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Is it really okay to re-wear workout clothes?

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Tempted to throw on yesterday’s yoga outfit for today’s bootcamp class? Here’s what you need to know first.

woman doing a plank

It takes a lot to have a steady workout routine: willpower, dedication, desire…and a whole lot of laundry detergent. Working out regularly can lead to a large pile of laundry, fast. All that sweating can make it feel like you’re constantly putting a load in the wash! It’s no wonder so many people get tempted to just re-wear their gym clothes without throwing them in the washing machine. “I totally get it. If I just went on a walk, then am working out the next day, it’s a pain to wash my clothes between!” says Dendy Engelman, MD, a dermatologic surgeon based in New York City. “Also, I feel like if I spend $130 on a sports bra, I don’t want to wash it a ton because I’d worry it would break down.” So, can you skip the wash?

The good news is that as long as the clothing is completely dry when you put it back on, you aren’t going to do a ton of damage (although you might notice people putting their yoga mats further away from you). According to Kay Obendorf, PhD, professor emeritus of fiber science at Cornell University, your old sweat acts as food for the bacteria on your skin. And a byproduct of that bacteria’s meal is a bad odor. In other words, putting on clothes you’ve sweated in without washing them usually means you’re putting on something stinky. If you don’t mind, go right ahead!

However, that doesn’t mean you can always put on yesterday’s yoga pants. If they’re not totally dry, grab a new pair. “We all have yeast and bacteria on our skin naturally, but you don’t want to give it a situation where it grows and proliferates,” Dr. Engelman says. Bacteria need moisture to thrive, so if your clothes are still damp, those bacteria can still be active. “The risk is that there’s bacteria that can transfer to the skin when you put it back on,” she says, adding that this could lead to issues like folliculitis (a.k.a body acne) and rashes.

This is especially true for tight bottoms, like your favorite pair of compression leggings. “Yeast likes to grow in dark, moist, warm environments, which is exactly what yoga pants provide,” Dr. Engelman says. An overgrowth of yeast can lead to rashes similar to a diaper rash—no thank you!

If you really want to skip the washing machine between workouts, make sure the clothing is made out of a performance fabric. Not only will it be better at wicking moisture away from your skin during the workout, but it will dry more quickly than a fabric like cotton. And make sure you dry your clothes completely between wears. “Don’t leave them in a sweaty gym bag,” Dr. Obendorf says. “Remove the moisture and you stop the process. You deprive the bacteria of the moisture it needs to continue to function.”

So if you’re planning to re-wear anything, as soon as you get home, hang your clothes on a drying rack in a well-ventilated room so they can dry out completely. If you’re worried about smells, consider making your first wear a low-intensity workout like slow-flow yoga or barre, and wear the (dry) clothes the second time for a run or HIIT class. You won’t feel self-conscious, and you’ll have less laundry to do. Win-win!