With great fitness goals comes a lot of sweat and stickiness. Got a solid workout in this morning? Congrats! Pat yourself on the back during your celebratory shower.
But don't forget — it's not just your body that needs to cleanse away bacteria. Give your sweaty and smelly gym clothes some love as well, first and foremost by washing them after each use.
"If you don't, your sweat will sit in the clothes and be a breeding ground for bacteria and this can lead to yeast infections or other nasty things like acne or a even a UTI," says personal trainer and founder of Love Sweat Fitness Katie Dunlop.
Unsure where to begin? Here's how to go about keeping your gym clothes so fresh and so clean, without ruining them in the process.
How Often Should I Wash Gym Clothes?
No getting around this one: You'll need to wash those sweaty gym clothes after each workout. "Every time you work out in them, without exception," says Dr. Jennifer Landa, MD, a gynecologist and chief medical officer at BodyLogicMD.
"When you sweat your sweat glands release proteins and lipids and bacteria that live on your skin feed on those lipids and act on the proteins to release odors," she explains.
If you don't wash your gym clothes after each workout (especially the gear that come in contact with your crotch, like leggings or shorts), Landa says, you could upset the pH levels in your vagina. This could make you more prone to yeast infections, bacterial infections and other down-there complications that might not be so fun.
"Besides the possible bacterial growth and infections dirty laundry can cause, you may also just stink," says personal trainer Dunlop. (You don't want to be that person at the gym!)
As for shoes? Those can go without a wash for about a month.
What Detergents Should I Use When Washing Gym Clothes?
When washing gym clothes, don't choose a detergent with a fragrance, as it could lead to skin irritation. "Using detergents with fragrance and other irritating agents can disturb the pH of the vagina and anything that takes away the acidic pH of the vagina and throws it over to the basic side, will increase the risk of bacterial vaginosis and candidiasis [yeast]," explains Landa.
Two detergents that fit the bill are Seventh Generation Free & Clear and Tide Free & Gentle, both of which can be found in at major chain stores such as Target and Walmart.
Using dyes and perfumes on gym clothes can also lead to irritated skin, particularly on the nether regions. "The area in the groin and perineum are often affected since this is an area where the clothing comes into close and direct contact for many hours," says New York-based gynecologist Karen Brodman, MD.
"That is why we tell women to wear dry loose fitting cotton undergarments and panties and to get out of wet sweaty gym clothes as soon as possible," she says.
Which Cycle Should I Use for Gym Clothes?
"The best cycle would depend on the workout wear and your tolerance for replacing it," says Landa.
"I would recommend a more aggressive cycle to get rid of sweat and odors but this could cause your workout wear to become damaged over time and require replacement sooner," Landa says — so think ahead on how often you are willing to replace your gym clothes.
According to a study in American Society for Microbiology, gym clothes with polyester material are especially prone to bad odors, so those garments require a particularly strong cycle.
Ultimately, your best bet is to check the label and follow instructions for each specific article of clothing, as requirements might vary based on the material.
Should I Put My Workout Clothes in the Dryer?
Gym clothes that are prone to shrinking or are very delicate and can be stretched out easily should not go in the dryer. "You might want to avoid the dryer for bras, because they may become damaged and are likely to wear out more quickly," says Landa.
Depending on the material, leggings might also pose complications. "Workout clothes with spandex are likely to wear out more quickly and spandex can lose its elasticity more quickly with regular dryer use due to the high heat," she explains.
In lieu of dryers, it's best to hang dry your gym clothes on a rack. While anything bedazzled should one hundred percent be dried naturally, using a low heat setting in the dry for your regular workout clothes won't wreak too much havoc.
"It's important to go low heat to avoid it breaking down the materials. This will help make sure your gear lasts you a long time," says Dunlop.
When Should I Toss My Gym Clothes?
The truth? This one is hard to determine, so use your best judgement. While there is no set date and everything depends on your individual usage, personal trainer Katie Dunlop recommends the following benchmarks:
- socks: every three to four months
- sports bras: every four to six months
- leggings: every six to 12 months
- tops: every year
- shoes: every six months (if you are running regularly)
A good indicator of whether it's time to toss an item is also how it smells. If post-wash, the stench is not gone, it might be time to buy some new gym clothing, says New York gynecologist Brodman.
One caveat — before hurrying to toss the clothes themselves, check your washing machine for any fungus or mold. "I once had an old washing machine in my former home. When I looked at the washing machine more closely, I found it had a lot of fungus and mold on the inside drum, the area that spins the clothes," Brodman explains. Once the issue was addressed, the gym clothes' smell also went away.
Does My Sweat Affect the Longevity of Gym Clothes?
According to a study in the Journal of The American Academy of Dermatology, those with excessive sweating conditions are more likely to develop skin irritations and infections.
"Sweating increases the chance that the bacteria and fungus will accumulate and work their way into the fibers and it is washing that will remove them from the clothing and will thus prevent odor," says Brodman.
"If you don't wash your gym clothes on a regular basis, there's a greater chance that the bacteria and fungus will get into the fibers and the accompanying odor will not come out with washing," she explains.
So, if you're hitting a HIIT class, be sure to wash gym clothes immediately. If you're taking a Pilates or barre class, which are low-intensity, you might be able to wait a day or two before washing, as the gym clothing won't carry the same strength in smell.
Your mission? Go out there, conquer that sweat session, then take care of the items that are helping you reach all your fitness goals.