How to wash your running kit – never shrink, burn or throw away smelly running kit again

how to wash running kit

There’s nothing like that new-kit feeling, but how can you make your running kit last longer. From how best to care for your sports bra, to removing that post-run smell from your clothes, here’s how best to look after your running kit.

How to look after your running kit

The last thing most of us think about when we come in from a long run is how long our kit will sit in the washing basket, but high-performance synthetic materials need to be carefully looked after. We’ve taken a look at some of the biggest mistakes made when caring for running kit and how to avoid them.

How to wash your running kit

1. Do a cool wash

As a general rule, don’t use heat. Check the clothing care label beforehand, as that tiny ticket has everything you need to know, but more often than not, err on the cold side when it comes to washing your running gear. High performance fabric is designed to wick-sweat and keep you dry, not handle extended periods in hot water, so washing your kit on too high a temperature may weaken the nylon or latex fibres in your clothes.

2. Use the right detergent

If you’re running enough to do a separate running kit wash, it’s a good idea to invest in a sportswear washing detergent. It’s not just a sales gimmick – experts say these products can effectively combat odours by killing bacteria trapped in the weave of clothing fabrics. There are several to choose from; Halo being available on Wiggle and in most supermarkets, Nikwax offer a great variety of specific sports clothing washing products and Granger's Active Wash is designed to remove dirt, sweat and odour. Others are available.  

If the smell remains, resist the urge to add extra washing powder, as this can actually make things a lot worse. Drew Westervelt, founder and COO of detergent brand HEX Performance explains: “All this does is leave more residue from surfactants and fragrance remaining in your fabric. These residues become food sources for ‘stuff’ – bacteria and mildew – which create odour.”

3. Avoid using fabric softener  

Whilst it might leave your sheets smelling their best, when used on sportswear fabric softener in any form can clog the material, meaning it’s not as good as wicking moisture and is more likely to hold onto that post-run smell. Vinegar, on the other hand, might not smell as nice as your Lenor, but can act as a natural softener if added to your wash, without ruining your clothing.

How long should you leave your running kit in the washing basket?

According to Karen Welch Ph.D, a senior scientist at Microban – an odour control company in the US, your kit should not be sitting in your washing basket for any longer than three days. The bacteria that causes kit to smell thrives in the damp, dark environment of your washing basket, so the less time it’s in there the better. Welch adds: “When you have something that has moisture in it, you promote microbial growth. The longer they grow, the more odours they produce.”

If you’ve found you’ve had to throw running kit away as the smell sticks, even after washing, this could be why. Leaving running kit in a damp pile makes the odours harder to get rid of, so if you’ve not got time to wash your kit straight away, hang your soggy stuff out immediately after a run and let it dry before chucking it in the washing basket.

Can you iron running kit?

In a word, no. Unless the iron is on the coolest setting, and you have a tea towel over the top for protection, keep the iron well away. That said, creases should fall out naturally, so it’s best to avoid the iron altogether.

How to wash your sports bras

Sports bras are a vital piece of kit for female runners and like normal bras, need a little extra TLC when it comes to washing. According to experts, the technical fabric of your sports bra will wear in the washing machine, slightly diminishing the bra’s elasticity each time it is washed. To prolong the life of your sports bra, hand-wash it if you have the time, or if you need to put it in the washing machine, put it in a lingerie bag for extra protection.

Related: Everything you need to know about looking after your sports bra 

How to dry running kit

There’s one main rule here – never, use the tumble dryer. Tumble dryers break down the synthetic fibres of running kit, can easily shrink your favourite vest and can reduce the elasticity of your kit. If this wasn’t enough, putting running kit in the tumble dryer means you’re also at risk of heating up whatever bacteria might remain in your clothing, which will lead it to smell like it hasn’t been washed at all.

How to keep your running trainers clean

Whether you’ve opted for white running trainers and want to keep them looking race-day fresh, or hate the muddy-puddle look, keeping your trainers clean can be a struggle.

As tempting as it might seem, shoe manufacturers urge against chucking your running shoes into the washing machine, as it can discolour and damage the technical fabric. Instead, brush off excess mud and use your running kit laundry detergent and warm water to clean your shoes. To keep smelly insoles at bay, sprinkle baking soda inside your shoes post-run.

Once clean, avoid drying running shoes on, or near, a radiator as this can heat up the shoe and cause it to loose it’s shape. Let your shoes dry at room temperature, adding paper towels or newspaper to soak up excess liquid – they can take about 12 hours to dry out completely. To keep your shoes looking new for longer, don’t leave them outside or in direct sunlight, as the sun can make white soles go yellow.