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How to Clean Gym Clothes the Right Way Without Losing Elasticity or Wicking

Activewear can be tricky to clean. Here's how to do it.

Top view of sportswear isolated on white background
To clean your activewear, you'll just need a few supplies that you probably have lying around your home. 
Svetlana Zibrova/Getty Images

This story is part of Home Tips, CNET's collection of practical advice for getting the most out of your home, inside and out.

At the end of a long week, laundry is the last thing I want to deal with. I especially don't want to separate my clothes into multiple loads to extend the process. While I definitely won't judge you for throwing your delicates in with jeans and lights, I highly recommend pulling out your activewear to wash separately.

Because of the materials used, activewear can be tricky to clean without losing elasticity or wicking power, and preventing pilling. Most athletic clothing is made with polyester, nylon and other materials that can wear down quickly if not washed correctly. And that's not to mention how easily these clothes collect sweat, lint and grime. 

You likely spent a pretty penny on your leggings, sports bras, athletic shorts and yoga pants, so you'll want to wash them the right way to extend the lifespan of each article. Here's how. (For more tips on how to clean your fitness equipment and accessories, check out our guide on the best way to clean a yoga mat and how to clean running shoes.) 

Read more: Best Fitness Trackers for 2022

What you'll need to get started

To clean your activewear, you'll just need a few supplies that you probably have lying around your home. 

  • Detergent
  • Woolite or another detergent for delicate fabrics
  • Vinegar (optional)
Close-up of a woman with a laundry basket washing clothes

Most of your athletic wear can be washed in the washing machine on a gentle cycle with cold water. 

domoyega/Getty Images

The best way to clean activewear

Most of your athletic wear can be washed in the washing machine on a gentle cycle with cold water. Like doing any other loads, separate the darks from the lights, and turn all clothes inside out before putting them into the washing machine.

Leggings, shorts, yoga and sweatpants 

Most machine-safe items are straightforward to wash. After separating into piles and turning clothing inside out, add detergent and start the cold cycle. The water temperature is critical. Hot water can damage the fibers of the fabrics, plus most detergents are designed to work more efficiently in cold water anyway. 

Cotton workout clothes, like many T-shirts, can be washed on a normal cycle, but still stick to cold water. 

Pro tip: If your clothes still smell after machine washing, soak the item in water with a cup of white vinegar for 30 minutes or so and then machine wash again. 

Sports bras

I recommend hand-washing your sports bras to prevent the padding from rolling up or creasing. Simply fill up your sink with cold water and add about a half cup of Woolite or another delicate detergent. Let soak for 30 minutes to an hour before rinsing with clean water. 

Athletic shoes

For a full rundown on cleaning running shoes, check out our guide here.

Sport bra on black background

The best way to dry activewear is to lay it flat. 

Crispin la valiente/Getty Images

How to dry activewear

I know it's tempting to throw your clothes into the dryer for a speedier process, but it's best to skip the dryer when it comes to activewear. The heat can ruin the fibers, making your workout clothes less stretchy, tighter and pilled. It's best practice to lay the activewear flat and let it air dry, so the clothes can retain their shape. 

Looking for more workout recommendations? Check out four ways to make your workouts more enjoyable, and how you can lose weight and gain muscle at the same time.

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The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.