We all know the guy(s) in the gym who’s gi cleaning skills can use a power up. If you haven’t run into this guy yet, I have news for you… it’s probably you. Gis shouldn’t stink and with the proper cleaning techniques you can keep that funk at bay.
There’s many different methods for cleaning a gi and many of them are effective. We will go over the different ways to clean your gi but first lets talk about some basic principles.
Dry out your gi
Some people train in the morning and leave their gi sitting in their gym bag wet while at work. This is a recipe for the ultimate funk, made exponentially worse in the summer heat. Bacteria just love a warm wet environment and they will think they’ve found eden in the dark confines of your bag. If you can’t wash your gi right away, at the very least let it dry out. If you are going to work you can spread it out in your trunk so that it can dry.
Better yet get a spray bottle filled with vinegar and a touch of detergent. Before spreading your gi to dry spray it down with this mixture. Now your delay in washing your gi has just become a pretreatment interval.
Wash it After Every Class
Every class?!? YES! Wash it after every class! Or don’t, and find that you have no training partners. Seriously, no one wants to roll with the guy with the dirty gi. It’s not just olfactory assault that makes people avoid it, but the real risk of disease. Even the cleanest gym can be susceptible to contagions on the mat. Don’t put your training partners at risk of ringworm or staph. We’d much rather roll with a guy who’s gi is still damp from the washer, than someone who’s gi is filled with dried up sweat.
Wash Your Belt Too
There’s some controversy around this with some people insisting there’s no need to wash your belt. Let me settle that controversy… you need to wash your belt. There’s no invisible forcefield that protects your belt from sweat and germs. You may not sweat through to your belt, but guaranteed there’s at least one guy you roll with, who sweats clean through his gi, and onto your belt. There’s also the sweat, and who knows what else on the mat, that your belt is just mopping up.
You don’t always need to pretreat but there are some times when it’s necessary.
- If your gi has sat all day then pretreat it with one of the methods I’ll talk about further down. Blood on the gi is another instance.
- For blood douse the area in Hydrogen Peroxide and be sure to wash it on cold. Heat will set a blood stain.
- If you are extra stinky. Some people don’t have much body odor and some have more than their fair share. If you are one of the later, lamenting will do nothing, just be sure to pretreat the armpit areas of your gi and rash guards.
Dry it Fast After Washing
Most people don’t put their gis in the dryer because a dryer can and will shrink a gi and also wear out the fibers. There are some gis that truly are preshrunk and can go in the dryer. If you have one of those then go for it. If you don’t hanging it to dry is the way to go. You need to make sure there is plenty of air circulating around your gi though. If you dry it in a tight space it will take longer to dry and this gives any bacteria that made it through the wash time to multiply. If your gi can’t dry in a couple hours then you raise your likelihood of it stinking. In the summer, drying your gi in the sun is perfect. The sun not only speeds up dry times but UV rays kill bacteria. In the winter, we hang ours to dry in the laundry room with a fan pointing at them. Another option is to put your gi in the dryer on air dry.
Pretreatment Methods and Laundry Additives
Vinegar is a natural deodorizer and is antibacterial. If your gi has developed a funk that normal washing can’t conquer, soaking it in vinegar overnight can often get that smell out. As mentioned above, vinegar and a little detergent in a spray bottle make an easy pretreatment for gi’s that can’t be washed right away. It also is a great thing to spray in the armpits of your gi to break down odors and oils before washing. Adding a cup of vinegar to the prewash can also help get your gi cleaner.
Baking soda, Borax, and Washing Soda
These three all work by making water softer so your laundry detergent can do a better job. They are also deodorizers. A paste made of any of them and a little water can be rubbed into particularly smelly or stained areas.
Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil has very powerful antibacterial properties. It also kills molds and mildews. If your gi has developed mold or mildew smells and you don’t want to bleach it, you can try tea tree oil. You can make a strong spray with 2 tablespoons of tea tree oil, 1 teaspoon of rubbing alcohol, and about a cup of water. Spray this all over your gi and let it dry. Then wash as usual.
Many people refuse to use bleach and with good reason. Bleach weakens fabrics, fades colors, and is not the most eco-friendly option. However, it is the easiest and most effective way to ensure your gi is clean and fresh smelling. You don’t need to use much and if you use a small amount, you can even use it on colors.
In my front-loading washer I use about a tablespoon on my darker gis. It does fade them over time but personally, I’d rather have a faded gi, than a stinky one. As for weakening the fabric I think the effect is negotiable when you use a small amount. For the first year and a half, I trained just about every day in a white Sanabul gi. Sanabul are not high end gis but that gi still lasted a year and a half of hard training and regular bleaching before fraying.
If you do use bleach use a small amount and put it in your bleach dispenser or if you don’t have one, let the tub fill some and mix it with plenty of water before adding your gi.
I’ve found Tide Sport and Persil to be the best at removing sweat and odors. If you want a green option I’ve heard good things about Rocking Green Active. Whatever detergent you use be sure to use only the recommended amount. Many people think more detergent means better cleaning power but that is not true. By using too much, you end up leaving a detergent residue that helps odors and bacteria cling to the fabric.
Washing Machine Settings
A prewash is never a bad idea. It will rinse out the sweat and the addition of vinegar will start killing germs. Water should be set to cold, or warm only if your gi is preshrunk and there are no blood stains. Hot will ruin many gis. Set the spin speed to hi so your gi can dry faster.
Your Other Gear
With the exception of boxing gloves and shin pads, everything should be washed every time. Don’t let your other gear sit wet either. Your clothes should be allowed to dry if you aren’t going to wash them right away. Pretreat the armpits of your rash guards to avoid funk build-up. Your boxing gloves and shin pads should be sprayed with the tea tree oil spray above or with lysol and allowed to dry out. For a more comprehensive guide on how to maintain your gloves you can click here. Mouthguards should be washed as well. If you wear a cup and jockstrap throw that in with your gi when you wash it.
Don’t forget to clean your gym bag. I try to avoid putting anything but clean things in my gym bag. I tie my dirty gi into a package with my belt and carry it home separately. If you do put dirty things in your bag spray it out with a disinfecting spray and let it dry out every time.
Jenica is a student and kids’ coach at North Texas Mixed Martial Arts. She also teaches the Women’s BJJ class at NTMA every Thursday at 11am. You can read more of her articles here and on her personal blog at JenicaandPatrick.com