If your new year’s movement goals have turned into a bona fide routine, you might find yourself doing more laundry of late. That can be a drag, and it’s totally understandable if you’re looking for ways to wash workout clothes less often. But first thing’s first: It’s generally pretty important to properly clean your clothes after sweating in them.
“If you wear clothing more than once, these body soils build up in layers, making them more difficult to remove, which over time break down into smelly odors,” Tide scientist Jennifer Ahoni previously told Well+Good. “Body soils are invisible soils, so you may not see them, but if you don’t remove them, you may have a pretty stinky garment on your hands down the road.”
In addition to the dreaded perma-stink and sweat stains, re-wearing unwashed clothes means you’re exposing your skin to the bacteria that tends to get trapped in the synthetic clothing that most activewear is made out of. Those materials (including polyester, nylon, spandex, and blends) are great at “sweat wicking,” or absorbing moisture from your skin into the fabric—which also means they’re absorbing all the oil and dirt you sweat out, becoming a bacteria breeding ground. This can lead to acne and folliculitis if you keep putting those leggings back on without a wash.
At the same time, laundry breaks down the fibers in your workout clothes, causing them to lose their shape and certain functions like compression over time. Besides, who wants to spend every day doing loads? If you’re looking for a little laundry relief, there are a few things you can do.
Wear underwear and a sports bra
While it’s not totally necessary to wear underwear with leggings or shorts, that extra layer could help save your sportswear from the laundry machine, especially if the underwear itself is sweat-wicking. Katie Brown, owner of Rytina Fine Cleaners in Sacramento, California, previously told Well+Good that you can probably get two or three wears out of leggings if the activity is not particularly high impact, and if you wear underwear. Mary Gagliardi, a laundry expert and product scientist for Clorox, says a couple wears of loose-fitting shorts and t-shirts or tank tops are also fine if you’re wearing a sports bra and underwear. However, if the shorts are form-fitting, or if the shirt has a built-in sports bra, you should wash every time.
Hand wash and air dry
If you’re sick of doing laundry loads, Gagliardi recommends hand-washing individual garments like sports bras that are made of synthetic materials that dry quickly. Hanging them out in the sun to dry is an especially smart strategy, since UV rays can kill bacteria.
When you do wash, add baking soda or vinegar
If you’re going longer between washes, you’re risking bacteria lingering and getting harder to clean out over time. To make sure you’re making the most out of your laundry loads, experts recommend adding half a cup of baking soda or six to eight ounces of white vinegar per cycle.
Buy activewear made from alternative materials
Synthetic materials are great for sweat wicking, but not so great at smelling nice. Some brands are infusing the gear with antimicrobial agents to combat this issue. For example, Lululemon has developed a silver-infused thread that’s designed to stop bacteria from multiplying. The brand Ably Apparel uses “Filium Technology” to make its cotton and linen blend activewear water repellant and odor resistant. If you’re looking for something natural, merino wool used in brands like Smartwool absorbs sweat but also stops bacteria multiplication.