Caring for your cycle kit - a brief guide
It’s natural that after investing in some nice cycle kit you’ll want to ensure it all stays in tip top condition for as long as possible. At the same time it is also very natural that at the end of a ride, caring for your kit may not be your number one priority. Showering, having something to eat, and maybe giving your bike some TLC (depending on how virtuous you are feeling) are all likely to get the upper hand.
To make caring for kit that little bit easier, we have brought together some key tips which will ensure that properly caring for your kit is not a time consuming or stressful job. What you do between stripping kit off after a ride to putting it on again post-wash-and-dry can really make a difference to your kit’s performance and longevity. Read on for our top tips on post-ride, pre-wash, wash and post-wash kit care.
Let it air
If you can’t get your kit in the wash right away, hang it up to dry out - this will stop any smells from intensifying and becoming ingrained in the fabric. A clothes drying rack is ideal for this (just be careful you don’t mix up clean and dirty kit if you’ve already got other stuff on there!). If you don’t have a clothing rack (or if it’s already full of clean clothing), a good alternative is to hang stuff over the back of chairs or on hangers off door frames, handles etc. Or you could hang it off a hanger outside as in the example above if that's an option.
Get the worst of the mud off before washing
If you’ve had a really grubby, muddy ride, you can give kit a gentle hose down or rinse it in the shower to to get rid of the worst of the grit and mud before it goes in the washing machine.
Check the label
It sounds obvious, but check the label, especially if it’s a new bit of kit. This will give you an idea of whether it’s okay in the washing machine or tumble dryer and what temperature it can be washed at. The UK Fashion and Textile Association (UKFT) has a handy guide to what the care symbols mean here if you’re unsure about anything.
Prep kit before it goes in the machine...
Double check pockets are empty and do up zippers, buttons etc. Do up any velcro and if possible keep clothing with velcro (like gloves) separate from anything it might snag on. Turning everything inside out will make sure the bits which have been against your skin (and so are likely to need cleaning the most) get a better clean. It will also protect the outside of the fabric (the bit which is visible when yore wearing it) as well as more delicate bits like reflective tape and printed detailing.
A mesh bag is a good idea for protecting delicate things like bib shorts, stopping straps getting twisted or stretched and offering greater protection from abrasion from other things which are in the wash. The Guppy Friend is a relatively new product which is ideal for protecting premium kit. Effectively a fancier version of a mesh washing bag, it is primarily designed to prevent microfibres from coming off clothing and finding their way into rivers and oceans (an unwanted side effect of washing technical clothing). By reducing this microfibre loss, it also reduces wear and tear on your kit, so everyone is a winner.
...And keep kit separate from bulkier wash items
Lots of riders will do a dedicated kit wash without putting anything other items in the machine. If you do want or need to fill the machine up a bit more, smaller, lighter items like underwear are much better wash fellows for your kit than heavier items like jeans and towels. When filling the machine make sure there will enough space for kit to move around freely to ensure it gets washed properly.
Washing machine settings
As a general rule of thumb most kit can be washed in a washing machine at up to 30°C (86°F), although as noted above it is best to check the care label first - some things will be better in a proper cold wash. A synthetic or delicate setting will treat your kit much more kindly than a standard wash cycle. You may also be able to choose a slower spin cycle to reduce strain on kit further.
The general rule with this is, the gentler the better. Any detergent should be non-biological and not have any bleaches, stain removers or softeners added. Whatever you do please do not use a fabric conditioner in the wash when washing your cycle kit! This will wreck a fabric’s breathability and any water repellency as well. Special detergents for technical fabric are available too. These are designed to be gentle on fabric whilst effectively removing smells at a low temperature.
Old fashioned natural cleaners are also kit friendly and effective - a good way to deodorize kit is to soak it in a bucket of water with bicarbonate of soda overnight before washing. Alternately, a mixture of one part vinegar to four parts water can also be used for pre-soaking, and vinegar can also be added to a pre-wash or rinse cycle to help eliminate odours.
Overall, less is more when it comes to detergent. It might seem counterintuitive but too much detergent can actually make clothes dirtier, as any leftover detergent which isn’t rinsed out will attract dirt and bacteria.
When to hand wash
It’s up to you whether you try using the ‘hand wash’ setting on your washing machine for any hand wash only items. Generally an item will be hand wash only if it’s particularly delicate, so bear in mind what putting it in the wash may do compared to a careful hand wash.
Hand washing should normally be done with soap flakes, which are first dissolved in hot water then added to cold water for a nice cool wash water temperature. Remember the whole point of hand washing is that it's gentler than machine washing, so treat your kit carefully (no hard rubbing or scrubbing). Aim for more of a gentle swirling action when washing and wear rubber gloves to stop the soap stripping your hands of their natural oils. Once washed, items will need to be carefully rinsed in clean cold water until all the suds have gone. To get most of the water out once it’s all done you can gently squeeze items out, and wrap in a towel to absorb excess water.
Because hand washing is quite a bit more labour intensive than using the washing machine, you might want to save it until the weekend - this is where having enough kit for a week's riding can really help out.
Air drying is the gentlest option for your kit. If you can hang kit outside the sunlight will act as a natural disinfectant, although UV light can also have a negative impact on elastane. Obviously your kit gets plenty of sun exposure whilst you're out riding in it (well, when the sun decides to come out anyway!), so hanging it out to dry in the sun probably isn't too bad, especially if you get it in as soon as it's dry. Air drying inside is also a good option - a dehumidifier can speed up the drying process without damaging kit.
If your hand washed kit is still a bit drippy once you've finished washing it, it can be hung outside or over the bath or shower to stop it making a mess in the house. A towel underneath kit while it’s drying can also be used as a way to absorb any drips as a last resort.
To tumble dry or not to tumble dry
So when is a bit of a tumble dry okay? Some waterproof and water resistant garments are actually better after a tumble dry because this will reactivate the DWR (durable water repellent) coating. This is true for most Gore fabrics (including the Gore-Tex Pro and Windstopper fabrics used by 7Mesh) as well as Castelli's Nanoflex fabric. Other kit can be tumble dried for a short amount of time on a low heat setting after washing - proceed with extreme caution when testing this out, and just use a bit of common sense - if it has wool in it and is cold or hand wash only, it probably isn't going to fare well in the tumble dryer!
Tumble drying certain kit on a low setting in winter before the commute home is a favourite habit of some of the Always Riding team (again try this at home at your own risk!) - much nicer than the slightly damp and definitively cold feeling you might get when putting kit back on otherwise, it means you're not quite as cold when setting off on the bike.
A great way to ensure a minimum-hassle kit-care routine is to pick kit which requires less care to start with. Anything with Merino wool in it is naturally anti-bacterial and anti-microbial, so you might be able to get away with washing it less frequently. Items like gloves and warmers probably won't need washing after every ride - washing them less frequently will help them last longer and save you time and effort. If you stuff soggy shoes with newspaper this will absorb excess moisture and help them dry out better.
If you're a commuter with limited facilities at work, be inventive when considering options for drying wet kit at work. Is there somewhere out of the way you could put a clothes airer up or just hang some stuff on hangers? Bigger buildings may have a warm plant room where you can hang some kit if you ask the maintenance team nicely. Could you ask your employer for more facilities for cyclists, particularly if there are a few of you?
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