With summer approaching, it’s important to have a 'refresher' on proper gi cleaning and the procedures we have in place to maintain high standards of cleanliness at the Academy. The truth is, this is important all year round, but for some reason, this issue always comes up more in the summer.
First, to answer the question directly, you should be washing your gi every time you wear it. Its also important to wash your gi immediately after training. I remember a student years ago who complained that he could never get his gi smelling fresh even though he washed it before every class. I thought "before every class" sounded strange, so I asked him to go through his exact steps after each class and describe how he washed his uniform. He told me that he changed back into his street clothes after training, threw his gi in his trunk, then on the day of his next class, he would take out his gi and wash it. He thought that washing it closer to class time would make it smell more like detergent, but he didn't realize that letting the gi sit wet in his hot trunk for two days was the exact opposite way to make his gi smell better.
Our coaches at URSA Academy go through proper cleaning methods with every new client, but I wanted to go through them again just so everyone knows exactly how and why we do what we do. First, even before you put on your gi, it's important that YOU are clean. If you come from work at your office job, there is most likely no need for you to shower before training. However, if you're working outside in a labor job, you're visibly dirty, or you go to the gym or for a run before training, please be courteous to your training partners and shower before class.
When you arrive at the academy, please change from your street shoes into your academy sandals or flip flops. The only place we allow bare feet is on the mat. Shoe racks are available next to each mat. Please wear your academy sandals every time you step off the mat to make sure that the mats stay as clean as possible.
We clean and disinfect the mats every day, sometimes more than once depending on the classes that happen during the day. We do our part to keep them clean. We appreciate that everyone does their best to keep the dirt, rocks, and bacteria from the outside world off the mats to make for a cleaner and safe training space.
Under the gi, I personally like to wear a rashguard and spats to create an additional barrier between myself and the gi. I've found that it keeps my gis smelling better and helps them to last longer. I highly recommend that all students wear some sort of compression clothing under their gi to absorb sweat and add that additional layer between your skin and your partner. Although we all know that jiu jitsu is a close contact sport, your partners also appreciate that extra layer of sweat absorption when you're rolling.
During class, if you're a person who sweats a lot, feel free to bring a small training towel to wipe your hands, head, & neck between training partners or whenever it’s needed. This will help you to keep the grips & have a little more control.
After class, I recommend washing your gi as quickly as possible. I personally have a washer and dryer at the academy. But, before that, I used to walk in my house carrying my gi and put it immediately in the washer without ever setting it down. Carry your gi home in a bag that you can throw in the washer as well. If you're washing the gi every day but you throw it in a gross bag before and after class, you're taking one step forward and two steps back. So stay consistent and clean it all.
This brings us to the 'big controversy' about whether or not to wash your belt. Basic cleanliness standards say, wash your belt. Because even though it’s not directly touching your skin, its absorbing sweat from the gi and growing its own farm of bacteria and funk. Traditional martial arts culture says that you should never wash your belt because it will 'wash away the experience.' (The tradition is a little more complicated than that,) but it’s a strong enough belief and superstition in our sport that most people do not wash their belts after every class. The truth is, that you should. We all should. But I would be lying if I said that I did. I do however air out my belts. I have multiple belts that I wear on rotation. After every class and let my belt dry completely before storing it. When the weather is warm, I leave my belt outside to sit in the sun which kills a lot of the germs, up to 99% depending on the source of the research. I wash my belt occasionally, when my wife throws it in the washer, after a particularly tough training session, or whenever I feel like it's needed.
Lastly, the question I hear all the time is HOW should I wash my stuff so I get everything clean but I don't shrink it to doll clothes. In my experience with gis, I think they all shrink. Some brands keep shrinking for life, others stop shrinking eventually. Sometimes I notice that blue or black gis shrink a little less, but the color can fade. Ultimately washing your gi can feel like a bit of a minefield.
Personally, after the first few washes in cold water, I wash everything on warm and I dry them on low heat in about 20 minute intervals until they are about 90% dry. I like to check them every 20 minutes or so, so that I don't have any surprises. You don't want to over-dry them or overheat them. After trying everything, simply washing and drying immediately after training is the best way to get them clean. I'm not afraid of gis shrinking a little bit in exchange for making sure my stuff gets clean. Cold water sets the color and holds the sizes a little better, but my gis smelled after a while. For me, the cold water just didn't clean my gi as well as I wanted. So, I think the reward of a clean, good smelling gi, outweighs the risk of a little shrinking and fading.
A lot of people use special detergent, borax, scented drop in crystals, white vinegar, and just about any kind of laundry booster you can think of. After years of trying everything, I finally landed on using just regular laundry detergent. It works fine. When I first get a new blue or black gi, I add white vinegar to the first few cold water washes just to set the color, then I switch to warm water. But for me, I've found that the key to gi longevity is just having multiple gis and rotating them out. If you have one gi, it’s going to need to be replaced faster if you wash and wear it every day. Either it will smell over time, even with proper washing, or it will start to fall apart because of the washing.
If you've committed to training jiu jitsu a lot, it’s important to have multiple gis. If you are training in more than one class per day, bring multiple gis to the academy. I teach more than one class per day and I typically wear 2-3 different gis per day depending on the intensity of the class. Again, it’s all about making sure that I'm keeping the mats as clean as possible and being courteous to my students and training partners.
A little bit of effort goes a long way to make sure that the academy stays as clean as possible and we limit the possible exposure to standard contact skin issues. This is an issue that we take very seriously at URSA Academy. If you have any questions about our standards for cleanliness or the cleaning and disinfecting procedures that both our staff and our professional cleaning crew follow, please contact any member of the URSA Team.