We all have that one pair of black leggings that you just can’t live without. Personally, it took me a little longer than most to digest the leggings Kool-Aid, but it’s not hard to see why these stretchy pants are the fabric of the people—in addition to being uber-comfortable, there’s a sense of sentimentality and intimacy about the skintight athleisure essential that skinny jeans simply can’t replicate.
Over the years, the casual dressing attire has become commonplace for workwear, leisure, and workouts alike. But despite how flexible and stretchy they are, unfortunately they aren’t invincible (RIP to my many pairs that have pilled and stretched to the point of no return). Since we all want to know how to expand our leggings’ lifespan, we asked some of our favorite laundry connoisseurs—Gwen Whiting and Lindsey Boyd, co-founders of The Laundress, and Val Oliveira, founder of Val’s Services—for some insider tips on how to make leggings last as long as possible.
Don’t overwash them
Like how often you should wash your pajamas, the laundering frequency for leggings is a highly debated one. Although there’s no golden number here, Whiting notes that the less you wash a garment the longer it will last. The smell test is a good indicator: If you’re coming back from hot yoga or running a marathon (or any other extensive exercise), it goes without saying that your leggings are due for a good wash. But if you’ve been lounging around in your house all day, consider holding off if you can. “As long as you’re not profusely sweating or working out, leggings can go three to four wears before it’s time to wash,” says Whiting.
Take the proper precautions when washing
When you do choose to wash, there are some presets to keep in mind. Oliveira recommends starting with an activewear-based detergent, like Hex Performance Laundry Detergent ($24; amazon.com) to combat pilling and stretching. “Leggings are usually made of fabric blends of spandex, nylon, and cotton that are prone to elasticity loss and snagging, especially during a wash cycle,” says Boyd. “Always wash with a delicate cycle, cool water (to avoid shrinkage), and low spin. A mesh washing bag, like this one from The Laundress ($15 for 2; amazon.com), can also protect them from snagging inside the drum of the machine.” Oliveria also recommends turning your leggings inside out before tossing them into the washer. This simple step will help your colors remain colorful and your blacks to remain blacker for longer.
Avoid fabric softeners
PSA: Fabric softeners are kryptonite for leggings. “This is especially true if your leggings are made of a moisture-wicking material like spandex or polyester," says Whiting. "Most fabric softeners contain silicone that can decrease the efficiency of their absorptive, moisture-wicking properties." If you have a pesky smell that won’t quit, she recommends soaking items in a bath of a quarter cup of vinegar and cool water for 30 minutes before washing. “Vinegar’s odor-absorbing, bacteria-fighting properties will give your leggings an extra boost of clean and help remove odors from perspiration.”
Never tumble dry
To ensure your activewear fits like new, steer clear of the dryer and air-dry your garments instead. “The high heat of the dryer can warp individual strands of fiber from your leggings and weaken the material, leading to permanent tears and holes,” says Oliveria. Keep in mind that the weight of water can stretch out your leggings when hang-drying, so you should lay them flat in order to preserve its elasticity and prevent warping.
Lift pilling from fabric
Even if you follow all the wash instructions to a T, you can’t completely prevent pilling (since it also happens from wearing). “Pilling happens in areas where the most friction occurs, so if you’re running in leggings everyday you might see pilling on the inside area of the leg,” says Boyd. The good news? Pilling isn’t permanent! Using a sweater comb ($15; amazon.com), gently glide over the affected area in one direction to lift unsightly balls of fluff from the fabric.