How to Properly Wash Leggings

person wears color-blocked leggings sitting on pink yoga mat outside on grass

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Learn how to care for leggings and other activewear to help lengthen their life.

Love them or hate them, we are thick in the midst of the legging era. The stretchy tights/pants have moved out of the yoga studio and into the real world – and for those of us who appreciate their comfort and the versatility of a multi-purpose garment, they are a welcome thing.

And there are a lot of us who fall into that category. A poll conducted by HEX Performance found that 55 percent of 2,000 women polled in the United States wear leggings three or more times a week.

Unfortunately, the poll also found that 63 percent of those women say that their leggings don’t hold up for more than a year. This is a bummer because A) many brands of leggings command a high price and B) the planet would prefer not to be smothered in athleisure and activewear.

To what do we owe these short lives? Among other no-nos, we are dry-cleaning our leggings and using fabric softeners on them; we are using dryer sheets and bleach – all of which do not do a pair of leggings well.

The problem is that when we work out in our leggings, they get sweaty – but since they are usually made of performance materials, they come with care instructions that are more nuanced than, say, a pair of durable jeans. So here’s what to do to extend the life of your trusty leggings and other activewear.

Wash accordingly

person wearing color-blocked leggings bends forward on pink yoga mat with glass water bottle

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

If you have just worn leggings out and about for the day, and not to work out, there's a good chance they don't need to be washed.

Don’t let them fester

person pulls out workout clothes from a black backpack on puts on table

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Don’t leave damp leggings and activewear in your gym bag, hamper, or in a heap on the floor; mold and mildew can begin growing within hours. If you are not going to wash them right away, allow them to air dry before stowing them.

Keep them separate

separate woven basket laundry hampers holding knitwear and workout wear

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Since odor can leap from one item of clothing to another, keep a separate hamper for workout clothes.

Check the care label

hands check the care label on a pair of gray workout leggings

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Everything you need to know is listed on the garment: Check the care label for specific information on what the garment wants. Of course, decoding care labels is like reading hieroglyphics, this should help: How to read laundry care labels.

Turn leggings and other activewear inside-out to wash

two hands turn gray workout leggings inside out on wooden table

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

This not only protects the outside of the garment from the usual wear and tear of a washing machine, but it gets the dirtiest part (the inner section touching your sweaty skin) cleaner, too.

Wash like with like

two woven basket laundry hampers, separated into knitwear and workout gear clothing

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Sort laundry so that you’re washing activewear with other synthetic fabrics, and avoid washing with things that could cause damage, such as denim or garments with Velcro or zippers. Also beware of tossing in cotton towels or hoodies, which can inspire a lint nightmare for some performance materials.

Machine wash in cold water

hand changes knob on washing machine to cold water wash

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

I know what you’re thinking: The hottest water will quell the post-workout miasma. But most performance materials prefer cold water – though again, check the care label to be sure.

Consider using a specific detergent

person holds measuring cup with liquid detergent in front of european washing machine

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

HEX founder Drew Westervelt recommends use a detergent specifically made for activewear, like HEX, which bills itself as a sustainable, next-generation laundry detergent.

Do not use bleach or fabric softeners

person in color-blocked leggings and workout shoes with water bottle stretches outside

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Bleach is too harsh, and, as Lululemon reminds us, fabric softener coats technical fabric and inhibits its wicking capabilities. The environment doesn't need the added toxins, anyway.

Dry with care

black and gray workout leggings are hung with clothespins outside from tree

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Once the wash is done, make sure you are drying the garment properly. The care label will instruct you; some garments like to be dried flat to protect their shape, others like to hang, many can take a tumble dry on low heat.

Sources: Hex Performance, The Washington Post, Lululemon.