Why Is Fabric Softener Bad for Workout Clothes?

You’ve probably seen fabric softener sheets in the laundry aisle at the store, but have you ever wondered why is fabric softener bad for workout clothes?


Fabric softener may make your sheets and towels feel so much softer, but when it comes to your workout clothes, that same softness might be working against you. A majority of us don’t think twice about adding fabric softener when washing our activewear—but you should. Synthetic fabrics that are used in most workout and gym clothes contain fibers made to hinge against the others which can help whisk away sweat while at the same time keeping you comfortable during physical activities. Fabric softeners coat these tiny fibers, making them less flexible and reducing their ability to pass air through. That can lead to a slower sweat evaporation rate and is one of the reasons why fabric softener isn’t recommended for performance clothing.

What is Fabric Softener?

Fabric softener is a laundry detergent additive that is used to reduce the stiffness of fabrics and make them feel softer to the touch. It is made up of surfactants, oil, and scenting agents, and it helps keep clothing wrinkle free. It is often used in dryer sheets when laundering delicate items and towels or sheets that might rub against skin.

The use of fabric softener on workout clothes has become a debate within the fitness community due to its potential effects on wicking capabilities in fabrics designed for activity. The chemicals used in fabric softener may coat the fabric’s fibers which can inhibit their inherent ability to be breathable and allow moisture out. This could lead to greater buildup of bacteria leading to more frequent washings as well as increased skin irritation due to dampness caused by sweat that is unable to evaporate properly from the clothing. Applying an excessive amount of fabric softener could also create build-up residue that cannot be removed with regular washing cycles, so it’s important to use caution when using this product on your athletic wear.

How Does Fabric Softener Impact Workout Clothes?

Fabric softener is often used to make clothes feel softer and smell nicer, but it can be detrimental to workout clothes because it coats the fabric with chemicals that can reduce the performance of the fabric. Furthermore, fabric softener can be difficult to remove and can lead to the buildup of bacteria and mold. In this article, we will discuss why fabric softener is bad for workout clothes, and what can be done to avoid it.

It can cause fabric to break down faster

While fabric softener may give clothes a pleasant scent and softer feel, it is not the best for materials used in workout clothing. Due to the chemicals used and the way in which fabric softener interacts with fabric, it can cause fabrics to break down faster than they would otherwise.

Most athletic apparel is made from synthetic fabrics, meaning that they are less breathable than natural fabrics such as cotton. These fabrics are designed to wick moisture away from the skin and provide an extra layer of defense against weather conditions. When synthetic fibers are exposed to fabric softener, they become more vulnerable to damage; this can cause greater wear and tear over time. In addition, some chemicals found in fabric softener can cause colors to fade away or become discolored.

It is also important to note that regular laundering is often enough for synthetic-based workout apparel; thus, it becomes unnecessary and even damaging in some cases to add fabric softeners when cleaning these items. To summarize, always be sure to read any garment care labels before you add any type of detergent or product and avoid using fabric-softening products where possible on workout clothes.

It can reduce the effectiveness of performance fabrics

The use of fabric softener on high-performance workout apparel can reduce the effectiveness of the fabrics. Performance fabrics are usually made of synthetic fibers such as nylon, polyester and spandex. These materials are designed to provide support and breathability during rigorous physical activity.

Fabric softener works by coating the fibers in a layer of lubricants that make them feel softer and smell fresher. This layer also reduces how much air reaches our skin, diminishing the breathability aspect of the fabric. The resulting sweat build-up can leave you feeling uncomfortable and your performance significantly reduced. Additionally, fabric softener redirects moisture away from your skin, which diminishes its ability to evaporate and cool you down.

If you must use fabric softener when laundering your workout gear, reach for a non-coating-based liquid solution instead of a conventional dryer sheet as it carries fewer chemicals and leaves less residue on delicate fabric fibers. You should also opt for “free” versions that don’t contain any dye or fragrance as these substances may cause skin irritation or impede ventilation in synthetic fabrics designed specifically for exercise activities.

It can cause clothes to become less breathable

Fabric softener’s purpose is to infuse fabrics with a pleasant scent and to reduce static, making clothes feel softer. However, when used on certain fabrics, it can cause the fibers to become less breathable than before. This would pose an issue for those looking for optimal performance and comfort when wearing workout apparel. Additionally, it has been known to reduce wicking functionality due to the added chemicals in contact with these fabrics.

Workout clothing is designed with specific materials that allow you to stay dry and comfortable during physical activity; fabric-softener use can diminish the properties of these materials by blocking their ability too breathe, stopping sweat from effectively evaporating from the body and releasing moisture instead. This could lead to moisture buildup on the skin during exercise, which may cause skin irritations or rashes if worn for a long period of time.

For athletes looking for optimal performance while wearing workout attire, fabric softeners should always be avoided so as not to reduce breathability and functionality of technical fabrics. Of course other personal hygiene practices such as appropriate laundry temperature washing clothes should also be considered when maintaining any type of clothing in order to keep them at their best performance level.

Alternatives to Fabric Softener

Fabrics softener is known to be bad for workout clothes because it clogs the pores of the fabric, reducing breathability and making it more difficult for sweat to evaporate. Fortunately, there are alternatives that can safely be used on workout clothes that don’t pose the same risks. This section will look at all the alternatives to fabric softener that you can use to keep your street clothes clean and fresh.

Use a detergent specifically designed for performance fabrics

The best way to ensure that your workout clothes remain in top shape is to use a detergent specifically designed for performance fabrics. A specialised detergent will be less harsh on your activewear, especially items made with synthetic fabrics, and prevent the stretching and shrinking that might occur with regular-use detergents. Most of these specialised formulas are free from dyes and fragrances, which can leave a residue on your clothing and strip away the breathability of soft fabrics. Read the instructions on the bottle to avoid overwashing and taking the wrong approach when tackling delicate pieces — you want them clean without damaging them.

Use a vinegar rinse

Adding a rinse of vinegar to your laundry after washing is an excellent way of softening your workout clothes without using fabric softener. Vinegar is a natural, safe, and inexpensive softening solution that can be used in place of fabric softener for all types of fabrics.

The acetic acid in vinegar works to naturally soften clothes and reduce static cling. Vinegar also helps loosen any stubborn soap residue left behind by the wash cycle and helps your detergent work more efficiently. To use, simply add 1/2 cup white distilled vinegar to the final rinse cycle of your laundry in addition to your regular detergent.

Vinegar has no smell, so adding it to the wash will not affect the scent of your workout clothes. In fact, it’s a great alternative if you’re looking for a natural solution that won’t interfere with any specific scent you may have added during the washing process. Additionally, leaving out fabric softeners with their many potentially harmful chemicals will help reduce pollutants found on fabrics which commonly contain perfume as part of their components.

Hang clothes to dry

One of the best alternatives to fabric softener is simply allowing your workout clothes to air dry. Hanging your clothes outside on a line or hook in the sunshine will naturally brighten them and make them smell fresh while also removing any sweat or bacteria that may be lingering on the fabric. Clothes hung outside will dry quickly due to direct sunshine, though if you don’t have access to sunshine then you can also hang your items indoors over a shower rod or laundry room hook.

To further reduce static electricity and make them even softer, some people prefer to lightly mist their items with water before hanging them outdoors. This light mist is enough to increase the humidity level in the air and give a desired softening effect, without making them damp or wet. Towels that tend to retain odors should be washed at least every 3-4 weeks but can be further freshened up by gently misting with water and pinning outside for several hours in warm direct sunlight. Gentle temperature cycles (use cold water only) will also help reduce static electricity so it’s worthwhile washing on a regular basis to prevent build-up of dirt, oils and detergents that may cause static cling.


After discussing the various factors at play, it is clear that fabric softener is not the best option when it comes to caring for and maintaining your workout clothes. Fabric softeners contain a number of potentially damaging chemicals, can coat fabrics with a slimy film, and can even mask odors instead of effectively removing them.

While it’s understandable that you may want to make sure your clothes look and smell fresh after a hard workout session, the best way to do so is to use natural methods such as air drying or using essential oils. These alternatives tend to be much kinder on the fibers of your gym clothing and will allow them to last longer. Keeping these tips in mind should help you stay on top of maintaining all of your fitness-wear.

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