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How to Wash Your Running Gear and Shoes

We all have our favorite piece of running gear. Maybe it’s the tech shirt from that destination race you trained so hard for. Maybe it’s a pair of running tights that fit just right. Or a favorite Buff for keeping your face warm on those cold winter morning runs. Because it’s your favorite, you use it over and over again, maybe even two or three times per week. Use your favorite apparel often enough, and pretty soon it becomes obvious: your favorite shirt stinks. Even after repeated washings, it smells to high heaven, even right when you put it on.

Running clothes are not like your normal clothes. The different materials are one thing. But you should also realize that you abuse your athletic gear far more than your everyday tees and pants, and because of that, they require special care. In this article, we’ll cover how to wash running-specific gear and shoes.

By the end of the article, you’ll have discovered a general guide with some basic tips in addition to some dos and don’ts, and you’ll be well on your way to making sure that your running gear and shoes stay in tip-top shape!

women running in park sweaty clothes

Hats

Not everyone wears hats, but if you do, there are a couple things to keep in mind in washing it. You have two good options: use the dishwasher or hand wash.


If you use a dishwasher, you can use the “Ball Cap Buddy” on the top rack of your dishwasher. Bet you never knew that existed! You’ll be best served if you avoid using lemon dish soap.

If you decide to hand wash your hat, use a small amount of laundry detergent to wash your hat before hanging or laying it flat to dry.

Clothes

Because you spent good money on your running clothes, they deserve to be treated well. You want them to last as long as possible. If you’re not able to wash them right away, make sure that you hang them up to dry, putting technical clothing in direct sunlight.

If your clothing smells particularly bad, you might want to consider a pre-soak with vinegar added to the water. When you get around to washing them, separate your running clothes from your day clothes.

Modern washing machine with laundry, closeup

The best thing you can do is wash your clothes right away, ideally hand-washing them. Make sure that you turn them inside out because this will target the smelliest part of the clothing as well as help save the colors.

You also might want to look into sport-specific detergent like this Nathan Sport Power Wash. If you’re one of those people who likes fabric softener, avoid using it with your athletic clothing.

Ideally, you should hang them to dry once you’ve washed your clothing. 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.

If you’re able to hang your clothes out to dry, try to place them somewhere that gets direct sunlight. Not only will your clothing dry faster, but also the rays will discourage the growth of bacteria, getting rid of those pesky odors and keeping your running gear smelling fresher longer.

Shoes

Very old dirty pair of running shoes over a white background

Your running shoes are the most important part of your running gear, so they should get treated extra well. You’ll have to take care of each part of your running shoes separately. 

Laces

Wash the laces in a mesh bag on delicate, and sprinkle baking soda on the inner liner as it dries—this will help with any nasty smells you might be experiencing.

Uppers and Insoles

To clean the uppers and inner soles, use a small brush to remove dirt from the outside of the shoe. Then buff the stains with a mixture of water and laundry detergent (1 cup water, 1 tsp detergent) and wipe down with a wet sponge before letting them air dry.

If you have stains on white soles, you can either put together a mixture of baking soda and detergent that you’ll remove with a clean sponge or use a plain white eraser on the stains. I’ve personally found that Magic Erasers are great for getting my soles white again.

You can also try baby wipes, which I’ve also had success with. You might want to see what’s around your house and use whatever you have available so that you don’t have to buy something new.

Stink

If you’ve found yourself with stinky shoes and a little baking soda hasn’t done the trick, mix ¼ cup baking soda, ¼ cup baking powder, and ½ cup corn starch. If you’re big into essential oils like my mom is, consider adding 3-5 drops of your favorite essential oil. Wash, rinse, and dry in sunlight.

Washing Machine – the last, final resort

If your running shoes are still really dirty, you can wash them if they indicate that they are machine washable. Even so, you must do so carefully. 

Remove the insoles and then place each shoe into a pillowcase. Cushion the inside of the washing machine with bath towels so that they don’t bang around, and run the machine.

Be sure that you remove them as soon as the cycle is done. Then, either dry them in a mesh bag (if they are dryer-safe) or let them air dry, stuffing newspapers and paper towels into them to absorb water.

Be extra careful with the dryer. Many people recommend avoiding drying your running shoes because they will lose their shape. Err on the side of air drying even if your running shoes say that they are dryer-safe.

Trail running athlete moving through the forest and crossing wood barrier

Dos and Don’ts

While we discussed some dos and don’ts in the specific sections of running gear cleaning, we’ll cover a few broad topics here.

Do Treat Your Running Clothing Kindly

Things that are important to us we treat with care. And if you’re a runner, your running gear should be some of your most important stuff. Be sure to treat it kindly. Your running gear needs a little more attention when washed that your everyday clothing doesn’t.

Do Wash After Every Workout

It may seem a bit overwhelming to wash your running gear after every workout, but it’s worth it. Your gear will stay newer, fresher, and nicer if you make sure that you wash it after every workout. And you’ll get bonus points if you wash it immediately after finishing.

Do Consider a Sports Detergent

There are special detergents out there specifically designed for sports gear, and it might be worth it to buy one of those if you run on a regular basis. This will ensure that your clothing stays in great condition!

Don’t Use Too High a Temperature

Watch the temperature. Your running gear is more delicate than much of your everyday clothing, and it can’t handle higher temperatures. You’ll probably want to wash most of your running gear on cold or warm.

Don’t Overload the Washer

Again, running clothing isn’t meant to be jam-packed into a washing machine. It needs room to breathe. Make sure that your washer isn’t too full, and consider filling it no more than half when you’re washing your running gear.

Don’t Use Fabric Softener

Fabric softener will mess with the membranes of the fabric of your running gear—particularly tech clothing—and it won’t be in as good a condition, so avoid the fabric softener. Plus, why would you need it anyway? Fabric softener is for rough clothing, and running gear is already pretty soft!  

In the end, as long as you know some basic tips, it’s easy to keep your running gear and shoes clean and smelling great. By taking good care of your running stuff, you’ll be able to ensure that it lasts as long as possible!

The Wired Runner