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5 Athletic Clothing Care Tips & How to Make an Old Tee into a Tank!

In another lifetime, before my fitness career, I studied and worked in the textiles and apparel industry. It sounds pretty fancy and zsa zsa and usually, when people hear about my past line of work they most often ask, “Were you a designer?”

No. No I was not. I did a much cooler job!

Actually, I worked in several different factions of the industry with a majority of my time focused on apparel production- costing garments (the reason I don’t buy expensive clothing) and trim (things like zippers, buttons, thread) and managing the production flow making sure clothing went promptly from one stage to the next: cutting- sewing/printing- wash/finishing- packaging- shipping etc.

While it was a very cool career, the education I received prior was pretty kick ass, too. If nothing else, I learn all types of useless knowledge about fibers and fabrics and I learned how to handle and care for my clothes.

Here are some of the tips I have picked up that can help you extend the life of those gym clothes:

1. Basics

  • Heat + agitation = bad. Most athletic wear is made to be washed in cold water and hung to dry or dried on very low heat (or air dried). Over time, repetitive use of heat and agitation (think dryer or hot water wash) can weaken the extensibility and elasticity of the fiber and bindings (elastic in sports bras), causing them to wear, shrink and pill faster.

  • Separate your wash. Wash athletic apparel separately from rougher fabrics (think denim and towels) and items with zippers. If your athletic clothes have zippers, turn them inside out.

  • Use the delicate cycle. Often, abrasion can be the hardest thing on the fibers of athletic clothes. If you are only washing a couple of options and want to wash athletic wear with other items, I’m a big fan of these mesh bags (affiliate link) which can soften the abrasion against tougher fabrics and the machine.

2. Don’t use chlorine- based products. Chlorine can break down the fibers in athletic clothes that give the clothing stretch and tensile strength. If you’re looking to whiten or get rid of stains, use white vinegar instead (a cup per load) you can pour it in the detergent holder or in the bleach holder (be careful if you use bleach on a regular basis as it can leave residue that can be released into the load after the fact).

3. Don’t use fabric softener. Fabric softeners ruin the wicking (ability to pull moisture away) capacity of the fibers making them less able to draw away sweat and moisture. Instead, the fibers will trap the moister causing the fabric to stink. Instead, invest in some felt dryer balls. My sister-in-law bought us these Bogberry Dryer Balls before E was born and we love them. Or, these (affiliate link) at amazon are bit cheaper.

4. Say NO to stank (and pit stains). Try to avoid using scented detergents or those with optical brighteners. These can bind to the fibers, clogging the pores of the fabric, trapping in stench. Additionally, you do not have to buy special detergent for your athletic wear- a hypoallergenic detergent, like All Free and Clear or ECOS (my personal favorite- affiliate link).

  • If the smell is not going away with a regular wash cycle try this technique: do a short wash cycle with a cup of vinegar and then another cycle again with a ½ cup of baking soda. If you’re looking for a water/energy efficient method, you can put the vinegar and baking soda together in one cycle with baking soda in the detergent holder and vinegar in the softener holder.

  • For set in pit stains: create a paste with dawn, hydrogen peroxide, and baking soda and scrub on with a toothbrush. Let it sit on for a couple of hours or overnight. Note: this can actually lighten the color of the fabric so be careful.

5. Specialty items:

  • Sports bras: in a perfect world where raindrops are made of candy and unicorns prance freely, hand washing would be ideal. But, I have like 15 sports bras and a toddler that eats the dog’s food if I’m not paying attention. Mama ain’t got time to hand wash her sports bras. I usually throw them in with the rest of the wash or again, I use these mesh lingerie bags (affiliate link). Hang drying is optimal but air dry in the mesh bags can also be effective.

  • Shoes: Most shoes can be washed in my favorite mesh bags (affiliate link) on the cold cycle and air dried. To keep the shape, stuff the shoes with a wash cloth or some newspaper.

When should you get rid of items?

I am pretty OCD with my clothes. I don’t like holes, rips or stains (although this has loosened a bit since E). That being said, I would toss any item of athletic clothing that holds odor after several attempts to eliminate or that is losing its shape or ability to support.

With shoes it depends on how often you use them and what you are using them for. If you cycle through several pairs anywhere from 6 months to a year could work however if you are, say, training for a marathon in one pair, 3 months is a good estimate. Shoe wear can be determined by how it feels (do your feet, and legs feel supported) and by looking at the sole for signs of excessive wear (the grooves will be worn flat).



Want some gym tops without having to spend a dime? Have a few old t-shirts hanging around? Here's a quick 10-minute tutorial on how to turn an old t-shirt into a tank!


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