How to take care of (and get the most out of) your technical running gear
You’ve invested in a wicking wardrobe for your workouts—and it’s worth it because you really are more comfortable when you run. Keep those techy togs working for you with some simple care guidelines that will help your apparel perform as promised and last longer.
The engineered construction of many synthetic fabrics also captures bacteria and holds it for ransom. You’ll want to set those odors free. Many technical garments are treated with a chemical finish that facilitates wicking, odor management and sun protection, but the treatment eventually washes off. Improper laundering exacerbates the deterioration, so you lose the benefit much faster. Here’s what you need to know to care for your clothes so they outperform you.
Base layers and thermal layers including shirts, shorts, pants, tights, fleece, wind-block layers, socks and sports bras:
1. Follow the laundering guidelines on each garment’s tag. This no-brainer is the simplest way to maintain each garment’s quality and performance.
2. Set your washing machine to a gentle cycle to preserve the integrity of the stretch in tights and sports bras, and reduce wear and tear on finer fabrics like lightweight tech Ts.
3. Wash your running clothes in cold water. Cold water prolongs the elastic properties of the fabric compared to heat — and it’s more energy efficient.
4. You can use liquid laundry detergent on technical apparel, but powdered detergent or pure soap are better. (Pure soap is a natural cleaner. Detergent employs synthetic cleaners.) Liquid detergents have a higher percentage of surfactants (the “sudsing” agent), which can leave a residue and clog fabric “pores,” which can inhibit the breathability of your garment. Liquid detergent can compromise the effectiveness of the durable water repellent treatment on water-proof laminated fabrics in your rain shell as well as the breathability. Powdered detergent and pure soap won’t impede breathability and ventilation; they also have a lower environmental impact.
5. Avoid detergents with “bleach alternative” or other additional features like brighteners or whiteners that can chemically alter the fabric of your clothes, and compromise performance.
6. Don’t overdose on detergent. Too much of a good thing can cake onto your garments. The key is to use less than you think you need, especially with high-efficiency formulas. Use a brand formulated for use with cold water, such as greener products made by Planet, Ecover, and Seventh Generation.
Still fighting powdery residue? Add about a half-cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle. Sometimes powdery deposits come from minerals in hard water that combine with detergents and redeposit on your clothes, not from the powders themselves. White vinegar helps remove hard-water residues. If you have a top-loading machine, let the powder fully dissolve before putting your clothes in the washer.
7. Do not use bleach, fabric softeners including dryer sheets, or Woolite. Bleach destroys fabrics. Fabric softeners are designed to reduce static cling and soften fabrics. To do this, they coat the fabric fibers with a thin layer of chemicals, including some waxy and/or oily compounds. This reduces the ability of technical fabrics to absorb water, and can inhibit its ability to wick well. In engineered fabrics, it can clog the channels that help wick as well. And in wind- and water-repellent microfibers and waterproof laminates, fabric softener clogs the tiny spaces within the fabric, which reduces its breathability.
Many technical running garments are treated with a chemical finish that facilitates wicking, offers ultraviolet sun protection, and combats odor, but that eventually washes off. Fabric softener expedites the degeneration.
8. Skip the dry cleaner. The harsh chemicals can compromise performance.
9. Studies have shown that some antimicrobial treatments wash out with laundering regardless of how you launder them. If your formerly odorless anti-odor shirts are starting to stink, the antimicrobial treatment may simply have washed out. Try the deodorizing suggestions below.
10. Line drying can help extend the life of clothing by reducing wear and tear from thumping around in a dryer. Air drying also removes the chance of accidental melting synthetic materials that are dried in a too-hot machine. Plus, it’s much kinder to the environment and your electric bill. However, waterproof shells that have been washed need a run through the drier. The heat reawakens and spreads out the DWR (durable water-repellent) coating on the outside of the fabric, so it remains water repellent.
11. Detergents formulated for technical wear, such those from Granger’s, Nikwax, ReviveX and Sport-Wash, are an option if you wash your technical apparel separately. These products rinse cleanly from fabrics, leaving no residues that can diminish performance.
Waterproof-breathable jackets and pants:
Dirt, smoke, and oils such as sunscreen, insect repellent and natural body oils reduce the breathability and water repellency of waterproof apparel. Cleaning Gore-Tex, eVent and other waterproof-breathable fabrics actually improves performance, so toss them in the laundry at least once a year, or more if they visibly need it. For best results:
- Wash with powdered detergent, a pure soap or a cleaner specifically formulated for technical waterproof-breathable fabrics. Liquid detergents have a higher percentage of surfactants, which can leave a residue and clog fabric “pores,” which can inhibit the breathability of your garment and compromise the effectiveness of the durable water repellent treatment. Avoid detergents with bleach alternative, foaming agents, optical brighteners or dyes that can chemically alter the fabric and diminish performance. Detergents labeled “clear,” “free” or “earth-friendly,” are less likely to have additives that can leave performance-inhibiting residues.
- Dry in a machine dryer according to the label’s washing instructions. The face fabric of waterproof-breathable rainwear is treated with a DWR (durable water repellent) coating that sheds rain, sleet and snow. A warm-to-hot dryer revives this coating so it continues to shed moisture.
Yeah, but it still stinks!
The three-dimensional construction of technical fabrics works brilliantly to whisk sweat from your skin to the surface to evaporate. But those very nooks and crannies that wick and breathe so well are also a perfect place for bacteria to collect — and breed a stench that’ll offend even an anosmic. And many anti-odor treatments simply wash out over time. Here’s what to do so you—and your housemates—can actually live with your running gear.
- Give your gear a good long soak in a bath of baking soda and powdered detergent. Then machine wash normally.
- Add 1/2 cup of Borax and 1/2 cup of white vinegar to your washing machine in addition to detergent or washing soap.
- Add three to four drops of tea tree and eucalyptus oils to your washing machine along with detergent or washing soap. Tea tree and eucalyptus oils are naturally antibacterial and aromatic.
- Hand wash with Dr. Bronner’s tea tree Magic Soap. Tea tree oil has natural antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and antiseptic properties.
- Give clothes a healthy dose of ultraviolet radiation by hanging them to dry in the sun.
- Use an odor-fighting enzyme wash, following manufacturer’s directions on the bottle.