Updated: April 18th, 2022
Smelly running kit? How to clean everything you run with.

We’ve all found ourselves at the sink dealing with muddy shoes immediately after a long, stress-relieving run. But when it comes to the rest of the kit you run in, we tend to leave it in the laundry hamper, where it will sit for hours, days even, before you get round to washing it.

In a dark, closed laundry basket the stinky bacteria is in its element, cementing the odours into the fabric. The moisture from sweat is where microbial growth is happiest, and the longer the sweaty running clothes sit there – the more odours and bacteria they produce. Not only that, but leaving your clothes in a sweat-wet pile is one of the worst things you can do to your workout gear. Odours can and will spread… so what are you meant to do? Especially when your favourite running leggings or top is at risk – how can we save it? Never fear, science is here! (That was meant to sound way cooler) anyway, here’s how, from head to toe:

Running clothes left on the floor

Starting from the top of the head, your hat.

I know not everyone wears hats to run, and perhaps its more seasonal attire but still, you’ll need to wash them at some point (can’t leave them in a laundry pile for 6 months can we?!) Ideally, you’d hand wash a hat in a bowl of warm soapy water – preferably with a small amount of laundry detergent (I’d 86 the lemon dish soap) before hanging it to air dry. Or, you could use a dishwasher (I know I‘m shocked too!) There is a piece of kit called ‘Cap Buddythat can go into the top rack of your dishwasher or washing machine.

Cap buddy in the dishwasher

T-shirts, shorts, leggings, any clothes you wear whilst running.

The technology in the kit these days is incredible, but they cannot help you rid of the smell if things start to get…stank-y. The best thing to do is wash your clothes immediately after running as you do with your shoes.

Specialist detergent contains the correct enzymes to break down fats and sweat. It is important to make sure that you are washing your clothes at the hottest temperature allowed for each piece of kit (PLEASE CHECK THE LABELS!) this will help eliminate bacteria that cause bad smells.

If like me, you are training pretty much every day and have favourite kit, then you might want to look into some sports-specific detergent the best for bad smells? OxiClean Odor Blasters Stain & Odor remover, at Amazon. And I would avoid using fabric softener with your athletic clothing because it messes with the delicate design of wicking fabrics, fabric softeners can essentially block the wicking power of your running clothes – Workout clothes are top-notch (and often expensive) because they wick sweat away from your body and help regulate your body temperature, so without that wicking power you end up losing a lot of comfort and performance. Also if you are someone with sensitive skin, adding fabric softer to form-fitting clothes like spandex running shorts or leggings can cause skin irritation… so those clothes then come useless to you.

Ideally, hang them to air dry after you’ve washed running gear (that goes for shoes too). The dryer will shrink them to some degree, and they won’t last as long. But if you must use a dryer, use it on the lowest setting.

Top tip:

turn your clothes inside out, to make the smelliest part easier to be washed, and even help to save the colours.

Running clothes ready to be washed

What about waterproof jackets though?

There’s a special detergent you can use because news flash you should never use normal laundry detergent on waterproof gear’ …did anyone else know that!?

‘Normal’ laundry detergent is designed to break down grease and oils, and the waterproof coating looks a lot like grease to detergents. So use a Nikwax detergent that’s specially designed for waterproof gear otherwise next time you head out you run the risk of getting soaked through! (Yes, I meant the pun).

Top tip:

make sure you brush off any loose mud/dirt before washing and use a cool cycle of 30 degrees.

Waterproof running jackets lay on the floor

How do I clean my running gloves?

I don’t know about you, but I wear a light windproof glove to protect from the cooling months, but through the winter I wear the warmest, thickest pair I can find, so cleaning sweaty gloves is rather important, and yes – material mattes!

  • To clean polyester gloves (like many running gloves!), wash them in warm water with a gentle detergent in the washing machine, unless the care instructions on the tag say otherwise. If you’re unsure, soak them instead. Avoid the dryer and lay them out flat to air dry.
  • Cotton gloves might not be the warmest option, but they’re certainly the easiest to clean – just pop them in your usual clothes to wash.
  • Wool is more delicate, you MUST be gentle. Opt to soak them in the sink or a bowl in warm water with a gentle laundry detergent. After five minutes, gently rinse them with cool water. Instead of wringing them out, which can affect the shape, gently squeeze out the water then lay them flat to air dry.

Woman running in the winter with running gloves on

What about those specialists running Socks?

There are many features of run-specific socks compared to the everyday sock, and one is elasticity. So when washing socks you will want to keep the temperature cool, avoid fabric softeners, and keep colors similar together (a rogue red sock is renounced for turning your white laundry into shades of pink, so beware). Keeping your socks air dried will also help because the heat from the dryer will shorten their life span and destroy their elastic supportive powers.

Top tip:

turn your socks inside out for easier, thorough cleaning.

Sweaty shoes and socks after a workout

Is there a special way to clean running shoes too?

Um, YES!
Throwing your running shoes into the washing machine is a huge no-no. The heat will alter their shape, melt the adhesive glue, and even cause a shrinkage too. Instead, there is a thorough, step by step guide to cleaning your running shoes, laces included.

Cleaning your running shoes as soon as you are finished with them will honestly help preserve their lifespan, from brushing off any excess dirt to circulating a soft toothbrush on the shoe’s uppers with special formulas (don’t worry, you can make that one from home).

Clean running shoes with brushes

It is a really good habit to get into, cleaning your running kit straight away after using it. To stop these bad smells, any lurking bacteria and let’s be honest, to look after the kit that looks after us.

Next, we head onto running kit accessories such as bottles, running backpacks and earphones, and so much more.

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