How often, and at what temperature, should you wash your leggings and sports bras to kill bacteria while keeping the quality?
Be honest: do you sweat twice in your activewear before giving it a wash? I know I do. Heck, even when I’m working out from home and I’m the only one who sees and smells my outfit, I re-wear my gym kit multiple times before throwing it in the washing machine.
When I’m at the gym I don’t wash my leggings and sports bras after every single workout, either. Unless I’ve had a really sweaty session, I’ll try to get at least two uses out of them. Not because I’m lazy (although, yes, that too) but because I’ve heard over washing can be bad for the hi-tech materials that make activewear so stretchy, comfortable and sweat-wicking.
The truth is that gym clothes are expensive, and I want my beloved compression leggings and supportive sports bras to last – and last well. I want my leggings to stay up, hold me in and make me feel good, rather than going bobbly and saggy at the knee. I want my sports bras to stay opaque, thank you very much, and the straps to stay tight. Washing regularly, and washing hot, feels like a fast track to another online shopping spree.
Yet, putting sweaty leggings back in my warm wardrobe for a re-wear clearly makes for a hotbed of germs, particularly when we’re all the more conscious of sprreading bacteria because of the pandemic. So what’s the compromise?
It turns out that activewear probably should be washed after every sweaty session, “as activewear’s main job is to absorb the body’s sweat to help you stay cool during workouts it can end up coated in germs and bacteria,” says Susan Fermor from cleaning brand Dr Beckmann. However, this does depend on how sweaty you get. If you’ve done a lower intensity session, or simply aren’t a big sweater, then feel free to re-wear.
The product team from activewear brand Tala points out that there have been many recent technological advancements in fabrics, so if you choose “anti-bacterial and sweat-wicking materials, you may feel able to wear the same set for multiple workouts, which is beneficial for you and the environment.”
How should you wash gym clothes?
“If you can, wash your activewear together, but separate from your other clothes,” says Sweaty Betty’s garment tech manager, Sophie McLaughlin. “This is because you shouldn’t add fabric softener to activewear because it can reduce the sweat wicking properties of the fabrics.”
The people at Tala also agree, saying: “Fabric softener or conditioner can break down the fibers of the products meaning they won’t last as long.” Try not to use an all-in-one tablet that contains a conditioner either, where possible.
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When it comes to temperature, hotter is not necessarily better. While warmer temperatures are traditionally associated with getting rid of bacteria, washing at 30ºC (or the temperature instructed on your care label) with a good detergent is enough to kill off any germs that may be lurking in your activewear.
One thing is crucial – do not put activewear in the tumble dryer. “Tumble drying will speed up the process of elastane breakdown and reduce the stretch and performance of the items,” says Sophie. Instead, lay flat to dry to keep the shape intact.
“We recommend using a fibre filter bag when washing your activewear (and all clothing!) to prevent microfibres from the fabric entering our oceans,” adds Tala’s product team.
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Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).