Maybe quarantine has given you more time on your hands so that you finally get to squeeze in a workout every now and then. Or, perhaps you have always been avid about fitness. No matter which camp you are in, we can all agree: The extra laundry is a drag. And unless you own an ample workout wardrobe, it might feel like you are constantly washing and folding.
So, we do not blame you for being tempted to re-wear yesterday’s workout gear. But now that it is the dog days of summer and it is impossible to avoid sweating during a workout, it got us thinking about what really happens if you do not wash in between wears. Aside from possibly a bit of B.O. (that is where social distancing comes in handy, right?), are there actual health risks? We dive in.
What are the potential issues of re-wearing your workout clothes without washing them?
While the process of sweating is good for naturally cooling you down, the bacteria from sweat trapped in your workout clothes can cause problems, says Ava Shamban, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Skin Five by Ava M.D. Here is what could happen:
When bacteria, skin cells and dirt are embedded in your workout clothes it can rub onto your skin and cause clogged pores that could lead to breakouts.
- Athlete’s foot
Damp socks from sweaty feet can become the perfect breeding ground for a fungal infection.
Also known as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, it is a type of staph bacteria that can result from unclean workout clothes. It usually does not cause any major issues, but can sometimes result in skin infections.
- Yeast infections
Your body naturally produces yeast on your skin — and that yeast thrives on damp, sweaty clothes. Re-wearing those same workout clothes without washing them can lead to skin irritation thanks to a buildup of yeast.
- Body odor
It is not a health hazard, but if it matters to you, your clothes may hold on to the smell of B.O. if you don’t wash between wears.
What should you consider when you want to re-wear your workout gear?
Always start with clean clothes and remove and wash as quickly as possible.
For the reasons above, the most clear-cut, derm-approved approach would be to “always start with clean clothes and remove and wash as quickly as possible,” says Shamban. But if you are willing to look past the risks, first make sure that any undergarments — for example, your sports bra, underwear and also socks — worn during your workout are tossed into the hamper and always washed between use. The friction and close proximity to higher yeast populations on your skin make those areas prone to infection.
Then, make sure that your workout clothes have been hung up to dry. “This will prevent the growth of bacteria and yeast, as moisture creates prime breeding grounds,” says Lindsey Boyd, co-founder of The Laundress. Now, consider the following:
How much did you sweat in them?
A low-impact yoga session versus a 10K run outside obviously affects your level of sweat. “If you didn’t perspire much while wearing your activewear and the garment isn’t stained or smelly, you can get away with less frequent washing (within reason),” says Gwen Whiting, co-founder of The Laundress. In that case, re-wearing your workout clothes twice, but more often than that, you are more at risk for irritation and bacteria building up in your clothes.
Do your workout clothes smell?
“After a workout, perspiration, body oils, and deodorant residue cause a reaction, creating stains and odor-causing bacteria on fabrics,” says Boyd. This is more likely to happen with synthetic fabrics like spandex. “Cotton is a very breathable and highly washable fabric compared to most synthetic fibers, which can trap moisture and retain odors,” says Whiting. If your clothes smell after a workout, wash them.
Are you currently having any skin or health issues?
If you are dealing with a yeast infection, acne, inflammation or other skin issues, you will want to wash your workout clothes in between wears so you do not make your problems worse.
What is the right way to wash my workout clothes?
If you are skipping a wash, at least freshen your clothes in between. “Mist dirty pieces with The Laundress Sport Spray, which has antibacterial properties and removes odor while adding a fresh scent,” says Boyd.
When it is time for a real wash, technically you should wash your workout clothes separately from the rest of your laundry. Treat them like you would your delicates since workout clothes feature softer fabrics that will not only wear out faster with frequent washing but will degrade faster when it rubs up against tougher materials in your regular laundry.
Here is the best way to get them clean:
If you have pit stains or other sweat stains, be sure to pre-treat them with a stain bar or spay. If it is super smelly, soak it for 30 minutes in cold water and ¼ cup of vinegar.
- Bag it.
“Turn your activewear inside out (it makes your clothes last longer) and place it in a mesh washing bag, which will prevent it from snagging in the drum of your washing machine,” says Whiting.
- Use sports detergent.
To help keep performance fabrics performing, Boyd recommends washing them with cold or warm water (not hot) and with a sports detergent, which is specially formulated to go after tough odors without breaking down the fabric.
- Skip the dryer.
You should always air dry your workout clothes since the heat of the dryer can break down the fibers that make them stretchy and sweat-wicking.
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