How to wash and dry your cycling bibshorts
You've just purchased a brand new pair of RedWhite Bibshorts and now you're thinking about how to best care for them. Don't worry, this Guide has you covered.
I (founder, Yuva) ride regular century rides and started RedWhite Apparel in 2014. I focus exclusively on designing bibshorts that help riders tackle ultra-distance rides such as the Paris-Brest-Paris, Transcontinental Race and 24 Hour MTB challenges. Most of RedWhite's customers rely on our us for their all-day riding comfort.
In my years of designing and abusing bibshorts, I've found out what care habits are a "no-no" and what are the "gold-standard" that cleans and extends the life of your bibshort.
This Guide is written in 2 parts : Washing & Drying
Part 1 : Washing your Cycling Bibshort
You have 2 broad options. For maximum life extension, nothing beats a classic Hand Wash. However, not everyone has time for that (myself included). The next best thing is a Delicate Machine Wash.
Part 1a : How to Hand Wash your Bibshorts
Hand washing your bibshort is a pain. Don't let anyone say otherwise. Hand washing once or twice is fine, but is it an absolute pain to handwash your bibshort 3-4 times a week after a long ride. Especially when you're smashed and tired.
That being said, since this is the "gold-standard", let's crack on.
Step 1 : Soak your bibshort in a sink. Avoid mixing colours!
Turn your bibshort inside out and put into a sink. Throw on some detergent or even body soap (mild one with no softener, chlorine, anything harsh). Fill up the sink with cold water. Squeeze and massage the bibshort until the water foams up and it feels soapy. Let the shorts soak there for 15 minutes**.
**AVOID MIXING COLOURS : Long soaks can cause the red colour from the chamois to leech out into the water. This happens rarely, but it can happen. If you intend to long soak your bibshorts, I suggest soaking it individually without mixing with other light coloured garments.
Soaking in cold, soapy water is critical. This solution basically kills bacteria in rapid time. How it does this is fascinating and involves the interaction between soap molecules and the bacteria cell membrane. Here's a New York Times article about it.
I recommend a 15 minute soak because this gives time for your bibshort to be properly saturated and de-funked. I have tested increments of 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 mins, 20 mins, 25 mins and beyond. The benefit of soaking more than 15 minutes is negligible. So don't waste your time doing it. Please avoid mixing colours when you soak as well.
Step 2 : Rinse your bibshorts under the shower
This is best done while you're showering. You save water this way. Turn on your shower (cold water please). If cold water bothers you, here's an article about why cold showers are great.
With shower running, let the water hit your soapy bibshorts and rinse away the soap. Massage and squeeze the water and soap out until it no longer feels soapy. Let clean water re-saturate the shorts, and squeeze out the water. Repeat this until you're satisfied that it is clean.
You can run your shorts under a tap as well, but this wastes water.
Part 1b : How to Delicately Machine Wash your Bibshorts
Chances are high that most of you reading this article machine wash your bibshort. That's totally fine. It's what I do as well. Washing machine technology has come a long way in the last 10 years and there's no reason to be afraid of using it.
That being said, you cannot expect the same life expectancy out of your shorts if you machine wash it rather than hand washing using the technique above. On average, I find that my hand washed bibs last about 15-16 months and my machine washed ones last about 12-13 months. It is up to you to decide if that additional 3 month life (approximately) is worth the extra effort or not. Some customers may squeeze more life out of their shorts, and some less. It really depends on the amount of riding you do.
(I average 150-180km / week )
DO NOT TOSS YOUR SWEATY BIBSHORT INTO A LAUNDRY BAG AND LEAVE IT BEFORE RUNNING YOUR WASHING MACHINE. Your bibshort will literally rot. Sweat soaked lycra is a perfect habitat for bacteria. Bacteria will feed on the sweat minerals and excrete acid which will damage your lycra. Your lycra will deteriorate can become translucent.
If you don't plan on washing your bibshorts right away, rinse out the sweat at least and let it dry somewhere.
Step 1 : Turn your bibshort inside out & put it into a washbag
Turn your bibshort inside out. This will expose the pad and ensures it gets cleaned throughly.
You must use a washbag. If you don't have a washbag, order one online or go buy one from your local store. Get one that has a smooth interior and is not abrasive to the touch. No excuses to not use a washbag! Washing your bibshort without a washbag will expose it to the metal drum of your washing machine and to other clothing. This is not good because an exposed zipper (from your jeans), a velcro strap (from perhaps gloves?) has the potential of shredding your expensive bibshort.
Step 2 : Setup your washing machine. Use the "Delicates" setting.
If your machine is old and doesn't have a delicate setting, i'm afraid I simply cannot guarantee that machine washing will not damage your bibshort. The "Delicates" setting on my Samsung washing machine drops the water temperature, does 2 Rinse cycles and spins the clothing at 400 rpm. It takes a total of 36 minutes.
Your bibshort will come out slightly wet and you would need to squeeze out the excess water. If you washed on a full load, please note that most of your other clothing will not be as dry as you'd like.
I usually run my washing machine on delicate cycle along with 2 sets of cycling kit, my running and swimming kit as well. It's a fairly large-ish load.
Part 2 : Drying your Cycling Bibshort
Drying your bibshort is a straightforward process. All you need to do is hand-squeeze out excess water and hang it indoors to air-dry.
Do not spin dry the bibshort in your washing machine**. Do not aggressively wring the water out, it isn't a dishcloth. And please do not tumble dry it in a dryer. The bibshort's lycra is made of nylon. Nylon is fantastic to the touch and is tough. It isn't good at handling heat unfortunately and will melt.
**EDIT : If you machine wash your bibshort using a delicate setting, there will be a spin dry phase of that wash cycle. This is fine. However do avoid running a dedicated spin dry cycle (not part of a standard wash cycle). These tend to run at very high rpms and could damage lycra. For example, the spin cycle rpm on my machine during the delicate wash setting is 400rpm (this is fine). The dedicated spin dry cycle runs at 1200 rpm (not good).
. . . . . .
I hope this guide was useful and that you learnt something new or re-affirmed some good care habits you have developed after years of riding. For me, my bibshorts are the most expensive items in my wardrobe and the item that gets used the most. It probably is for you as well. For this reason, we all should give our bibshorts some extra TLC.
I always welcome comments. If you have any useful personal tips about caring for bibshorts, please leave them in the comment section below.
Finally, as a reminder
DO NOT TOSS YOUR SWEATY BIBSHORT INTO A LAUNDRY BAG AND LEAVE IT BEFORE RUNNING YOUR WASHING MACHINE / HAND WASH LATER. Your bibshort will literally rot. Sweat soaked lycra is a perfect habitat for bacteria. Bacteria will feed on the sweat minerals and excrete acid which will damage your lycra. Your lycra will deteriorate can become translucent.
If you don't plan on washing your bibshorts right away, rinse out the sweat at least and let it dry somewhere.
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Hey Yuva, I’m curious about why you say not to spin dry? Could you please explain?
Spin dry (that is, spinning the machine drum to throw the water out using centrifugal force only, no heat or airflow involved) is part of the delicate cycle on our reasonably modern Bosch front-loader, and is unavoidable.
It does not remove as much water as the regular cycle, but without it my bibs would drip on the floor and take days to dry, and then be at risk of picking up mildew over winter here in Sydney.
Thanks for your advice.
Thanks for the washing our bibs information! Very helpful!
@JOHN Z : Great idea. I’ve honestly never had issues drying bibshorts in South East Asia. It’s always hot (even when it rains) and lycra dries quickly in this climate.
@SAMUEL BLACK METAL RIDER : This is true. Good pads take time to dry because of the amount of foam in them. You absolutely have to use a washbag because it is an “insurance” against mistakes you might make when you load your machine. I’ve had my kit’s lycra saved from snagging by jean buttons and zippers simply by being protected by a washbag.
I hand wash every time, and hang to dry, however after squeezing the excess water out, I tightly roll them in a towel before hanging, the towel will absorb almost all of the water, considerably shortening drying time. This is especially helpful when touring and using the same bibshort daily.
Very interesting, gotta use a washbag, otherwise cold cycle, “sports” mode.
And the better the bibshorts the longer the pad takes to dry… my ASSOS take 2 days at least to fully…!
@MIKE ROE : Washing bibshorts well when you’re out on a multi-day ride isn’t possible. Short of carrying your own washing powder / liquid. I would recommend at least rinsing out the sweat as much as possible and drying it when you sleep.
@JOHN POLCHLOPEK : The lycra fabric is made of nylon (polyamide) and polyurethae (the stretchy rubber yarns). As long as the enzymes in your wash don’t degrade them, it should be fine.
Good post, Yuva.
How do you feel about using enzymatic cleaners, such as Nathan’s sport wash? I’m a Sweaty Betty, and even after washing, my gear tends to still have that sweaty funk to it, unless I use Nathan’s.
I have an LG washing machine that I set to Gentle Cycle, Pre-Soak, and Extra Rinse, to ensure that all soap gets out of the fabric — takes about 70 minutes. I must confess to, when short on time, putting my gear in the dryer (still in the laundry bag) on low heat. Yes, I know I’m lowering the life of the material, but my RedWhite stealth bib is the only thing I wear, anymore, and my taint will never touch anything less (you can use that for a testimonial, Yuva! ;) I may get second one, if I just happen to get a coupon in my inbox (bats eyelids in Yuva’s direction).
Other than committing the mortal sin of machine drying my bib shorts, occasionally, let me know how you feel about pre-soaking and enzymatic cleaners!
Good post Yuva. For me I definitely use the machine washing function (unless on a multiday ride). Definitely it’s all the cycling kit bundled into a delicate bag(s). I use wool wash as the laundry detergent (to avoid the grit of normal detergent). Cold water wash delicate cycle (front load machine). Line dry away from direct sunshine and heat. I must admit that I haven’t always washed them straight after a ride day but its a good point you make there.
@JOHN HAWKINS : You make an excellent point about commuting. It is a tricky one and unfortunately I don’t have a solution for this. Using anti-bacterial chamois cream certainly would help protect your skin from rashes or any nasty stuff. I personally don’t use it since I do wash my bibshorts after every use. Your tip about using a towel is very very useful by the way. I am lucky enough to live in the tropics where it’s hot enough to make kit dry quickly from simply hanging up. You would need to use a towel is you live elsewhere with a milder climate.
@PETER MORSE & ALVIN P. JACKSON : Thanks! I’m really glad this blog helped :)
Thx so much for the bib washing tips.
Very informative, keep up the good work you have the best bib shorts available thankyou Yuva regards Peter morse