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It All Comes Out in the Laundry
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It All Comes Out in the Laundry

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There’s nothing like that feeling of coming home after a really great BJJ class or open mat.  Especially on those awesome days when things begin to click, the feeling is nothing short of elation.

But then comes the letdown.  You pull into the driveway, get out of the car, and open the trunk only to be hit in the face by the unmistakable funk from your dirty gi.  Elation feels great, but it sure smells nasty after stewing in the trunk for an hour.

There’s only one solution to this problem: wash your gear.  However, your gi isn’t just another piece of clothing. You can’t mis-treat it like you can your favorite t-shirt.  For one thing, it’s expensive. For another, your gi probably gets dirtier (or, at least, sweatier) than any of your other clothes—which makes cleaning it even more of a challenge.  For yet another, it’s made of a fabric that is tough but that shrinks like there’s no tomorrow. And, often, it’s white—which means it’ll show off stains or get dingy if you don’t take care of it.

So, let’s take a look at how we can best care for our gi.

First off, Wash it ASAP.  This is not one of those times when you can let things pile up.  If you let it sit there, the first thing that will happen is that bacteria will start to breed.  Your dirty gi is warm, it’s damp, and it’s been collecting bacteria from your skin and from your teammate’s skin.

Normally, those bacteria don’t exist in large enough numbers to do any harm, but if you give them a perfect environment to grow and leave them alone, they will.

Not only is this an extremely unhygienic situation, but the byproducts of all that bacteria growth is a nasty odor.

By washing your gi as early as possible, you head off both problems.

Given the grossness factor, you may be tempted to crank your washing machine up to “HOT” to kill off all those nasty microbes.  But you shouldn’t. Gis are notorious for their tendency to shrink, and washing them in hot water will reduce them down to the size of doll clothes.

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Using cold water has to suffice.  

But don’t just throw your gear in the wash.  Inspect it first. Look for stains. Pay particular attention to the collar, the knees, and the sleeves; these are all areas that seem to collect stains.  Pre-treat those stains—especially blood stains—with a stain treatment before tossing your gi in the machine.  

Once you’ve pre-treated and you have your gear in the machine, your next consideration is detergent.

Fortunately, we have plenty of options as far as detergents are concerned.  In my experience, you get what you pay for in terms of laundry detergents, so be willing to spend a little more money.

To help with costs, I usually buy two different kinds of detergents: a less expensive one for my everyday clothes and a more expensive, heavy duty detergent for my BJJ gear.

After the wash, your best bet is to hang your gear up to dry.  Don’t use the dryer. The intense heat from the dryer will shrink your gi.

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If you’re serious about your BJJ journey and expect it to last for years, now is the time to create a space for your BJJ gear to dry.  By putting up a shower rod or tension wire in an out-of-the-way corner of the laundry room, you provide yourself with a convenient place to hang your gear.

If you don’t do this, you’ll still be struggling to find a place to hang your wet gear a year from now.  So, you might as well make the effort now. In the months to come, you’ll be glad you took the trouble.

When you hang your gear to dry, make sure that each garment has plenty of exposure to air.  You don’t want to bunch them up close together. Air flow guarantees even drying and prevents musty odors.

However, before you hang your gi up and walk away, you should inspect it again.  This is the time to check on those stains. If they didn’t come out, you want to re-treat and re-wash while your gi is still damp.  If you let it dry, those stains will be even harder to remove.

This is also the time to evaluate your gear for dinginess and odors.

If your gi has seen a bit of wear and is starting to look dingy in places, it may be time to take some extra steps.  Many people swear by baking soda as a good remedy for whitening and removing odors. (Baking soda—NOT baking powder! And, yes, I know a guy who got the two confused).

Dampen some baking soda in a bowl with water until it forms a paste.  Then, rub that paste into the areas that are showing grime. After letting that paste sit a while, re-wash and re-inspect.

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If baking soda doesn’t appeal to you, a non-bleach whitener is also an option.  Many of these are available and will brighten up your white gi after a long soak.

Whatever you do, though, do not use bleach on your gi.  Over a short amount of time, it will damage the fibers of your gi, making them brittle and easy to tear.

If odors are persisting after you wash your gi, there are a few options for that, too.  

Vinegar is a tried and true solution to odor problems.  Running your gi through a rinse cycle with a cup of vinegar will chase away odors.

When using vinegar, however, be sure that you don’t also use baking soda.  The combination of vinegar and baking soda results in a strong acid! Use them separately, never together.

If vinegar doesn’t get rid of the stink, there are also several odor eliminators out there, such as Odoban, that will also help you avoid being labeled the “stinky gi guy.”

Overall, the key to maintaining your BJJ gear is to be diligent in caring for it.  Don’t create problems by procrastinating. Inspect for problems, treat those problems, and re-inspect after washing.

A little effort will result in money saved as your gear lasts for years instead of just months.

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