How to Wash Athleisure So It Looks New Longer

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Experts suggest washing our gym clothes and athleisure after every wear to curb bacterial growth, but the laundry process isn't what you might expect.

Yes, you’re supposed to wash gym clothes after every wear. Generally speaking, the same goes for all that ultra-comfy athleisure and loungewear sets you’re practically living in, too. That’s because the synthetic materials that lend them the stretchy, body-conforming qualities we love are basically petri dishes after they’re exposed to sweat and bacteria found on our bodies and in the air. Gym clothes aren’t inexpensive, though, and the way we wash our leggings, tanks, favorite sports bras, and other fitness gear can make or break the longevity of our athleisure pieces.

How to wash athleisure clothes properly

“Many of these fabrics offer wicking, antimicrobial, four-way stretch, breathability, and compression,” explains Victoria Vandagriff, president of the new women’s active collection from Splendid called Studio. “The biggest issue is that many people don’t know that you shouldn’t wash active apparel and athleisure with fabric softener because it removes the moisture-wicking properties.”

If you’re investing big bucks in premium gym clothes and athleisure, it makes sense to preserve the features you’re paying for. While fabric softener is one of the laundry products to steer clear of, athleisure clothes also require a very specific laundry cycle. You’ll want to make sure you’re choosing the safest laundry detergent for your favorite outfits, after all.

The right temperature for washing athleisure

To wash athleisure with care, you’ll want to use cool water. “Many people swear by the use of steam cycles or high-temperature wash cycles to combat the odor build-up on athleisure wear, but this can decrease the life of your clothes,” says Shannon Lenox, in-house scientist at Seventh Generation. “We encourage washing all of your clothing in cold water.”

Cold water preserves elastic and stretch-type synthetic fabrics, but Shannon also says it’s great for conserving energy. “By combining loads and washing all of your athleisure wear together, you can minimize your use of hot water cycles. What happens over time is the elastic qualities of athleisure fabrics decrease, which may be caused by over-washing or drying in conditions that are too aggressive high temperatures.”

The best products for washing athleisure

HEX Performance Laundry Detergent

Hex Performance Detergent Via Amazon.com

This HEX Performance Laundry Detergent was created specifically for workout clothes and athleisure. If you’re prone to wearing lots of butt-lifting leggings made of high-tech synthetic blends, you’ll love using this detergent. It goes to work removing stink-causing bacteria and grime from delicate fibers so your ensemble smells fresher than ever.

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All Free & Clear Pure Detergent

All Laundry Detergentvia target.com

If you have sensitive skin and need one of the best smelling laundry detergents that’s naturally free of perfumes and dyes, All Free & Clear Pure is an excellent choice for washing your athleisure essentials. It’s a 99 percent natural detergent that uses enzymes to break down gunk and grime while being gentle on the skin. It was also a 2021 Product of the Year winner for green laundry products.

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Woolite Darks Pacs

Woolite Dark Pods Via Amazon.com

If you tend to buy athleisure staples in darker hues, don’t fret over fading. Try Woolite Darks Pacs, a modern marvel designed specifically for dark and black fabrics. It keeps delicate fabric blends in tip-top shape, prevents fading and stretching, and keeps your favorite gear looking new. It’s designed for use in both regular and high-efficiency laundry machines, too.

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Smart Sheep Wool Dryer Balls

Dryer BallsVia Amazon.com

The experts say chemically-based fabric conditioners and softeners can strip your athleisure outfits of their antimicrobial coatings. Wool dryer balls, on the other hand, offer a more natural alternative without ruining the integrity of the fabric you paid so dearly for. These Smart Sheep Wool Dryer Balls are reusable, are made of bleach-free New Zealand wool, and offer fluffed-up laundry every time.

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Honeycomb Mesh Laundry Bags

Honeycomb Mesh Laundry Bagsvia amazon.com

Be sure to throw more delicate athleisure staples like sports bras into mesh laundry bags before tossing them in the wash. This helps keep your favorite fabrics from being snagged on zippers and velcro.

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Honey-Can-Do Heavy Duty Gullwing Drying Rack

Drying Rack Via Amazon.com

Machine drying your yoga pants is off-limits, so you’re going to want to invest in one of the best drying racks. This Honey-Can-Do Heavy Duty Gullwing Drying Rack folds easily for compact storage and has thousands of Amazon reviewers raving about how well it works. “If you have enough room to set this up in a hallway, bathroom, or some other area this can be a really handy tool for apartment living,” writes verified Amazon purchaser Rhianna. “In the short time I’ve had this second one it’s already paid for itself in not needing to pay for the dryer and my clothes aren’t being faded, wrinkled, or damaged by the excessive heat.”

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Affresh Washing Machine Cleaner Tablets

Affresh Washing Machine Cleaner Via Amazon.com

You can follow all the rules on how to wash athleisure properly, but if your laundry machine is dirty it almost doesn’t matter what you put in it. These nifty and affordable Affresh Washing Machine Cleaner Tablets can be popped in between loads from time to time. Using them can remove mineral scale, grime, and even oily buildups that have bacterial growth.

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Bryce Gruber
Bryce Gruber covers gift ideas, shopping, and e-commerce at RD.com, although you've likely seen her work across a variety of women's lifestyle and parenting topics at TheLuxurySpot.com, Bravo, Parents.com, Martha Stewart, and on your TV screen through national talk shows including The Tamron Hall Show. She lives and works in New York's Hudson Valley with her five small children. Find her on social media at @brycegruber.