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How To Wash Sports Clothes: Step-by-Step

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Sports clothes can get quite stinky after a hard workout. Whether running, playing a team sport, or doing intense cardio, sweat and bacteria can get trapped in the fabric, leading to a strong and unpleasant smell. The smell worsens if you don’t wash your sports clothes properly. 

Wash your sports clothes the same way you’d wash delicates, but with added power to eliminate sweat, stains, and smells. You’ll treat your clothing gently while using a powerful detergent or a higher temperature. Make sure not to use fabric softener, as this can damage your clothes.

It’s important to take the time and effort to clean your sports clothes correctly to keep them smelling fresh and avoid any potential skin irritation caused by bacteria buildup.

Whether you are a beginner at laundry or a pro, there are special techniques you can follow to get your sports clothes to smell nice and look new. Below, I’ll answer all of your sports clothing questions!

How to Wash Sports Clothes (Step-By-Step)
A step-by-step video on how to wash your sports clothes.

1. Pre-Treat Any Existing Stains

Before washing sports clothes, it’s important to pre-treat any stains that may be present. This can be done by using a stain remover or by soaking the garment in a tub for 30 minutes with the following ingredient measurements:

  • 1 part white distilled vinegar
  • 4 parts water
Soaking the sports clothes with one part distilled white vinegar, and four parts water solution.

Pre-treating stains is important because it breaks down the proteins and oils found in sweat and dirt that have been embedded in the fabric. This makes it easier for the detergent to penetrate during the washing process and removes the stain more effectively.

You can also purchase pre-made stain treatments if needed. 

Here’s a list of the 9 best stain removers to help you make the best decision. Remember that each brand has different directions and treats different kinds of stains, so taking your time to research the best fit is recommended.

2. Turn Clothing Inside Out and Place It Into a Mesh Bag

Turning some running shorts inside-out.

Now you’ll want to turn your pre-treated clothes inside out. Stains and smells like sweat and body order start from inside the clothing, so by turning the clothing inside out, you give the detergent a chance to work where the stain formed. 

A mesh bag is important for laundry because it allows the clothes to be washed without getting tangled. 

Putting the shorts into a mesh bag to further protect them.

Additionally, a mesh bag is gentler on the fabric, preventing the clothes from rubbing against each other and becoming worn down. Mesh bags are also great for protecting delicate items like sportswear, as they can keep them separate from other items in the wash. 

3. Load Into Washing Machine and Add Detergent 

Measuring up liquid detergent.

Once your sports clothes are pre-treated, and inside a mesh bag, your next step is to add the mesh bag to your washing machine. Though washing sports clothing alone is best done for a better clean, you can also wash other clothing items with similar care directions. 

Choosing the right detergent is one of the most important steps in this process. 

We recommend detergents that are made to remove sweat and body odor. If you’re looking for some recommendations, we have a handy list of 10 Detergents that Remove Sweat and Body Odor.

Many people mistakenly add too much detergent to the load, thinking it will clean better or remove more of the smell. The truth is, less is more in this scenario as it allows it to do the job without building up a layer of residue, which can lock in odors. 

4. Avoid Fabric Softener

Fabric softeners can sometimes be detrimental to both cleaning and preserving your clothes.

In the case of sports clothes, a detergent is all you will need when washing your garments. 

Many sports items are made with synthetic materials, and fabric softener can ruin their elasticity and leave behind residue to trap in the odors. If you want your sports clothes to last longer, don’t use fabric softeners when washing them. 

This is another reason why you should separate your clothing. 

If you have other clothing items that need fabric softener, do them in a different load. Putting everything together to save time will just likely damage everything.

5. Wash on a Delicate Cycle With Cold Water

Low heat, low spin, and short cycles are generally best when washing sports clothes.

Some washing machines have special sports wash settings, but if you do not have one with that setting, don’t worry! 

Once you’ve added your detergent to the washer, we recommend washing the items on a delicate cycle with cold water only. Cold water works great for removing stains and is great for more delicate clothing items like sports uniforms and gear. 

6. Air-Dry Clothing or Dry It on Low Heat

A sports cycle on your dryer is perfect when drying sports clothes to preserve them.

Heat can ruin the flexibility and elastics in your sports clothing and can actually cause wear and holes quicker. Once the cycle is done, air drying or drying on a low-heat cycle will be best for your sports clothes in the long run. 

If you plan on air drying, you will want to lay the sports clothes flat on a drying rack or use hangers to hang them up. Avoid direct sunlight. 

Dry Clothes WITHOUT a Dryer (Using Indoors Drying Rack)
Here’s my video on how to dry clothes using a drying rack.

What Is the Sports Wash Setting on Your Washer? 

The Sports Wash Setting on your washer is shorter and uses cold water to protect synthetic fabrics. Investing in a washer with a sports wash or outdoor setting might be a great idea if you’re highly active or have children in sports. 

It also uses special drum movements to reduce snags and be more gentle with your delicate sports items. 

Not all washers have these settings, so as long as you remember the steps outlined above, you should be in great shape. The “sports” setting on an older washer will be to follow the above guidelines, as there likely isn’t one. 

If you want to learn more about your washing machine’s settings, check out this article.

Final Thoughts

Properly washing sports clothes is important to keep them smelling fresh, remove any bacteria that may have been embedded in the fabric, and keep their elasticity and shape. 

Taking the time to pre-treat any stains can help break down proteins and oils embedded in the fabric and make it easier for the detergent to penetrate during the washing process. Taking the time to clean your sports clothes correctly can help to extend their lifespan and keep you smelling and feeling fresh. 

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