The Most Unexpected Part of Exercise


What does that statement conjure up for you? Are you thinking that I'm about to write a post about how I actually gained weight from working out and how I'm okay with that? Or maybe you're thinking it's going to be about how I sleep so much better because I work out. Or maybe you just know that this post is going to be about how I'm happier, more energized, more insert-positive-adjective-here because of regular exercise...But nope. Not it. You're not even lukewarm, if we were playing the hot-cold game. The biggest surprise about exercise to me is laundry.


Yep, laundry.

The sheer volume of loads of laundry I do in a week because I exercise regularly.

It's ridiculous. If I had a nickel for every minute of the week I spend dumping clothes in the washer; for every minute I spend reading tiny labels to determine which pairs of leggings can go in the dryer and which ones need to air dry; for every time I've scraped lint from the lint trap...Well, let's just say my savings account would have a few more zeros at the end of that number.


For years, out of convenience and because I didn't really know any better, I just hung my clothes to air dry after a workout and then wore them again the next day.

Some of you are cringing right now at how gross that sounds and others of you don't see the big deal. Am I right?

Here's what I learned that made me decide that the place for workout clothes is the laundry room.


We are little bacteria, yeast and fungus-growing factories, we humans. Our sweat is full of bacteria, which when trapped against our skin by workout clothes can cause infections. One example is a particularly lovely acne-like skin rash called, folliculitis. But there are others.

Wearing workout clothes a second or third day in a row will often mean you smell bad. Sorry, but it's true. And no one wants that. The areas of your body most susceptible to bacterial transfer to your clothes are the parts of your body where your workout wear is the tightest and the least amount of air can circulate. Makes sense, right?

Skin rashes are one issue, but if you have cuts and scrapes on your skin and then you expose them to the bacteria on unwashed gym clothes, you can get other kinds of nasty infections. For those of us who exercise in a gym, we're exposing our workout clothes and, by extension, our bodies, to other people's bacteria and germs too. Sometimes people wipe down machines after they've used them, but sometimes not. And you never know how meticulous a given gym is about doing regular cleaning of their equipment.

If the above doesn't gross you out or seem like good enough reason to wash, consider the  lifespan of your clothes. Bacteria and fungus found on our bodies and in our sweat can break down certain kinds of materials more quickly than they would if we washed them after each wearing. They can also grow mold if left to sit damp after a workout. I want to get as much wear out of these things as possible, so it's kind of an investment in my workout wardrobe to care for them correctly.

If you are engaging in light workouts and aren't sweating at all or are sweating very little, you probably are fine to just wash your workout clothes on your regular laundry day. But if, like me, you almost always end your workouts a sweaty mess, you  want to wear once and wash. Here are a few washing options, depending on your preferences.

Run through the washing machine, gentle-cycle, cold water. Air dry.

Hand-wash them in the sink with Woolite and then let them air dry. 

Put them in a ziploc freezer bag and then remove and wash when you have enough other items to justify a spin in the washing machine. (The freezer stops the growth of bacteria.)

Rinse them out quickly in the sink with cold water, before putting them in your hamper, if you can't run them through the wash immediately.