It May Be Time To Wash The Leggings You've Been Living In — Here's Why

mindbodygreen Editorial Assistant By Sarah Regan
mindbodygreen Editorial Assistant

Sarah Regan is a writer, registered yoga instructor, and Editorial Assistant at mindbodygreen. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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You've wiped down every surface in your home 100 times, reorganized every square inch of your kitchen—even your computer has never been cleaner. But are you still sporting yesterday’s leggings you happened to wear to the store? Or are have you been wearing the same pair all week? If that's the case, it's probably time to toss them in the wash.

It's still relatively unclear just how long the coronavirus can survive on different surfaces like fabric—it can be anywhere from hours to days, according to the CDC. That said, there are some precautions you may want to take when it comes to your stay-at-home uniform.

So we dug into the research to find out the best materials to turn to, safety measures if you venture outside, and how to wash your fave leggings properly if you're worried about the virus.

First off, what are the best materials for leggings?

Generally speaking (and of course, depending on quality), leggings are usually made from some combination of spandex, polyester, and/or nylon (all synthetic materials). Other options on the market include rayon, bamboo, cotton, or some combination of these fabrics. And according to various research, different fabrics vary in rates of breathability, moisture-wicking, and more, affect bacteria growth.

Now, it's important to note that there isn't significant research on fabrics with antiviral qualities. So unfortunately, there's no surefire coronavirus-resistant pair of leggings out there. That said, if you're aiming to keep your home and body as hygienic as possible these days, some material may be more helpful than others.

Polyester, for example, promoted bacteria growth the most in one small study where 26 participants tested different fabrics during exercise. That same study also found nylon promoted the growth of one strain of bacteria by as much as twofold over 28 hours. In fact, most synthetic fabrics harbored more bacteria than natural. (Cotton did show some bacteria growth, but not quite the same rate as synthetic materials.) And while bacteria and viruses are not the same, it certainly doesn't hurt to stave off excess microorganisms.

As far as your best bet, one 2018 study found bamboo to be a wonderful antimicrobial option. (It repelled the colonization of E. coli in the study.) Even after washing bamboo clothing 50 times, it's still showed antimicrobial properties in the study and killed over 70% of bacteria.

In addition to bamboo, you can also look for leggings that specifically call out "antimicrobial" qualities on the label.

While there's not really a hard-and-fast rule about how frequently you should launder your leggings, depending on the fabric in question, you probably want to change into a fresh pair pretty regularly.

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Things to remember if you wear them outside.

If you ventured out to the store or you're still required to go into work, along with the standard guidelines of hand-washing and surface wiping, it's likely a good measure to change out of those clothes when you get home. Avoid the temptation of immediately sitting on the couch in your comfy leggings, change into something fresh, and get your clothes in the wash or hamper. (For extra cleanliness, you can use a laundry hamper liner that you can throw right in the wash with your clothes.)

Again, there aren't conclusive numbers on how long the virus can live on clothes. But until there's more information about the virus and clothing, it's likely best to air on the side of caution.

The science behind how to wash your leggings.

If you or someone in your home has COVID-19 or is showing symptoms, the CDC put out some specific guidelines on how to tackle laundry most effectively. Of course, if you just want to be extra safe, you can keep these tips in mind, too:

  1. Wear disposable gloves when handling dirty laundry from an ill person and then discard after each use. Wash hands immediately after gloves are removed.
  2. If no gloves are used when handling dirty laundry, be sure to wash hands afterward.
  3. If possible, do not shake dirty laundry. This will minimize the possibility of dispersing the virus through the air.
  4. Launder items as appropriate in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions. If possible, launder items using the warmest appropriate water setting for the items, and dry completely.
  5. Dirty laundry from an ill person can be washed along with other people's clothing.

Ultimately, being sure to change out of dirty clothes ASAP to mitigate the spread of viruses and bacteria, as well as shopping for "cleaner" fabrics, like bamboo, are good measures to take if you want to keep your clothing and your home as clean as possible.

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