Jul 012009
 

Or, in other words, “Dude, your gi reeks.” This is a public service announcement.

My wife does the lion’s share of laundry in our house, but I wash my BJJ gear. A very basic question that I hear a lot has to do with how to care for the gi. Most gis will come with manufacturer recommendations, and of course, you will seldom go wrong to follow them. That said, they are typically along the lines of washing cold and line drying, along with never using bleach. While I agree 100% about not using bleach, the rest is at least debatable.

In BJJ, we sweat as much or more than any other style of martial art, and there are a lot of reasons why. We work really hard. Although that’s not unique to BJJ, it’s one reason. Another is that, because grappling is rigorous, the BJJ kimono tends to be well constructed of a thick, durable weave. A heavy weight Karate Gi is often around 12 oz, which is about where the student grade BJJ gi starts.

In recent years, strong but lightweight BJJ kimonos are coming onto the market. The Gameness Pearl, Koral’s Competition Light gi, and most recently, the ShoYoRoll Super-Lite are just a few notable examples. This new type of gi is much lighter at about 3.5 to 4 lbs, easier to wash and definitely more comfortable on the mats.

So, what follows are 10 tips I’d like to share. I promise that you’ll be the best dressed kid at the county fair jamboree if you follow them:

1: While it hopefully goes without saying, you need to wash your gi every single time you roll. It’s just the right thing to do for everyone involved. If you are doubling up on a day, going to the morning class and the afternoon class, don’t wear the same gi. Take a shower, too, while you’re at it.

2: Don’t overload your washer. In your washer, three things contribute to cleaning your clothes: water temperature, soap and agitation. If you cram the washer full, there will be very little agitation and your clothes won’t get clean. There is a temptation to wash as many things as possible in a washer. Most top loaders are good for one heavyweight gi or maybe two lightweight gis. I have a high-capacity front loader and find that more than two gis plus the rash guard and such is about the cap. So, if your gis don’t smell good after your wash, it’s possible that you’re trying to be too efficient and your washer’s just not up to it.

3: Try White Vinegar instead of bleach: This is particularly great if you’re line drying, but is good for killing odors without weakening the fabric. Bleach will make your gi stiff and will dramatically shorten its life by weakening the fabric. Vinegar, on the other hand, will help eliminate odors without destroying the fabric in the process. A 5% solution of vinegar and water is also a natural, non-toxic antiseptic that will kill 99% of germs. So, try adding white vinegar to the bleach bin of your washing machine instead of bleach (1/4 cup to 1 cup, depending on the size of the load).

White vinegar is also safe for colors, if anything, helping to set them instead of making them fade, with the added benefit of helping prevent pit stains and yellowing in a white gi.

When you line dry, does your BJJ gi feel like it could stand up on its own? Made of cardboard? That stiffness is from residual soap. Vinegar added to the final rinse helps get the soap out, so you don’t end up with cardboard when you’re done.

4: Baking Soda or Borax for acidic odors: Vinegar is an acid, and tip 3 will only work if we’re talking about bacteria. If you find that an odor isn’t responding to vinegar, try baking soda or borax (or combining the two) added to your wash instead of the vinegar.

5: The Sun kills bacteria naturally. If you’re line drying in Brazil (or some other place that’s sunny and warm) you’re probably okay. Here in Seattle, line drying indoors and not taking any other steps to eliminate bacteria is a recipe for disaster… or at least funk.

6: Dry your gis completely before wearing them. Another common cause of funk is to wash the gi then wear it before it’s completely dry. Moisture is an environment that bacteria enjoy, and if you never allow your kimonos to dry completely, you’re probably harboring plenty of funky bacteria. This means if you’re line drying, you should plan ahead and give them plenty of time to dry. Also, see tip 9.

7: Heat kills bacteria. While it’s true that washing in cold water and line drying will extend the life of your gi, it’s not THAT bad. It’s not like washing and drying your kimono will cause it to fall apart in months (although bleaching it definitely will destroy it fast).

Cotton often shrinks, but there is a limit to how much. It’s not like your gi will continue to shrink forever until it looks like a kid sized gi. I wash and dry all of my gis, occasionally on the super-hot, Sunny side of Mercury setting (which basically heats the water up to 180F and dries it for like 90 minutes). Almost all of them have shrunk to one degree or another, but getting to know what sizes to wear, and buying the gis accordingly accounts for this. Also, washing your gi a few times super hot will help it reach that terminal size faster. Or said another way, washing it in warm water over several washings is just prolonging the shrinking process. It will still shrink… just not as quickly.

The first thing I do when I get a new gi is to try it on. If it’s pre-shrunk, great. I still expect a little shrinkage, but not that much. If it’s not pre-shrunk, I expect the sleeves and pants to shrink up a few inches, at least. Either way, if the fit is what I expect, I wash it at least twice on hot, drying it completely both times before wearing it. That way, I’m reasonably sure that it’s not going to shrink much more over the life of the gi.

8: Wash your belt. There is no such thing as a fuzzy belt in BJJ. If your belt is attempting to submit your opponents, I’m talking to you.

I’ve heard two main reasons for not washing one’s belt. The first is superstition. The second is that, in BJJ our stripes tend to be athletic tape. Washing the belt might literally wash off the stripes. This isn’t a huge deal, but one way or the other, your belt will get funky if you don’t clean it.

If you don’t want to wash it in the machine, use a disinfectant spray. Odoban works pretty well, and is available in bulk at Costco. Febreze also works pretty well. You can also make a 5% solution of white vinegar and just allow it to dry completely. The vinegar smell will fade away as the fabric dries.

9: Own multiple Kimonos: BJJ is a relatively inexpensive hobby. Sure, you can go nuts buying books and DVDs, but outside of competition fees and school tuition, what do we really have to buy? So, indulge yourself. If you’ve been training consistently for 6 months or more and still own only one gi, go nuts. Buy another one. Live a little. The Gameness Pearl is a great gi that can be purchased for under $100. Padilla & Sons (detrailed review can be found here) and HCK also have high quality gis available at a great price. You don’t have to spend $150 or more to get a nice gi… although they are great if you can afford them. Ebay is also a pretty good place to find nice gis that are either brand new or close to it at a great discount.

Bottom line, owning multiple gis isn’t something I consider to be a luxury. If you train multiple times each week and are serious at all about it, do yourself a favor and own at least two gis.

10: If all else fails, try washing your washer. This is particularly true for the front loaders, where a small amount of water tends to remain in the basin between washes. Some things you can do to disinfect your washer include running an empty cycle with hot water, soap and bleach. Or I would recommend hot water and about 3 cups of white vinegar. If you have a front loader, leave the door open between washes to allow it to dry out. The front loaders are air tight, and leaving the door closed will promote the growth of bacteria, mold and mildew.

If you have any other laundry tips for martial artists, email me or post them in the comments section.

  35 Responses to “Washing the BJJ Gi”

Comments (33) Pingbacks (2)
  1.  

    I hate to disagree with you, but I will never wash my belt. Or clean it….I suck already at BJJ and I don't wanna "wash the knowledge away"…LOL

    Ebay is an excellent place to get a Gi….got a 250.00 dollar gi for 49.00 bucks unused.

    I wash and dry (well fry) my Gis. The oldest one is four years old and still going strong, though I wish I new about the white vinegar wash long ago…many dirty hands on the lapel = gnarly stains….

    As an added note, I have found if I don't wash my gi right away, the funk festers and it smells "dirty" so I wash my gi right when I get home…

  2.  

    In the short summer we have in the UK, I've noticed my gis, when dried outdoors don't have their usual 'musty' smell straight after a wash compared to drying in the house during winter.

  3.  

    Thanks for the comments, guys. I will also add OxyClean as a good way to go for stains and such. This was mentioned a few times in comments on another post.

  4.  

    "If your gi smells like ammonia, vinegar won’t help. You’ll need something to counteract the acidic nature of the ammonia your sweat produces."
    The above is incorrect. Ammonia is in fact a base, and not an acid. Ammonia smells are produced by base loving bacteria, and vinegar is, in fact, exactly what you need to kill the bacteria and eliminate that smell.

  5.  

    Pittfrog, thanks for stopping by. I appreciate the correction and will amend the article.

  6.  

    thanks for the post man. my gi reeks, and i think some of my boys are too polite to fire it at me. but i tried to murder the stench with bleach…but ended up murdering my gi instead! DAMN! lesson learned. i just threw it in the wash with the vinegar…we will see how it turns out tomorrow.

  7.  

    k. heick – depending on how bad it is, you might need to soak it overnight. Unlike bleach, the vinegar won't kill the fabric. Good luck, and let me know how it goes!

  8.  

    Good article, thank you. My Gi's are rolling in a vinegar bath as I write this.

  9.  

    steelduck. I hope it helps.

  10.  

    the ammonia smell is not from bacteria, it’s from ammonia

    your body produces this when you excerciz and the body doesn’t have enough accessible carbohydrates and fat to power the body and strips the Nitrogen off from amino acids in your muscles and uses it to make glucose

    •  

      Interesting, so when exercising, is ammonia produced at the first sign of a lack of accessible carbs or does it get triggered over time as a result of a condition, such as not eating something for hours prior to working out on a regular basis. In other words, is the ammonia production a symptom of bad nutritional habits prior to working out?

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  12.  

    Hey, thanks for this article. Very complete and some tricks I hadn’t heard. I always just threw mine in the washer and was done with it. I’ll have to try the vinegar!

  13.  

    First of all, I just want to send a massive THANK YOU for the very generous donation you made to http://www.justgiving.com/liamandchristrekmtetna

    This is highly appreciated and I pray you, your family and all those you associate with are blessed. Thank you Steve.

    Regarding your post, I would love to say “Wow! This was unnecessary! We all wash our gear all the time and we all smell of roses!” but of course that’s rubbish. If you care about the art, your partners, your health, your club…etc. then follow all the advice given above!

    •  

      Liam,

      I apologize for the delay in moderating this post. You shouldn’t have any problems in the future, but for some reason you got picked up by the spam filter.

      Good luck in your fundraising. You have a long way to go, but I’m happy to do my part and share a little bit of money as I can.

      And, of course, thanks for the feedback on the article.

  14.  

    I heard (on the fightworks podcast radio) Braulio Estima say that he never washes his belt because the belt just gives you a sense of how much time and effort you have devoted to training and improving.

    I tried it once but when the belt got really stinky, I washed it.

  15.  

    Yeah I like Braulio but what the hell was that all about?

    So what’s next? Doctors never washing their white coat? Judges never washing their robes? Fire Fighters never washing their kit? These professions are, IMO, much nobler and more important to society than our humble art but you don’t get that nonsense there.

  16.  

    Is it ok to use oxiclean on a gi ? is that considered bleach ?

  17.  

    I Just bought the Fuji kassen not sure if I spelled it right
    I don’t have a lot of time to hang dry it how bad will it shrink if I dry it in the dryer

    •  

      Mike. I’ve never owned a Fuji, so I can’t really say for sure. Sorry. If the gi isn’t pre-shrunk and it fits you well now, you’ll probably be in trouble if you dry it.

  18.  

    awesome post – loved it and it was extremely helpful – my husband just joined and I had no clue how to wash his new gi . . . until now :) p.s love the white viniger suggestion I am gonna try it

  19.  

    Lemon juice for the stains, it will work. tried it already

  20.  

    For some stains you can use a lemon juice. i
    tried it already.

  21.  

    I just bought an Atima black woman’s gi… I want to make sure I do my first wash correctly. It has pink (thought it was red online so don’t laugh)… needless to say I don’t mind if the black runs on that! So I soak my gi in vinegar and let it sit to really keep the color from fading everywhere to a dull black? For how long? I hope I hear something soon… Sunday is my down day and it’s freezing here so it will take longer to dry for Monday… Thank you for your time in responding to me :)

  22.  

    Great tip post!
    Was just looking this info up and came across your page here and it is exactly what i was looking for…all the way down to the “seattle” hang dry comment..hehe (redmond).

  23.  

    Steve, I’ve been searching everywhere for advice about how to handle the stinky gi problem, and your post is it. Thanks so much for the clear and comprehensive overview. I wish it were easier to find and don’t know why it isn’t coming up higher on Google searches. It ought to! Thanks again.

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  25.  

    Thanks for the tips man. I too am from Seattle so I hear you about the funk. A couple things I have discovered about getting rid of the smell. First after class decide if it was you doing the nasty sweating on the inside of your gi or if you were getting squashed by a large nasty sweaty guy on the outside of your gi. If it was more yourself, I turn my gi inside out when I wash it. If it was them, I leave it right side out. Either way I also add fabric softener to the wash and that seems to loosen the fabric and allow it to release some odor that is trapped. Oh, also I’ll sometimes soak it in laundry soap before hand for like a half hour.

    I hate to be one of those guys but I hardly wash my belt. Not out of superstition or the stripes. But because I want it to fade and get all broken in by my hard work not the dryer. It’s not too bad.

    Anyways thanks for the tips, I appreciate them. I too have a blog, not competing with yours though. Hope you’ll stop by.

    Steve
    My site: Do You BJJ?>

  26.  

    Great post! Very well covered. I’m sharing with my wife so we can peacefully co-exist with non-smelly gis! Cheers!

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