amazon. Click here to check it out.

They also do a refresh spray which, if you don’t wash your kit between every workout (probably not going to happen if you’re super sweaty, but maybe after yoga or Pilates) helps freshen things up.

If you’re in the US, you have heaps of brands to choose from – but Win Sports Detergent gets good reviews. Click to check it out here.

Don’t put kit into the drier – again, the extreme heat can damage the elastic fibres of the fabric and make it sag faster. Dry it outside if you can – UV rays also help kill any bacteria that might be left on the fabric (yes, this can happen – see below).

Why You Might Sweat More on a Treadmill

While I was investigating all of this I also found out something else interesting – according to running wear company Janji, the wicking process doesn’t actually work as well when you’re running on a treadmill.

Sweat will still absorb into the fabric but it won’t then evaporate out into the air as well as it does outside – if you’ve ever thought you sweated more during your gym workouts than your outdoor sessions this could be why. It’s not that you’re actually producing more fluid, or working harder, just that more is collecting in your kit.

Oh, and while we’re on the subject of sweat, I recently wrote an entire article on it and it was strangely fascinating as a subject. Here are five things I learned…

  • While everyone sweats, not everyone’s sweat smells. How much the scent of sweat bothers you is actually genetically determined.
  • Odour only forms if you have certain (harmless) types of bacteria in the armpit called corynebacteria and micrococci. These create odour as they break down natural fats in sweat and the more of them you have the more odour is created. This is why you can get odour in one armpit and not the other.
  • These bugs can also grow on polyester fabric like gym kit – this will cause odour when you wear the kit, even if you’re not sweating much. Sometimes the kit can’t be recovered from this and you’ll have to say goodbye, but before you throw things away try adding half a cup of white vinegar to your wash  – it can help remove the bacteria and cut through the odour.
  • Antiperspirants actually change the microbe balance in the armpit so that the odour causing bugs thrive. If you suffer from body odour, try switching to deodorant instead and see if that makes a difference.
  • Soap removes fat left on the skin from sweat. Remove this and the bacteria can’t break it down and odour is lessened.

See I told you it was strangely interesting. Or is it just me that finds weird biological facts oddly compelling?


Who is The Wellness Nerd?

My name is Helen Foster and I’m a health journalist and wellness author. Publications I’ve written for include Women’s Health, Reader’s Digest, Body and Soul, Good Health at the Daily Mail and more. I have also written 16 books on health and nutrition.

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