When you hit the gym, you’ll (hopefully) be working up a decent sweat, soaking your clean outfit in no time. Yes, you’ll just sweat again anyway, but, whatever you do, don’t pull yesterday’s gym clothes out of the hamper. Even a shirt that passes the sniff test could be a health risk.
Your skin naturally has good bacteria, yeast, and fungus living on it. But workout clothes that trap sweat against your skin create a “wonderful environment” for bacterial and yeast infections, says Ivy Lee, MD, a dermatologist based in Pasadena, California, and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at UCLA.
An acne-like rash called folliculitis could crop up if you don’t wash your workout wear often. Areas where your clothes are tightest—like the butt, groin, and thighs of yoga pants, or under the breasts of a sports bra—are particularly vulnerable, says Dr. Lee.
Add the fact that gyms are just plain germy, and your risk for infection increases. “Gyms are dirty environments just because of the fact that so many people visit gyms, and people are sharing equipment,” says Cameron Rokhsar, MD, FAAD, FAACS, Associate Clinical Professor of Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. “It’s very easy for bacteria to get transferred from one person to another.” That means you could pick up staph infections such as MRSA, he says.
Tiny cuts and scrapes can make it even harder for your body to keep bacteria out. “Our skin is our first defense in terms of that type of infection,” says Dr. Lee. “But any time we have cuts in our skin or breaks in the skin barrier, we’re at risk of infection.” Skin disorders like eczema, and even microscopic cuts from a razor or dry skin, could make re-wearing dirty clothes even worse. (Try these home remedies for dry skin.)
Dr. Lee and Dr. Rokhsar both recommend washing exercise outfits after every wear to defend against infection. It doesn’t have to be anything intense—just using quick, cold wash on the gentle cycle and skipping the dryer can freshen your clothes, says Dr. Lee. Learn more ways to stop ruining clothes in the laundry.
If you tend to stick with light workouts, you can stress less about the daily washes though. “If you’re not prone to those infections or having intense workouts, you’re probably fine laundering on a regular schedule,” says Dr. Lee. “It’s really based on how much people are sweating.”