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Exercise clothing gets a real beating when we have it on—think stretching, sweating, and running through wooded trails, perhaps. But these are also the pieces that get the least amount of care when we’re not wearing them. They’re just gym clothes, right? Aren’t they meant to be tough?

This is true, to a degree. Athletic wear is made to work really well while you are wearing it. But that doesn’t always mean it’s durable. Actually, the fabrics in your workout gear are quite fragile because they are made with high-tech materials that repel moisture, provide compression, and protect from the sun.

Often, we don’t realize the mistakes we are making when it comes to caring for these fabrics that result in short life cycles for our workout clothes. Avoid these fitness-wear faux pas to keep your clothes doing the job they were made to do, so you can focus on that seventh set of burpees (we can almost feel the burn!).

01. Using Harsh Detergent

A lot of detergents, and especially fabric softeners, will break down the fibers that make your workout wear stretchy and firm. When you are washing your gym clothes, avoid the urge to add extra soap. You should actually use a little less. As for fabric softeners, just skip that step because the softening agents create a film that sticks to the synthetic spandex fabrics and makes them even harder to get clean. And it will block the pieces’ ability to dry wick. No one wants an invisible layer of meadow fresh grime growing bacteria while you do squats.

02. Leaving Clothes in Your Gym Bag

You know when you forget a Tupperware in your lunch bag and it gets really nasty? Well, the same thing happens to your gym clothes when you leave them in your gym bag. Left to sit, your sweat and dead skin cells will spend their time making lots of little bacteria babies. And, your gym bag will get really gross. A tip: Once you do empty your gym bag, don’t just chuck the clothes in your laundry pile. Instead, hang pieces over the side of the hamper to air out a bit if you can’t wash them right away.

03. Not Washing Separately 

Even though you do some of your toughest activities when wearing your exercise clothing, when it comes to washing these items, you should think of them like your delicates and wash them separately from your everyday wear. Otherwise the soft fabrics will wear out faster because they are rubbing up against harsh materials such as denim and clothing with zippers or buttons. If you can’t handle doing all those loads, then consider putting your sports bras and tanks in a mesh bag or pillowcase when you wash them.

04. Not Washing Inside Out

Because (a) the inside gets the dirtiest, and you want to remove as much gross as possible, and (b) the part that makes your workout wear moisture-wicking or have UV protection often comes from topical treatments on the outside of the clothing. Washing the pieces inside out protects the techy fabric, and it will help these important properties (that you pay extra money for) last a lot longer.

05. Machine Drying

A hot dryer will shrink or warp your stretchy leggings. Also, because the material is made to be fast-drying when you sweat . . . it dries really fast in the dryer. If you are going to put your workout wear in the dryer, choose a low setting. You especially want to separate your gym clothes from your regular laundry when it comes to the dryer because they will spend the last half of the dryer cycle baking. Not only will this wear them out, but it will also cook off all the high-tech properties on the material.

06. Hanging Your Workout Clothes

No one likes having hanger marks stick off their shoulders. Because exercise clothing is made of stretchy fabrics or materials with loose fibers, it is more prone to getting, well, stretched (just from good old gravity). Fold your gym clothes and keep them in your dresser; you wouldn’t want to waste all that effort you just put into washing them properly by wrecking them in storage.

07. Washing with High-Lint Items

If you follow all the right washing steps, then you shouldn’t see pilling, or “knobs,” on your workout wear until the pieces start to actually wear out. But, because these materials do tend to pill more easily, a handheld clothing shaver can come in handy. The little machines are relatively inexpensive, and you can use them on all kinds of pieces that are prone to gathering lint, such as sweaters and winter coats. If you don’t have one on hand, a dull razor will do the trick as will, but it’s just a little more risky. One really important thing to remember: Never wash your stretchy jackets and leggings with towels—they will turn forever fuzzy.

08. Not Treating That Odor

I know you’re thinking, “If I’m not supposed to use extra soap, how do I cut out that musty smell?” If your exercise clothes are really rank from an especially intense workout, soak them in a mixture of water and vinegar before you launder them. You can also put the vinegar right into the wash. If you don’t have vinegar, then a few tablespoons of baking soda added to your laundry load will neutralize the smell, as will a splash of lemon juice because the acid in the citrus will take a bite out of that nasty (and stinky) bacteria.

We know that some days it’s hard just to get to the gym, much less worry about the clothes you wear while you are there. But working a few of these habits into your clothing care routine will really make a difference in the life span of your athletic wear so that when you do win at making time to exercise, you’ll have the right gear to get the job done.

Photo Credit: Taylor McCutchan