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Cleaning Tips for Workout Clothing

Cleaning Tips for Workout Clothing

When I started working out 35 years ago, most exercise clothing was made of cotton. When cotton shirts got wet, they stayed wet. Cotton socks rubbed and caused blisters. They covered you up, but they weren't designed to help you out.

Today sports-specific clothing is dramatically different. T-shirts are made of fabrics that wick the moisture away so you stay dry and comfortable. Socks are built to resist slipping and fight foot odor. Fabrics have been designed to protect against sunburn and provide a barrier against cold.

All that technology has a downside. You've got to be a lot more careful about how you clean it, or you risk seriously shortening the life of your gear. Here are some of the things I've learned that can help you get your clothing clean and keep it working well.

Don't let workout clothing sit around too long. Especially in an old gym or duffle bag. The longer it sits, the more likely mold and mildew can grow and stink things up.

When things do get smelly, pre-soak them in a bucket, tub or sink for 30 minutes before washing. Mix one part white vinegar to four parts water and it'll eliminate almost any foul odor. Just make sure to soak the entire garment for an even cleaning result.

Turn shirts with prints on them, inside out. That'll keep the design from fading as quickly. Skip that advice if the outside is heavily soiled.

Spray shirts that get sweat stains, before you wash them. A mixture of 1/2 lemon juice and 1/2 water, then let sit for five minutes before washing.

Use just enough detergent, don't pour in extra. Too much detergent can break down fabrics quicker and may not completely wash away in the rinse cycle. It doesn't make things cleaner, just soapier. 1/3 of a cup is good for a small load, 2/3 of a cup for medium and the whole cup for a full load. Concentrated detergents require less, so read the instructions.

Wash things in cold water, unless they come with specific instructions otherwise. Hot water can break down the performance-enhancing properties of many high tech pieces of clothing. You also want to skip the hot water if clothing has grass, blood or urine stains on it. Hot water will set those stains in and make them much harder to remove. 

Choose liquid detergents over powder, when possible. Powdered detergents may not always dissolve properly, especially if you do most of your laundry in cold water. With liquid detergents, you don't have to worry about powder residue.

Skip fabric softener. It coats fabrics and prevents them from fully absorbing water and getting completely clean. Over time fabric softener will coat your clothing, holding odors in and making them less absorbent. It also builds up a thin layer of film on the inside of your washing machine. That gives bacteria and mold a food source. Use dryer balls or fabric softener sheets if you want softer laundry.

Deep clean your washing machine if clothes keep coming out smelling bad. Use products like Affresh, Gain, Tide, Weiman or Glisten washing machine cleaners. Remember to clean out detergent trays, under splash guards and around rubber door gaskets.

Don't clean gym shoes in the washer, unless they come with instructions that specifically recommend it. Many shoes will become less flexible if they're put through the laundry.

Get a gym bag you can wash regularly. Once a week with your workout gear is reasonable. You don't want to put your nice clean clothes into a bag that smells like sweaty t-shirts and old socks.

Dry things on low, or on a clothesline. Turning heat up to the max can bake your clothes and weaken synthetic fabrics. Coolmax, Drifit, Lycra and Spandex are all materials you should consider tumble-drying at lower temperatures.

Most importantly, read the labels on your gear. The manufacturers print specific care instructions on the tag so you'll get the longest life from your clothing. Follow those instructions and keep things looking and performing like new.

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