How to Wash Leggings So They Remain in Tip-Top Shape for as Long as Possible

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Finding a pair of leggings that fit like a glove, feel soft on your skin and move with your curves (instead of against them) is like finding a needle in a haystack. So, why would you ruin all that hard work by throwing your new Lululemon or Athleta leggings in the dryer? Here we outline the steps for how to wash leggings the proper way, from which detergents to use, what temperature water is best and how to eliminate those pesky sweat odors once and for all.

The Best and Worst Ways to Wear Leggings in 2020

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1. Use a Spandex- or Sport-Specific Detergent

Most athletic leggings (and many everyday pairs, like Spanx and Commando) are made from a blend of man-made materials that are closer to plastic in their makeup than cotton. As such, your usual go-to laundry detergent isn’t able to get in between those impossibly close-knit fibers to properly eliminate bacteria, grime and dirt. Which might explain why your athletic apparel tends to develop a slight odor over time. Using detergent that’s been specifically formulated to treat those tech-savvy fabrics, like Hex Performance or The Laundress will ensure a deeper, more thorough clean.

2. But Don’t Overdo It On the Soap

You might assume the more cleaning agent you use, the cleaner your clothes will end up. Not quite. Using too much detergent means excess might be left behind to cling to your leggings and leave them with a film of soap that will hinder any sweat-wicking capabilities and make everyday pairs feel significantly less soft. Follow the recommended amount of detergent as written on the bottle or inside the cap (those instructions there for a reason) and when in doubt err on the side of under filling a bit more than overfilling.

3. Use Cool Water

Your mom may have told you that only hot water can truly clean your clothes, but that simply isn’t true. In fact, many fabrics can’t withstand high temps and are at risk of breaking down or being damaged when going through a rinse cycle in hot water. Most athletic materials do best in cool to warm water but always check the care label before tossing your gear in the washer.

4. Don’t Put Your Leggings in the Dryer

Speaking of heat, never put your leggings in the dryer (yes, even if you’re trying to shrink them). Just like your washing machine’s hot cycle, the dryer can damage stretchy fabrics and even warp the fibers, so that your leggings no longer fit like a dream. Instead, hang them to dry by draping them over a laundry rack, a clothesline or even your shower curtain rod. (Note: Some dryers come with an air-dry setting that doesn’t apply any heat, which should be safe, if you absolutely must use the machine.)

how to wash leggings walking
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5. Lay Them Flat or Gently Drape Them to Dry

It’s best not to use clips or pant hangers to hang your leggings, as these methods can stretch out the fabric. Similarly, if you choose to wash your leggings by hand, make sure they’re not sopping wet when you drape them, as the weight of the water can have a similar warping effect.

6. Hand Wash with Care

Speaking of hand washing, there are two main tips to keep in mind. First, use your hands rather than a brush to work any deodorizing or cleaning agents into the fabric. Second, don’t ring your leggings to get out excess water. Instead, repeatedly press the fabric against the side of your washing basin until you’ve gotten as much out as possible.

7. Skip the Fabric Softener

Most fabric softeners contain silicone which is no friend to spandex and similar performance materials. That silicone can leave a coating over your leggings which hampers their ability to wick moisture and can limit the breathability of the fabric.

8. Use White Vinegar to Eliminate Smells

Hoping to get rid of any lingering B.O. or other unpleasant odors? Pre-treat your leggings by letting them soak in a bowl of cold water and ¼ to ½ cup white vinegar (feel free to use less, if you’re only soaking one or two pairs) for up to 30 minutes before tossing them in the washing machine. Why does this work? Think of it as an opposites attract situation with acidic vinegar being drawn to alkaline odors, like those caused by sweat—the two cancel one another out to neutralize any scents and leave you with gloriously odor-free clothes.

how to wash leggings hiking
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9. Wash Your Leggings Often

As tempting as it can be to wear the same cozy pair multiple days in a row, this isn’t doing your leggings or your skin any favors. Because they sit so close to your skin (and may become soaked with sweat if you’re doing a workout in them) leggings should be washed after every wear.

10. Don’t Wait Too Long to Run Them Through the Wash

This is especially true if you’re dealing with athletic apparel that’s damp with sweat. Burying sweaty clothes in your hamper creates an ideal breeding ground for mold and mildew, on both your favorite leggings and your other beloved clothing items. We suggest not waiting more than a week between wear and wash. Pro tip: Take your sweaty clothes into the shower with you post workout for a quick rise and drape them over your shower rod to dry overnight before sticking them in your hamper. This will get rid of at least some of the odor- and mildew-causing bacteria and won’t leave your laundry smelling awful after just a few days.

11. Do a Separate Athletic Apparel Load

If you just don’t have the time to do a full load of laundry every week, why not split your leggings, sports bras and the like into their own smaller group? This also means you don’t necessarily need to use a sport detergent for all your clothing and can add fabric softener with abandon for your next regular load. Another reason to avoid lumping your leggings in with your towels? The two materials don’t always mix well. Cotton fluff can get stuck to certain athletic materials, which won’t necessarily make them any less effective at wicking sweat or moving with your body but might make your leggings look a little off.



Abby Hepworth is an RRCA-certified running coach who has worked in fashion for over 10 years. Want to know what shoes are in this season? She's got you. Need recommendations on...