You dish out as much money on cute new running tights and fun workout styles as you do on new clothes for the office. But you're probably not putting the same amount of time into caring for your gym gear as you do the rest of your wardrobe. We're not saying you need to take your Lululemon to the dry cleaner, but you do need to give it some TLC.
Performance fabrics are made to wick away sweat, but, unfortunately, that means they lock in odor and sweat, say Gwen Whiting and Lindsey Boyd, co-founders of The Laundress, an eco-friendly line of detergent, fabric care, and home-cleaning products. So to start, you need to separate your workout clothes from everyday laundry, Whiting and Boyd explain. Now get washing! (P.S. Do you know where the dirtiest spots at the gym are?)
How to wash: Most sneakers can actually be washed in the washing machine. First, wipe off any caked-on mud or major dirt, then remove the shoelaces and tie them inside a pillowcase. Toss everything into the washing machine with dark towels or sheets to keep them from bouncing around too much as the machine rotates. Run your wash cycle with cold water, then let shoes air dry.
When to toss: "We recommend replacing your running shoes every 300-400 miles," says Jena Winger, associate product line manager of footwear at Brooks Running. The cushioning will be the first thing to break down because midsoles are designed to absorb shock, she explains. But since it's hard to see breakdown in the midsole, keeping track of your mileage is the best way to measure wear.
How to wash: Laundry detergent with chlorine and high heat from the dryer will break down the spandex fibers in your sports bra quickly, explains LaJean Lawson, Ph.D., adjunct professor of exercise and sport science at Oregon State University and Champion's go-to for sports bra research. Make sure you use a non-chlorine detergent, wash in warm or cold water, and line-dry. Sports bras with underwires should also be placed in a lingerie bag to avoid snagging. (Are you wearing the right size? Check our Sports Bra Fitting Guide.)
When to toss: The straps and band act together to form the support system in your sports bra, so if the stretch and recovery in either part is gone, it's time for a new bra. Another sign of wear is the appearance of spandex whiskers (the equivalent of a pilling sweater in the activewear world). As a general rule, if you wear the same bra three or four times a week, you'll need to replace it in six to 12 months.
How to Wash: The best way to preserve and prolong the life of your workout leggings is to skip the dryer and lay items flat in their natural shape to dry, say Whiting and Boyd. The high heat of the dryer will reduce elasticity and moisture-wicking properties, so embrace the drying rack! You should also skip fabric softener, which can affect the absorption and wicking capabilities.
When to Toss: If elastic starts to peek through at the waistband, or you start to notice those spandex whiskers, it's time to retire your leggings. And if your leggings that used to fit snugly start to ride down during workouts, plan a shopping trip.
How to Wash: If you typically wear plain cotton tees to the gym, it's fine to wash these in hot water and dry them in the dryer. "Cotton is one of the most durable fabrics, so hot water will ensure the most thorough and hygienic cleaning," say Whiting and Boyd. But if you're wearing a high-performance fabric, definitely stick to washing in cool water and air-drying.
When to Toss: Tops are subject to discoloration in the underarm area, under the boob area, and on thin straps, so if you start to see this on your favorite shirt, it's best to get rid of it.