How To Clean Your Exercise Mat, Boxing Gloves, Running Shoes & Other Stank Stuff

A woman in her fancy home gym, right after working out, wearing her workout clothes, a face mask, rubber gloves, while holding a spray bottle and a cloth

Listen, I’m a pro at spritzing down a spin bike or reformer at my favourite studios. I ensure every spot I’ve touched is sanitized and dry. (I get so annoyed when people leave fitness equipment saturated for the next person. How can you tell the difference between sanitizer or sweat when you’ve got 60 seconds to get yourself set up for class?) Admittedly, though, I’m not so particular with cleansing my at-home fitness gear.

Does it matter? That’s what I asked Melissa Maker, self-proclaimed accidental cleaning expert and owner of Clean My Space cleaning services, which has a YouTube channel with millions of followers.

The Coles Notes of her answer: Hell yes.

Fitness equipment is “nasty,” she tells me. “Sweat aside, we shed dead skin cells, we shed body oil,” she says. “It’s not that you’re going to make yourself sick, but that bacteria breeds. If you’ve ever stuck your nose in a hockey glove or a boxing glove, that odour is because bacteria has had time to do its thing.”

So if you’ve been obsessed with germs more than usual the past few years, here’s expert advice for cleaning all your skunky fitness junk.

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How to clean athletic wear and fitness clothes

“I hope I can help people wash their athletic wear more responsibly. So first, you should not be mixing natural fibres with synthetic fibres in the wash. That’s number one, separate your gym stuff that’s synthetic and wash that on its own. Next, stick with cold water. It tends to be kinder to polyester and elastane materials. Next, stay away from products, like fabric softener and bleach. You don’t want to use those on your athleisure—well, I say ‘athleisure’ because I’m lazy and don’t work out. So ‘athletic wear’ would probably be more appropriate. 

“Wash using a gentle, regular laundry detergent with no additives. Either dry on cold or hang to dry. Avoid fabric softener in particular, because it clogs synthetic fibres. And what that does is lock in scent or odour. So if you have a really heavy workout, and your stuff is stinky afterwards, fabric softener will lock that in. And then you’ll notice you can’t get rid of that smell, no matter what. 

“What you need to do, in that case, is run your garments through a couple of vinegar-only cycles. The vinegar will help to break up any of that stuck stank deposited. 

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How to wash running shoes

“You know what is so awesome about shoe manufacturers? They’re really great with explaining care instructions on their websites. And I noticed this because I am always diving into the care sections, seeing we can put Nikes in the wash, Reeboks in the wash, but what about Augur? I’m constantly researching. These manufacturers know that folks want to maintain their items. 

“Generally speaking, non-leather items are likely to be able to go into the washing machine, which is fantastic. But if you can put it in the wash, use soapy water, like a half teaspoon of dish soap with a cup of water, cleaning the shoe gently with a toothbrush. You can accomplish a lot by just doing that. 

“As for the inside of the shoe, you can replace the insoles, if you really need to. You can also temporarily put in little sachets filled with baking soda. Use a coffee paper filter with a couple tablespoons of baking soda, and tie it off with an elastic band. You can toss those in your shoes overnight. And that will really help to deodorize. 

“And then the most important thing with keeping your shoes smelling fresh is to put them outside in the sunlight. The sun is amazing at zapping odours. UV is really good for that. So don’t leave them in a dark space, like a gym bag or buried in the trunk of your car. You have to let them air out. Bacteria thrives in damp, dark environments.”

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How to disinfect at-home fitness machines

“You can wipe down your equipment, using a microfibre cloth with a bit of water. And something I’ve been using a lot is the Clorox Disinfecting mist, which is great for multi-surfaces. What’s great about it is that it’s bleach free. What I’m hearing from people is that more of us are disinfecting at home now, but they don’t necessarily like bleach. I want to be really clear, though: a disinfectant is not always a cleaner. So, clean the surface, too. The Clorox product that I’m talking about is specifically for non-porous, hard surfaces. What any anti-antibacterial product does is it has to find the germs, and then it has to, like, mechanically kill that germ. Spray the surface, let it stay wet for the prescribed period of time on the label so that it can actually do its thing.” (FYI: Maker is also a spokesperson for Clorox.)

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How to clean boxing gloves

“Please, god, get your own pair of boxing gloves and hand wraps. Launder the wraps. But the the hardest thing about boxing and hockey gloves is the crevices – the deep, dark crevices that remain moist afterward. The best thing you can do is dry them as quickly as possible after you use them. Air dry them, and let the air circulate. There are those hockey glove drying trees, but I guess if you’re into hockey you would do it. I’ve not tried this Clorox product on boxing gloves, but there are products designed specifically to disinfect glove gear, which would also work very well.”

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Check the materials, surfaces

When cleaning any piece of equipment, think about what it’s made of, such as a foam fitness mats, the silicone seat on your Peloton, rubber-coated dumbbells, metallic-threading in a yoga blanket.

“If you’re investing in something, ask yourself when you purchase it, ‘how do I take care of it?’ The people who are selling it, even if it’s online, should have a pretty detailed FAQ section or page. Or customer service should be more than happy to tell you how to properly maintain it. 

“Listen, if you clean a porous surface, it will absorb the cleaning product. Something that’s hard and non-porous is impenetrable. I once worked out at a gym with astroturf. And every time that I had to do a burpee or a crunch, I was like, ‘Oh god, how many people’s sweat has pooled here? How many dead skin cells are tucked in here? I didn’t know how well the gym owner maintained the astroturf. But even with buying flooring of a home gym, just ask how to maintain it so that it lasts, too. Replacing it soon would suck.”

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Did the pandemic make people cleaner?

“Cleaning was always in the background, and now it’s going to be more in the foreground. People are going to be more attentive to it. I’ve been a cleaning expert for 15 years. When I’m in an airport or at the mall, I’m always looking for the cleaning systems. But, now, so many of us are highly attuned to how clean something is. Where is the hand sanitizer? Can I get a wipe for my tray at the food court? People are more into it. I don’t think that’s going away. I think we’ve been tainted, unfortunately.”