How to wash your training clothes by Nick Capra

Help them perform even better! Back to Previous Page
Understanding what microfibre clothing is, and how it works, will help you understand why washing your workout apparel requires a different detergent from the regular stuff you probably use for cottons and "everyday" clothing.

Microfibres are non-porous, while many natural fibres (like cotton) are porous. Microfibres are also hydrophobic (water-hating), so when a drop of moisture touches their surface, it will spread out to occupy a larger surface area, but not actually soak into the fibres. Because of this greater surface area, the moisture is able to evaporate more readily, resulting in a faster fabric drying time. This is why microfibre fabrics are associated with the terms "wicking" and "moisture control", due to their ability to manage moisture. Because cotton fibres are hydrophilic (water-loving), the same drop of moisture that touches a cotton garment will soak in immediately, saturating that spot, resulting in a drying time that is considerably longer. This information is highly important in understanding why certain detergents should never be used on microfibres.

Most popular national brands use "surfactants" in their detergents. Surfactants are chemical or biological compounds that when dissolved, lower the surface tension of water and increase the ability to break down organic stains on clothing. Although this is fine for cotton fabrics, over time and with repeated washings, they coat microfibre fabrics leaving an oily residue which interferes with their technical performance. Considering the investment you have likey made in your workout wardrobe, simply switching to the correct detergent is a smart way of ensuring your favourite technical clothing smells great, and lasts a long time.

Have you ever put on a running t-shirt and notice it stinks? The problem is likely one of two things:

1) It is made of a poor quality fabric. The original fabric used to make the t-shirt has a sprayed on coating giving it so-called "microfibre" performance. Over time, this coating washes away. Many of the inexpensive race tees we get for free when we register for a race are often of this type.

2) The garment has been washed repeatedly using a detergent (or fabric softener) containing clogging surfactants. Bacteria get caught up in the residue they leave behind, and when warmed by your body, activate the stinky dead organic matter present in your clothes. Yuck!

The solution to increasing the longevity of your workout apparel is to use a residue-free detergent. SportSuds and No Sweat are two detergents manufactured by Canadian companies, and were developed specifically to care for technical workout apparel. Penguin Sport-Wash is another brand Running Free has carried for some time that has also performed well. The following page contains a detailed analysis of these three brands.

Remember, it’s best to avoid the dryer and hang your gear to dry. Never (ever!) use fabric softeners as they "soften" clothing by leaving a greasy film behind, further contributing to odour causing residue build-up.

SportSuds 400g
Sport Suds comes in a 400g jar and is enough powdered detergent for 34 full machine loads. High efficiency and front loader machines achieve approximately double the number of loads (68) depending on the model. Cost per load ranges from 28 to 56 cents. SportSuds is a residue free detergent that completely eliminates odours. Sport Suds is made from natural ingredients. It does NOT contain dyes, phosphates, UV brighteners, bleach or perfumes. It is hypo-allergenic and ideal for infants and others with sensitive skin. It is safe for septic systems, highly biodegradable and certified safe for use in small lakes and streams (OECD301A). Sport Suds has not been tested on animals. Though designed for sporting clothes, Sport Suds is also great for washing everyday fabrics like cotton, silk, wool, synthetic fabrics and others.

No Sweat 500ml
No Sweat is sold in two sizes, a 500ml bottle and a large 2.95L jug ($36.99). The 500ml bottle is good for 8-16 loads and cost approximately 74 cents to $1.50 a load. No Sweat is a high intensity/low impact formula that promises to eliminate underlying odours and yellow pit staining, while maintaining the integrity of workout apparel. No Sweat has a third party environmental certification from the EcoLogo Program and is available in scented and unscented.

Penguin Sport-Wash 590ml
Penguin Sport-Wash comes in a 590ml (20 oz) bottle that is good for 20 to 40 loads depending on your washing machine. The cost per load is 35 to 70 cents. This non-allergenic formula will remove trapped odors and even restore factory applied water- proofing (DWR). Sport- Wash removes blood and grass stains, prevents color fading and contains vegetable based surfactants that are considered readily biodegradable which means it biodegrades quicker than regular "biodegradable" detergents.

How do they stack up against other household brands? Despite comparing apples to oranges here, it is prudent to compare costs of these specialty detergents against the more popular national brands. Keep in mind that using SportSuds, No Sweat or Sport-Wash will definitely increase the lifespan of your garments – workout or otherwise. This, coupled with the reduced environmental impact of these products, adds a certain value that cannot be broken down in a per load cost. Some of the conventional products make claims such as "removes stains" or "biodegradable". However, none of them mention that they help to restore or keep your garments free of residue. The per load cost of the three above-mentioned workout detergents ranges from 30 cents up to $1.38. The national brands range from 18 to 36 cents and the chain brands 14 to 30 cents. As you can see by the cost comparison, the national and chain brand detergents are less expensive. However, the difference is negligible when you factor in the performance and longevity boosts gained from using a detergent specifcally formulated for technical clothing.