Why Can’t You Use Fabric Softener on Workout Clothes?

If you’ve ever wondered why you can’t use fabric softener on your workout clothes, you’re not alone. It turns out that there are some good reasons why fabric softener is a no-no for activewear.


Using fabric softener might be a regular part of your laundry routine for bedding and towels, but it’s essential to take extra care when handling athletic clothing. Due to the special materials and designs used, putting fabric softener on workout clothes can have effects that could damage them beyond repair. To help you understand why you should avoid using fabric softener on your activewear, this guide will discuss the reasons why it should not be done and the consequences you may face if you do use it. Furthermore, this article will discuss alternative safe washing methods for your performance gear.

What is Fabric Softener?

Fabric softeners are popular laundry products that are used to make clothes feel softer and reduce static cling. They may have a variety of fragrances, and while they are generally safe to use on most fabrics, there are some fabrics that should not be treated with fabric softener. In this article, we will discuss why you can’t use fabric softener on your workout clothes.


Fabric softener is a liquid made of several ingredients, mostly synthetic and some derived from natural sources. Generally, the main base of a fabric softener is water and cationic surfactants, which are compounds that help reduce the hairspray-like behavior of clothing. Other ingredients may include fragrances and optical brighteners to give fabric extra shine and scent. Starch, silicone derivatives, antistatic agents and preservatives such as sodium benzoate or methylisothiazolinone may also be added. The amount of each individual ingredient varies depending on the manufacturer.


Fabric softener is a liquid additive typically used with laundry machines to make clothes softer, reduce static cling, and impart a pleasant scent. In other words, it serves the same purpose as dryer sheets without having to add an extra step in the laundering process. Fabrics treated with fabric softener become less stiff and more supple, reducing irritation on skin and allowing clothes to drape more smoothly.

The types of ingredients found in most fabric softeners are fatty alcohols (for softening properties), lubricants (to reduce static electricity), preservatives, stabilizers and fragrance. Many fabric softeners also include optical brighteners that make clothing appear brighter by reflecting light back onto the garment. Therefore, consumers should be aware that this could be one of the side effects when treating fabrics with fabric softener.

Why You Should Not Use Fabric Softener on Workout Clothes

Many people don’t realize that using fabric softener on workout clothes can actually adversely affect the performance of the clothes. Fabric softener can coat the fibers of the fabric and make them less breathable, resulting in sweaty, uncomfortable workouts. Additionally, it can also leave a slick residue on the fabric that can make the clothes less effective at wicking away moisture. In this section, we’ll dive a bit deeper into why it’s important to not use fabric softener on your exercise clothes.

Clogs Fabric Pores

Using fabric softener on your clothes on a regular basis can result in quicker wear and tear of the fabric due to clogged fabric pores. When clothes are exposed to the chemicals found in fabric softeners, it blocks out the air from moving freely around the fibers, which makes them trapped inside your clothing. This decreased ventilation causes bacteria to grow and form an unpleasant smell. Moreover, blocked pores mean it is much harder for sweat and oil stains to be removed from the clothing even after you have washed them well.

Fabric softener also reduces wicking action of workout clothing, decreasing their usefulness as exercise gear. Moisture-wicking fabrics are designed to draw moisture away from your body and keeping it away: they’re made to carry this moisture towards their outer surface so that it can evaporate quickly into the air. But when you use fabric softener on these fabrics, they become very slippery due to its coating – this prevents them from doing their job effectively, leaving you feeling uncomfortable and clammy during exercise.

Furthermore, some people may experience skin irritation or an allergic reaction when exposed to heavily scented fabric softeners which can be quite troublesome especially if they have particularly sensitive skin. To avoid any discomfort while you work out and maintain your workout gear at its best condition possible, it is wise not to use chemical-based fabric softeners such as traditional liquid versions or dryer sheets when washing or drying your exercise apparel.

Reduces Breathability

When you use fabric softener on your workout clothes, you reduce the breathability of the fabrics. Athletic and workout clothing is specifically designed for breathability–meaning it regulates your body temperature as you exercise, so you don’t overheat. It does this by providing a layer of air between your skin and the garment material with an open weave design. This allows air to move freely through the fabric, which helps keep you cool and efficiently wicks away moisture when you sweat.

Using fabric softeners on these types of fabrics creates a layer of residue that can clog these small pores. When this happens, it restricts the flow of air coming into and out of the material, which prevents the body from cooling down or getting rid of sweat efficiently. The result? You’re more likely to overheat and your clothing takes longer to dry, leaving you feeling uncomfortably damp for a long period after exercising.

Causes Odor Retention

When using fabric softener on workout clothes, it can cause odor retention and extra wear on the fabric. Many workout clothes are made from synthetic fabrics like nylon, spandex, and polyester. These materials absorb sweat quickly, but also trap odors within the fabric more easily than natural fibers like cotton. Applying fabric softener to synthetic clothing can also leave an unpleasant residue that makes the material less breathable and traps moisture inside clothing. This can make wearing the garment uncomfortable or leave exposure to bacteria in intimate areas resulting in a risk of skin irritation or infection.

In addition to trapping odor, using fabric softener also wears down the fibers of activewear much quicker due to extra exposure of harsh detergent chemicals. This makes it harder for your garments to wick away sweat and moisture leaving you feeling damp and sticky during workouts. The extra chemical exposure from the use of fabric softeners will significantly reduce the life span of your activewear even when washed on a gentle cycle in cooler water temperatures.

Taking proper care will help extend the longevity and hand feel of your favorite activewear pieces so you can get back out there for your next sweat session!

How to Wash Workout Clothes

Washing your workout clothes is essential for keeping them in good condition and for removing sweat and bacteria. It is important to know how to wash workout clothes as certain fabrics and materials require specific handling. Additionally, certain materials may require specific detergents and fabric softeners. It is important to understand why fabric softener should not be used on workout clothes. This article will cover the proper way to wash workout clothes and why fabric softener should not be used.

Use Cold Water

It’s important to wash your workout clothes properly in order to protect them and your skin. Washing with cold water helps prevent shrinkage and ensures that sweat, oils and dirt are properly released from the clothing. Although hot water will also do the job, it also might damage the fabric more quickly in the long run — leading to fading or pilling — so cold is often the better route when it comes to washing workout clothes. When selecting a detergent, opt for low-suds options that are specially designed for exercise attire so you can ensure that the product won’t leave any leftover residue on your garments which can lead to irritation while you’re exercising. Also make sure that fabric softener is not used during washing as this will clog up fabrics and reduce their ability to wick away sweat.

Use a Mild Detergent

When washing workout clothes, it is important to use a mild detergent that won’t damage technology or fabrics like Dri-FIT or Lycra. You should also make sure that the detergent you use does not contain any enzymes or other agents which are reported to cause damage to certain synthetic fibers. While it is natural to want to get rid of as many sweat stains and odors as possible, remember that powerful bleaching agents and fabric softeners can actually harm particular fabric types, so avoid using them whenever possible.

For best results, wash your workout clothes in cold water on a gentle cycle and don’t overcrowd the washer. In order to reduce static electricity buildup in the washer tub itself, you may want to add a small amount of white vinegar during the laundry process. Afterwards, you should hang dry your clothing since high-heat drying can potentially damage some materials like spandex or Lycra. In addition, heat drying can cause shrinkage on some items as well so this method should be avoided unless specifically listed as part of the care instructions by the manufacturer.

Avoid Bleach

Bleach is a harsh detergent and can lead to discoloration and premature breakdown of your workout apparel. While it’s effective at killing bacteria, it’s not necessary for lightly worn garments; a good detergent will get the job done without damaging your clothes. If you must use bleach for heavily soiled items, be sure to use a diluted solution of no more than one part bleach to three parts water and only apply it directly to spots or stains where needed. Avoid soaking your workout clothes in bleach solutions as this can destroy them quickly.

Avoid Fabric Softeners

Fabric softeners are mainly used to reduce static cling and leave laundry feeling softer after washing. However, this manufactured product can do more harm than good when used on items such as workout clothes. If a detergent does not contain fabric softener then you should avoid using it for your active wear.

Used together with a laundry detergent, fabric softeners can actually leave behind an invisible film on the fabric of the clothing that blocks its ability to ‘breathe’ while being worn and impact the clothing’s natural wicking capabilities. When it comes to certain types of active wear, blocking off air flow could prevent sweat from evaporating away from your skin, leading to discomfort or even skin irritation from wetness.

It’s possible that running shorts with a built-in drawstring or elastic waistband may retain some of the fragrance created by the fabric softener, which can basically attract dirt and lead to an increased need for cleaning your clothes more often than would typically be necessary. Therefore, it is important to avoid using any kind of product that contains fabric softener on any form of technical workout apparel as part of your routine in properly washing your activewear garments.


In conclusion, using fabric softener on your workout clothes can be a detriment to the performance, quality, and lifespan of the garments. Fabric softeners contain chemicals and fragrances that cause build-up on any moisture-wicking fibers found in the clothing and can coat them, making them ineffective. It’s best to avoid fabric softener altogether when laundry washing activewear or any other workout apparel. Proper laundering techniques such as washing on a gentle cycle in cold water, followed by air drying are recommended to extend the lifespan of your apparel.

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