You come back home after an exhausting bike ride, out of energy, hungry, thirsty and in need of a shower and a good rest. The last thing you want to do is having to wash the cycling apparel you just used. Every cyclist has gone through this, but since you have enjoyed (or suffered) the ride with those clothes on, take a few minutes of your time to give them some proper wash and care; clothes deserve it too. And please, do not make family members or loved ones do the work for you. If you can enjoy your free time, the rest also have the right to enjoy their own.
Cycling clothing is very specific, therefore it requires special care and attention. It is designed to adjust to your body, provide full comfort and top performance as you ride your bike. In order to achieve this, the fabrics used in cycling apparel are made of fibers different from those used in our everyday clothes, and that is why we cannot wash them in the same way. We must follow the manufacturer’s instructions closely and take good care of them in order to avoid problems or damages other than those caused by natural wear and tear.
First, check the laundering instructions on the label and see if there are any suggestions as to what laundry products you should use. Not all cycling clothes need the same kind of care so it is essential to know which items mustn’t go into the washing machine and which ones can.
Washing your cycling clothing
Hand wash your cycling apparel using neutral soap. Using specific laundry detergents for sportswear is also an option, but make sure it is as neutral as possible, without added perfume or softener.
If possible, wash your clothes on the same day that you used them. Even a light cold water rinse by hand is enough if it isn’t too dirty or sweaty. If you do sweat a lot and the clothes are dirty it’s best to soak them for about half an hour in cold water with a little bit of soap and wash them by hand. Don’t soak them for too long because it is not good for the fabric to be left in water for hours. Here’s a trick to wash your cycling apparel: take a shower with them on, use neutral soap and scrub them without taking them off, then remove them to rinse and wring them out. This works great for summer clothes, but it’s quite more difficult in the case of winter clothing, such as cycling jackets and long bib shorts.
Never use hot water; 30º C at most. Technical cycling clothing is mostly made of synthetic fibers that do not like to be washed in hot water. Besides, many cycling garments are made of highly technical fabrics that offer breathability, insulation and waterproof properties. Hot water washes them away faster.
If for some reason you cannot wash your clothes by hand and you have to use a washing machine, follow these recommendations:
- Do not mix your everyday clothes with your cycling clothing.
- Close all the zippers, velcros or any other garment fasteners.
- Put the cycling clothes inside out in a mesh laundry bag. This will protect both the color and the fabric of the garment.
- Wash clothes in cold water (30º C at most) using a short wash cycle and low spin. Many washing machines have specific programs for sportswear.
- Do not leave your wet or damp clothes inside the washing machine. Hang them as soon as possible to avoid bad smell and fabric deterioration.
On the other hand, here is a list of things to avoid when washing your cycling clothing:
- Do not use fabric softeners or bleach. Fabric softeners form a layer on your clothes that makes them lose breathability. Bleach destroys fibers.
- Do not use tumble dryers either. High temperatures in the dryer can cause serious damage and shrinking of the garment.
- Cycling clothing should never be ironed: it’s wrinkle-free by design.
If you're exhausted, in a hurry, something urgent comes up or if you're feeling lazy, here are our three tips:
- If you can't wash it as soon as you get home, but you’ll be able do it in a few hours, soak it in cold water until you can wash it by hand.
- If you can't wash it on the same day, hang it in a well-ventilated place to get rid of the moisture from the sweat. Try to wash it as soon as possible because when the sweat dries, it clings to the fabric and damages its integrity due to ammonia and salts, and contributes to the development of unpleasant odors.
- Don't put cycling apparel in the hamper along with the rest of the laundry as it will absorb bad odors and might end up in the washing machine at a long wash cycle with detergents and softeners. Basically, everything that manufacturers do not recommend. If you’re lucky, the garment does not suffer any damage, but it will most likely get snagged in the drum or caught onto another garment. In addition, it contributes significantly to the deterioration of the fabric and shortens its lifespan.
Any home-made solutions for washing cycling apparel?
You will find a lot of information about using vinegar, baking soda or salt to wash cycling clothing or to eliminate bad odors. Let's be clear: Vinegar has a low pH (between 2 and 3) and baking soda has a high pH (10). Given that we suggest the use of neutral soap (pH 7), it would be illogical to recommend the use of these two household products.
As for salt, we’ve just said that salts from sweat damage cycling clothing so leave the salt shaker alone unless you want to replace salt loss during workout by licking your jersey.
Drying your cycling clothing
Once you've washed and wrung most of the water out of your cycling clothes, here are three tips for drying them, in addition to never using the dryer:
- Hang them to dry turning the garments inside out so that the colors do not fade in the sun.
- Do not hang the garments to dry exposed to direct sunlight for too long, as this will shorten their lifespan. We have already mentioned that cycling apparel does not like high temperatures. It is also designed to dry quickly, so it will be dry sooner than you think.
- Do not use suspenders, sleeves or other elastic parts of the garment to hang it. These elements are essential for a correct fit and the weight of the wet garment will stretch and pull them down, damaging the apparel.
If you are traveling and have nowhere to hang your clothes, you can wrap them in clean towels to absorb as much moisture as possible, then place them near a source of heat or ventilation to let them dry completely. NEVER put clothes directly on any heating device.
Just a few points on cycling clothing made of merino wool:
- Do not use specific laundry detergents for wool. They are suitable for regular wool clothes and contain fabric softeners.
- Merino wool absorbs sweat very well but it evaporates moisture more slowly than synthetic fabrics. When you wash a merino wool garment, you will notice that it weighs more because it retains more moisture. Hang it to dry, folding the garment in the middle over a drying rack to evenly distribute the weight and avoid stretching the fabric too much. Ideally, it should be spread out to dry horizontally over the surface of the rack, but we know it’s not always possible.
Follow these recommendations to extend the lifespan of your cycling clothing because the more you take care of it, the longer it will take care of you. And remember: the structure of the materials and their snug fit protect us and provide comfort, but apparel naturally suffers from wear and tear simply due to its everyday use. Just as tires wear out with every kilometer you ride, and the more you ride, the more likely you are to get a puncture, bib shorts are also exposed to a lot of chafing, and will get damaged with time and use. Therefore, we should pay attention to the indicators implying that it’s time to get a new pair. On the other hand, if you take proper care of a cycling jersey it can last much longer, and other garments and accessories can actually last and serve you forever.