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How to Wash Athletic Fitness Wear

Updated on December 26, 2008


Cycling and fitness wear needs gentle care

Its amazing that clothes we seem to beat up and bounce around in actually need to be cared for gently.

Fabrics used in today’s fitness clothes continue to be on the leading edge of micro fabric design. While the enhanced fabric designs give us better fitting garments that can actually enhance performance, they also come with a down side. Up until about 1980, most fitness and cycling clothing was constructed of cotton, wool or nylon. Even though fabrics such as Polyester, Spandex this is the generic name for Polyeurethane and Neoprene, were invented in the 1940’s. But since the 1980s further developments in these fabrics have seen to the demise of their use in spots where athletes sweat.

While cotton and cotton blend fabrics are still boasted as some of the most breathable and moisture absorbing fabrics on the market, they are not particular know for their elastic or quick drying qualities. Unlike cotton, most micro fabrics used in today’s cycling clothes have moisture wicking qualities, are breathable, have good fabric memory and dry quickly. All this equates to a complex, multi tasking fabric that really does its job.

A of the few downsides to today’s polyester micro fabrics include,

  • UV damage from sunlight
  • Fabric pore blockage
  • Fabric Distress

Each of these conditions can lead to the early demise of your cycling gear. So how do you avoid having hundreds or even thousands of dollars of gear go to waste? Well step one would be proper care.

Washing your cycling or fitness clothes actually performs a number of tasks;

  • Release odors
  • Removes Bacteria
  • Removes unwanted dirt, oils and fungus

What makes our fitness and cycling clothes smell and be dangerous to our health? Unclean fitness clothes store a number of things that can actually be detrimental to your health. While the traces of ammonia and urea that are excreted by our sweat are nominal, they become a breading ground for bacteria. The moist warmth of a used garment is an ideal place for bacteria to multiple and spread. While much of this bacteria is harmless, some of it is not and can lead all types of infections.

What is sweat made of?

While sweat is largely composed of water, it also contains, ammonia, urea, sodium, potassium, magnesium, phosphates and sugars. In addition, sweat can contain hormones. When mixed with bacteria naturally living on your skin and you can have quite a stinky and toxic mixture. The combination of these creates an acidic combination that can actually eat away at fabrics as well as diminish there ability to perform.

How do you know when to wash your gear?

It may seem unsanitary, but items such as leg warmers, arm warmers, shoe covers and jerseys should be assessed every time they are worn to determine if they need to be washed. Washing you clothes to frequently can actually shorten the fabric life. Washing them not enough can do the same. A quick sniff test of the above garments will quickly tell you if they need to be washed. If the garment smells, its time to wash it.

Cycling clothes that have direct contact in wear contact regions should be washed after each wearing. Examples of these garments would be; socks, padded shorts or tights, cycling brief, skull caps or jerseys if worn without a base layer.

How should you wash athletic wear:

  1. First and foremost, you should always follow the manufacturer recommended care instructions. While machine washing with standard detergents and machine drying may not appear to damage your clothing it will most certainly shorten the life of the fabric and your enjoyment.
  2. Zip up zippers, close Velcro, tie up ties and turn your garments inside out.
  3. Hand WashWhile machine washing on gentle will get your clothes clean and may seem to be harmless the spinning and ringing process of most washing machines can actually tear the fabric and overstretch the fabric memory. While this may not immediately appear, over time your garment will wear faster forcing you to replace them sooner.
  4. Rinse your gear immediately after use This will help prevent oils, bacteria and dirt from setting into the fabric and making them smell.
  5. Use a gentle, liquid laundry detergent in tepid water. While there are many specific detergents made for micro fiber fabrics such as, If gentle detergent is not available, a suitable replacement can be baby shampoo. (don’t try this on wool apparel. Use only wool specific soaps.)
  6. Avoid rubbing or applying stress on the seams. Never use harsh abrasives or scouring pads.
  7. Hang dry in the shade. While most micro fibers can with stand low heat, it is always recommended that you line dry your garment. Do not hang them in direct sunlight. If you are finding that your gear is beginning to sag, you can dry them on a medium setting immediately after being washed on occasion. This will tight the weave of the fabric up. Never dry you apparel on a high setting or in a commercial drier. High heat setting sna d commercial driers can actually melt the weave of the fabric and prevent them from stretching. High heats can also seal pores that help you fabrics breathe. Also you should never dry a wool garment.

Do you need to use special Detergents?

There are many specialty detergents that have been created to wash fitness clothes in:


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WIN Detergent

Sport Wash

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Sport Wash


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      On the road again 8 years ago

      I always thought this was a crock, but reading your article makes sense. The things I have treated well, out last those I just throw in the machine every now and then. Why doesn't someone make a more durable fabric? seems like if you can read a few thousand miles in it the laundry should be nothing.

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      KB CycleWerks 8 years ago

      You are right. Most fabrics actually will hold up in the laundry flr w while. It just shortens their life. Try it some time use two cheap pairs of shorts and always hand wash one and always machine wash and dry the other. You see a significant differences in the pair machined washed over a very quick period of time.

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      I Got Abs 8 years ago

      So are all fitness clothes to be hand washed or just the delicate ones?

    • profile image

      KB CycleWerks 7 years ago

      In general, fintenss clothes can be machine washed on gentle without damaging them. Current, energy efficient, front loading washers have been shown to be no more detrimental to fitness clothing than hand washing.

      Drying on the other hand is a big no no. Follow the drying instructions carefully. Drying in a dryer can damage your clothes.

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      kurtrogers 4 years ago

      Thanks for the tips. I make sure my compression shorts are clean before i go biking!

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      Parker 3 years ago

      Great tips here, and I second that putting athletic apparel in the dryer really ruins them. I received a sample of a product called FitWash Detergent and so far it works very well. It's not out yet, but will be end of January. I hope it continues to work. I sent them a Facebook message and they sent me a sample.

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