Running clothes are typically made of synthetic fabrics and often start to smell over time as sweat and bacteria get locked into the fabric. Elastic in tights, shorts, and sports bras can deteriorate quickly if exposed to repeated harsh conditions.
Plus, many items have zippers or drawstrings that can snag or get caught in the washing machine. How can you keep your running clothes in the best condition possible?
1) Read the care labels
Most of us don’t give a second thought to just throwing all of our clothes into the washing machine on the same cycle. However, running clothes are usually made of synthetic fabrics and require slightly different care than cotton t-shirts and jeans.
It’s unlikely you will ruin them like a wool sweater in the dryer, but you will decrease their longevity. Need help deciphering the symbols on the tags? Wikipedia can help make sense of those icons.
2) Dry first
Dumping your sweaty clothes into a pile on the floor or in a laundry basket is the first step in building up the funky smell. Remove wet clothing as soon as you are done with a run and hang it up to dry if you aren’t washing it right away.
The longer it sits around wet, the more likely bacteria builds up and will cause it to not only smell, but for the fibers to break down quicker.
3) Use a sport detergent
There are a bunch of available options on the market right now in all different price ranges for sport detergents. Most of them can help to fight off odor and keep residue at bay.
I’ve tried a few of the more expensive brands myself and actually prefer the Tide Febreeze Sport, but experiment for yourself! The amount you sweat, your climate, and your washing machine will all factor in to what works best for you.
4) Avoid heat
Most synthetic fabrics are recommended to be washed at a cold temperature. Never wash them on anything hotter than lukewarm. The elastic in sports bras, tights, and shorts are especially vulnerable to heat.
5) Dry if you must
In the real world, most of us are not hanging up all of our running clothes to dry. If you have the time and space for a drying rack, this is the optimal way to make your running clothes last.
However, for the realists, just remember to keep the heat low in the dryer and try to hang items as much as possible with elastic.
Don’t forget to wash your accessories! Hats, headbands, fuel belts, hydration packs, gloves, buffs, etc. all should be cleaned as well. Many of these items contain plastic so they should be hand-washed.
Running shoes can be rinsed off with cold water, but avoid putting them in the washing machine and never put them in the dryer. Stuff them with newspaper to help them dry and keep their form.
Carissa Liebowitz has run the Boston Marathon as well as dozens of marathons and half marathons. You can follow her running adventures on Strava, Instagram and her blog.