Should You Be Washing Your Leggings After Every Workout Or Not?

We’ve all been there: You’re running late to work, realize you’re taking a class later that day, and quickly shove the closest pair of workout clothes—clean or not—into your bag. When you’re sweating through those lunges and burpees that night, you remember these were the same leggings you wore to power through last night’s HIIT session. Ew, right?

Should you wash your leggings after every workout?

Do they smell? Are other people noticing? Come to think of it, how often should I wash these things? And does it matter if I’m wearing them to a cardio class rather than a more relaxed hour of yoga? Jeans can handle a few wears before needing some suds, but I’m not sweating furiously in my jeans like I do in my leggings. Do your body (and your fellow workout partners) a favor and read up on how often you should really wash your leggings.

Not to scare you, but there’s a lot the eye can’t see when it comes to what’s living in your workout clothes. Yes, um, living. As you wear your clothes, especially tight-fitting pieces like leggings, bacteria and yeast rub off your body. Many of these bacteria stick to your clothes and can multiply the next day even after your clothes have dried. If you slip back into these pieces a second time, you risk reintroducing the new bacteria and yeast to your skin and increase the chance of developing a skin infection or irritation. Yuck! Plus, bacteria and infection aside, odor fatigue does exist. While your leggings may have passed your initial sniff test, it’s possible you’ve just become used to your body’s odor. After wearing the garment a second time and sweating even just a little, the stench will return and likely be twice as worse as before.

Of course, if you’re not sweating profusely in your legwear, do you really need to take a trip to the laundry room after each wear? Check the label. If your garment is made from cotton or a performance fabric like water-resistant nylon, you can probably wait to wash until after a few wears. However, keep in mind that odor-causing bacteria grows better on some fabrics than others, according to research from Ghent University in Belgium. The team studied bacteria growth on seven different textiles, including cotton and polyester. While cotton grew very few stink-causing germs, the sweat microbes got trapped in between the synthetic fibers of polyester and created a place for the bacteria to flourish and grow. So, if you want to spend less on loads of laundry and decrease the risk of nasty bacteria growth, stick to leggings made of cotton or nylon.

When you should wash your leggings or yoga pants

Washing your leggings after every wear really comes down to how much of a sweaty beast you are in the gym. If you’re pushing yourself to the limit and letting off some major steam—literally—toss those leggings in the hamper after one wear. But if you’re participating in a restorative yoga or Pilates session, you may be able to get by sporting those puppies a second or third time. However, if you’re going, ahem, commando, treat your leggings like your undergarments and wash them after every wear. No matter how many extra minutes it will take you to get to work, consider grabbing those clean pair of leggings from your dresser drawer rather than the crumpled ones on your bedroom floor. Your skin, and fellow ClassPassers, will thank you.

How to wash your leggings or yoga pants

Let’s face it: Investing in good quality workout wear is no joke. And if you’re going to spend the money on it, you expect that it perform, right? Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. But truth be told, it’s less of a hassle (and less expensive) to do some research on what you buy before you head out the door, especially when it comes to fitness gear.

Name the problem, and there’s a solution out there — take our word for it. Here, we have answers to four of the biggest problems we’ve faced while getting our sweat on. You — and your wallet — can thank us later.

Ok, Ok: Sweat is inevitable while working out. In fact, it probably makes you feel more accomplished when you leave a workout dripping with sweat. However, no one wants a sweat stain in an unsightly area (think: crotch, rear, and armpits). And ladies, you probably know by now that light grey leggings are on the “Do Not Wear” List. The best way to avoid this unfortunate disaster is to choose moisture-wicking fabrics. So, your old college t-shirts and cheap cotton leggings might not be the best fit for a HIIT workout. Select polyester, nylon, and merino wool blends for those intense, sweat-inducing workouts.

Wash your clothes ASAP

Dirt and sweat can actually aid in the quick deterioration of clothing fabric. More importantly, heat, sweat and dark places (like laundry hampers or gym bags) are the perfect combo for odor-causing bacteria to breed. This means no more crumpling up your clothes in a pile after your workout. If possible, toss your workout clothes in the wash as soon as you get home. If that’s not an option, it’s better to hang your clothes up to dry before tossing them in the laundry hamper.  

Avoid harsh detergents

When it comes to delicates, including activewear, choose a detergent that is natural and/or free of harsh surfactants that can strip color from your garments. And try a formula that is packed with essential oils to keep your workout-wear smelling fresh.

Avoid bleach

Avoiding bleaches and fabric softeners will also help maintain your workout clothes. While bleach can fade colors and break down lycra fabrics often found in activewear, fabric softeners can actually leave a film on these types of clothes. That softening coating may seem great for a fluffy towel, but it can prevent sweat-wicking fabrics from doing what they’re supposed to (and can actually contribute to added bacteria).  

Gentle is better

When possible, try to hand wash your activewear garments, especially sports bras. If hand washing isn’t an option, opt for the delicate cycle on your washing machine. You can even use a laundry bag to keep these more gentle items separate from other items in your wash, the same way you’d do it for undergarments.

Keep it cool

Cold wash cycles are better for any clothing, but particularly activewear. High temps can cause shrinkage or the deterioration of tech fabrics that are frequently found in activewear. Also, workout gear tends to be either black or very vibrant, and using cool water to wash these colors will help prevent clothes from looking faded or washed out.

Hang dry

The number one reason to hang dry your clothes instead of using the dryer is shrinkage. But besides the potential to never again wear your favorite pants because they no longer fit, you also want to avoid high temperatures because they break down the fabric. Hanging your clothes or laying them flat to dry will also help maintain their shape.  

When all else fails, treat your workout clothes the way you’d treat a delicate bra or a fancy sweater. Doing so will ensure they last for extended periods of time—and you’ll get your money’s worth.

Emily is a recent graduate and proud Midwesterner who just moved to the big city to start her career in magazine journalism. When she isn't commuting between Brooklyn and Manhattan, she enjoys browsing bookstores for her next read, sipping chai tea lattes at local coffee shops, and playing tourist in the city she always dreamed of living in.