“It really depends on how much wear is actually involved, but I would recommend washing any clothing item that is in close contact with parts of your body that are more prone to odors and sweat for long periods of time after every single time you wear them,” says Tide scientist Jennifer Ahoni. And yup—your crotch (sorry, I said it) falls into that category.
Your body gives off a lot of gross stuff that can wind up on your clothing—according to Ahoni, even if you don’t workout, you produce one liter of sweat, 10 grams of salt, 40 grams of sebum, and 10 grams of skin cells and flakes. And if you do workout, those numbers skyrocket. “If you wear clothing more than once, these body soils build up in layers making them more difficult to remove, which over time breakdown into smelly odors,” she explains. “Body soils are invisible soils, so you may not see them, but if you don’t remove them, you may have a pretty, stinky garment on your hands down the road.”
Since leggings are generally tight, they come into particularly close contact with all of this stuff. They also tend to be made with synthetic fabric, like the elastane that makes them stretchy, which pros refer to as “odor magnets” because they’re particularly attracted to greases and oils like sebum. “Any garments that are fully synthetic or contain synthetic fibers, like your leggings, are more likely to get smellier faster,” says Ahoni.
For all of these reasons, pros also advise against keeping the same sweaty leggings on all day after you’ve worked out in them. Because the sweat-wicking fabric that most athletic wear is made of is meant to trap sweat, bacteria tends to linger in it for the long haul. “Sweat that has oil and dirt in it clogs up the pores, and can cause things like acne and folliculitis,” board-certified dermatologist Shirley Chi, MD previously told Well+Good. And if you’re prone to yeast infections, gynecologists agree that you should shower off and swap your sweaty leggings for a fresh pair immediately after exercising. “The closer the fabric is to the skin, the more frequently it should be washed,” says board-certified dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD. “I look at tightly fitting leggings the same way that I look at underwear: They really should be changed and washed daily.”
However, if you’re lounging around all day, and you’re wearing underwear with your leggings (which, for what it’s worth, isn’t necessary), the rules on washing every day aren’t quite as stringent, since your undies provide a barrier between your lady parts and the fabric of the pants. In this situation (and in this situation only) Katie Brown, owner of Rytina Fine Cleaners in Sacramento, CA, says that you can probably get two or three wears out of them.
As far as washing them after a long day indoors goes, Brown suggests washing using soap (if they need a deep clean, Ahoni recommends Tide PODS Plus Febreze Sport Odor Defense) and cold water, then letting them hang dry to preserve their elasticity. If you wear them out of the house, though, COVID-19 procedures advise immediately washing them with soap and hot water to kill the virus.
Consider this your excuse to officially order that new pair of leggings you’ve been eyeing. Or at the very least, to toss the ones you’re wearing in the wash for the first time this week.
Need some leggings inspiration? Here are the best black ones you can buy on Amazon for under $20. Or to spice things up, try out a printed pair.
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