How To Wash Knee Sleeves: Your 7-Step Smell Free Guide

A pair of knee sleeves soaking in a washing bowl, ready to be cleaned as part of a step-by-step guide on how to wash knee sleeves

You’ve just finished a massive workout, and your knee sleeves stink of sweat and hard work! Do you toss them in the corner of your room and hope they’ll magically clean themselves? Spoiler alert: they won’t.

It was after about the 10th time of my gym mates saying “They Stink”, I realised I had to sort this out.

Through trial and error I’ve written my most effective 7-Step Cleaning Guide below to stop you too being sleeve stink shamed!

And if you’ve already ruined your current pair, don’t panic we have you covered with a breakdown of the best on the market today, best Anime knee sleeves, and how to measure up for your next set.


How to Wash Knee Sleeves

  1. Pre Soak
  2. Apply Mild Detergent
  3. Gently Hand Wash
  4. Rinse Thoroughly
  5. Repeat if needed
  6. Air Dry
  7. Store Properly

Why Should You Wash Knee Sleeves?

Photo of a sink, set of knee sleeves and a question mark to symbolise Why Washing Knee Sleeves is Important

Dirty knee sleeves are more than just a stinky problem; they’re a health hazard. Imagine rubbing a piece of old cheese on your skin. Gross, right? That’s what you’re doing with unwashed knee sleeves.

The Health Hazard

Knee sleeves are like petri dishes for bacteria. When you sweat, you’re not just losing water; you’re shedding skin cells, oils, and salts. This concoction is a five-star hotel for bacteria.

Over time, these bacteria can lead to skin irritations, fungal infections, and even MRSA—a type of staph infection that’s not to be messed with. So, unless you’re keen on turning your knees into a science experiment, washing is non-negotiable.

If you suffer from knee pain outside of training, be sure to look into the effect knee massagers can have on you and the best knee massagers and compression knee massagers on the market.

Lifespan of Your Knee Sleeves

Sweat and bacteria can break down the fibres of the material over time. Regular washing removes these corrosive elements, keeping the material strong.

The Money Factor

Good knee sleeves aren’t cheap, and unless you enjoy throwing money away (in which case, can we be friends?), you’ll want them to last as long as possible. Regular washing is like a small investment in extending the life of your knee sleeves, which means more money for other important things, like new workout gear or, you know, food.

So, in summary, washing your knee sleeves is a triple win:

Good for your health, Good for the knee sleeves, and Good for your wallet.

When to Wash Knee Sleeves

Picture of a calander, and knee sleeves with green smells coming off them to symbolise Extend the Life of your Knee Sleeves – When to Wash

After How Many Uses

  • The golden rule is to wash your knee sleeves after every 3-4 heavy workouts. Now, if you’re just prancing around the gym taking selfies, you might stretch it to 5 sessions. But if you’re smashing out a serious sweat through intense workouts, big weights or a HYROX Race, stick to the 3-4 rule.
  • Why 3-4 Workouts? After about 3-to 4 sessions, the build-up of sweat, bacteria, and whatever else you’ve been rolling around in reaches a point of no return. It’s like a party that’s gone on too long; someone has to step in and clean up.

Signs They Need Washing

  • If you’re not a fan of counting workouts, other tell-tale signs scream, “Wash me!” These include:
    • A smell that could knock a vulture off a garbage truck.
    • Visible stains that weren’t there when you bought them.
    • The material feels stiffer than a board.
    • You start getting itchy or irritated skin around the area where the sleeve sits.
  • Why These Signs? The smell is a dead giveaway; it’s like nature’s way of saying, “Do your laundry.” Stains and stiffness indicate that the material is saturated with foreign substances. And if you’re getting skin irritation, that’s your body’s SOS signal that bacteria have set up camp.

Materials You’ll Need to Wash Your Knee Sleeves

  1. Cold Water: This is the foundation of your cleaning process. It’s gentle on the fabric and helps to loosen dirt.
  2. Mild Detergent: This is your main cleaning agent. It’s effective yet gentle, ensuring that the material of your knee sleeves isn’t damaged.
  3. Sink or Bucket: You’ll need a place to do the washing. A sink works well, but a bucket can be more convenient for soaking.
  4. Soft-Bristle Brush: This is optional but can be very useful for tackling stubborn stains.

Why These Materials? Cold water is your starting point because it’s gentle on the fabric. Mild detergent is your go-to cleaner because it’s effective without being harsh. The sink or bucket serves as your workspace, and the optional soft-bristle brush is for those tough-to-clean spots.

Alternative Options for Cleaning

If you find yourself without mild detergent, don’t fret. Here are some alternatives:

  1. Dish Soap: It’s a good general cleaner but can be a bit strong, so use it sparingly.
  2. Vinegar: A cup of white vinegar can also do the trick. It’s good at killing bacteria.
  3. Hand Soap: If you’re in a tight spot, hand soap can work, but you’ll need to make sure you rinse water through the sleeves thoroughly afterward.

Why These Alternatives? Dish soap is a versatile cleaner but is stronger than mild detergent. Vinegar is good for killing bacteria and is gentle on fabrics. Hand soap is a last resort option; it’s gentle but may require a bit more effort to rinse out.

Avoid Washing Machines – They will damage the neoprene in your sleeves

7-Step Care Instructions on How to Hand Wash Your Knee Sleeves

Step 1: Pre-soak in Cold Water

Why Cold Water?

Hot water might be your go-to for a relaxing bath, but when it comes to your knee sleeves, cold water is your choice. It’s gentle on the fabric and effective for loosening dirt and grime without causing any damage.

Duration of Soaking: The 15-Minute Rule

15 minutes is just the right amount of time for the cold water to penetrate the fabric and start breaking down the oils, sweat, and whatever else you’ve managed to get into your knee sleeves. It’s not so short that nothing happens, but it’s also not so long that the fabric starts to weaken or that colours begin to fade. It’s the optimal time for a pre-soak, striking a balance between effectiveness and fabric care.

Warm water is also ok.

Step 2: Apply Mild Detergent

Type of Detergent to Use

You’ll want to go with a mild detergent. Look for options that are labelled as “gentle,” “for sensitive skin,” or “free from harsh chemicals.” These types of detergents are designed to be easy on the fabric while still effectively removing dirt and grime.

How Much to Apply

Add half a cup of detergent to the sink of cold water and mix into the water

Step 3: Hand Wash Gently

Technique for Effective Cleaning

Once the detergent is foamed up, add the sleeves and fully submerge the knee sleeves in cold water. Once under the water, shake the sleeves left and right 5-10 times. For areas with stubborn stains, use your fingers or a soft bristle brush to gently scrub the area. Then soak the knee sleeves for 1-2 hours.

Step 4: Rinse Thoroughly

Rinse to remove all the detergent, ensuring that no soapy residue is left behind to irritate your skin or compromise the fabric.

Hold your sleeves up right under a running tap and rinse all the dirty water and detergent out of each sleeve.

Check all bubbles and suds are gone.

Sniff test to check sleeves smell fresh and clean

Step 5: Repeat if Necessary

  • The Sniff Test: If after the first wash, your knee sleeves still have a lingering aroma that could knock someone off their feet, it’s time for Round 2.
  • Visual Inspection: Check for any visible stains or marks. 
  • The Feel: Sometimes it’s not about the look or the smell, but the feel. If the fabric still feels a bit greasy or grimy, back into the wash they go.

Step 6: Air Dry

Why Air Drying is Better Than Machine Drying

You might be tempted to toss those knee sleeves into the dryer and call it a day. Don’t do this! Why? Because the high heat from a machine dryer can shrink and damage the fabric.

Best Practices for Air Drying

So, how do you air-dry your knee sleeve:

  1. Flat Surface: Lay your knee sleeves flat on a towel. This helps them keep their shape as they dry.
  2. No Direct Sunlight: While it might seem like a good idea to speed up the process, direct exposure can fade the colours. Find a shady spot or an indoor area with good air circulation.
  3. Flip Them: Halfway through the drying process, give your knee sleeves a flip to make sure both sides dry evenly. 

Step 7: Store Properly

Tips for Storing to Maintain Cleanliness

You’ve washed, rinsed, and dried your knee sleeves. Proper storage is the final step to ensure they stay clean for as long as possible.

  1. Dry Condition: Ensure your knee sleeves are completely dry before storing them. Dampness can lead to unpleasant odours and mould.
  2. Separate Compartments: Store your knee sleeves away from your other gym gear to prevent them from picking up additional odours or dirt. Give them their own space in your gym bag.
  3. Breathable Bag: Use a breathable storage bag made of mesh or cloth. This helps air circulate around the knee sleeves, keeping them fresh. Some brands such as GymReapers offer a free mesh bag with their sleeves.
  4. Space Matters: Don’t stuff them into a tight or cramped space. Knee sleeves need room to breathe to maintain their shape and cleanliness.
  5. Regular Check-ups: Periodically check the condition of your knee sleeves. A quick sniff and visual inspection can go a long way in maintaining their cleanliness.

Things to Avoid That Will Damage the Sleeve

Image of a washing machine with a red cross through it to symbolise Things to Avoid That Will Damage the Sleeve
  • Washing Machine: The mechanical agitation can cause the material to stretch or tear, reducing the knee sleeves’ effectiveness and lifespan.
  • Tumble Dryer: The high heat can degrade the material’s elasticity, making the sleeves less supportive over time.
  • Hot Water: Excessive heat can weaken the fibres and compromise the structural integrity of the knee sleeves, making them less effective.
  • Strong Detergent: Harsh chemicals can break down the material, leading to quicker wear and tear and diminishing the sleeves’ protective qualities.

Preventative Tips to Keep Knee Sleeves Fresh

1. Air them Out

After a sweat-inducing workout, don’t just chuck your knee sleeves into your gym bag like they’re yesterday’s news. Turn them inside out and let them air out. This minimises the moisture build up. Moisture is bacteria’s best mate, and keeping them separated is key to blocking this unsavoury friendship.

2. Wipe and Swipe

Give your knee sleeves a quick wipe down after each use. A damp cloth will remove that first layer of post-workout grime. This is like sending the bacteria an eviction notice and keeps the bacterial build-up at bay, prolonging the time between washes.

3. Don’t leave in your Gym Bag or Boot of your Car

Avoid storing your knee sleeves in your gym bag or car for extended periods. It’s like a smelly sleeve sauna in there. Instead, store them in a breathable bag or a well-ventilated area. This prevents the accumulation of odours and spares your gym bag from becoming a biohazard zone.

4. The “Occasional Dip” Routine

Even if they’re not smelling funky, give your knee sleeves a preventive wash every now and then. This is about nipping potential odour issues in the bud and ensuring that any subtle build-up of sweat, oils, and bacteria is washed away before it turns into a full-blown problem.

Wrapping Up

So there you have it, the 7-step guide to fresher, cleaner sleeves without the damage caused by machine washing or when you put them in the dryer.

I spent 3 years of stinky shame and then ruined my first pair of SBDs in the washing machine before I learned how to clean them properly.

Follow the simple steps above every week or so and you’ll avoid being a stink bomb, extend the life of your sleeves, avoid bacterial-related skin issues, and can put your full focus into hitting the workout hard.

Are you looking to build a home gym and want to know what essentials to get? We’ve got you covered.


How do I keep my knee sleeves from smelling?

To prevent smelly knee sleeves, it’s best to wash them by hand in cold water after every 3-4 heavy workouts. Using a mild detergent, submerge the knee sleeves and rinse thoroughly. Allow the sleeves to air dry by laying them flat on a towel. This will keep your knee sleeves smelling fresh.

How do you maintain knee sleeves?

To maintain the life of your knee sleeves, we recommend hand washing them in cold water with mild detergent. Avoid putting your knee sleeves in the washing machine as high heat can damage the material. After washing, lay the sleeves flat on a towel and allow them to air dry. Store them in a breathable bag to keep them clean.

What temperature should I wash my knee sleeves?

Always wash your knee sleeves in cold water to prevent damage to the neoprene and rubber in the sleeves. Cold water is effective for cleaning the sleeves without ruining the fabric.

Can I put my knee sleeves in the washing machine?

While it may be tempting, avoid washing your knee sleeves in the washing machine. The high heat from a washing machine can damage the sleeve’s material. Knee sleeves become quite bulky when wet and get damaged by the spin. Hand washing your knee sleeves is the recommended method.

Do knee sleeves shrink in the wash?

Knee sleeves can shrink if exposed to high heat, such as in a washing machine or dryer. To avoid damaging the material of the sleeves, wash them by hand in cold water and allow the sleeves to air dry.

How often should I wash my knee sleeve?

For best hygiene and lifespan wash your knee sleeves every 3-4 heavy workouts. If the sleeves are particularly dirty or smelly, they may require more frequent washing.

Should you always use knee sleeves?

The use of knee sleeves depends on your workout routine and personal preference. Benefits of knee sleeves include joint support and warmth but are not necessary for every type of exercise. Assess your needs and consult with a fitness professional if you’re unsure.

Are knee sleeves healthy?

Knee sleeves can be healthy when used correctly. They provide support, and warmth, and can help prevent injury. However, it’s important to keep your knee sleeves clean to avoid skin irritations or infections. Follow our step-by-step guide to learn how to wash your knee sleeves without causing damage to the material. If you’re looking for other ways to get healthy we’ve got you covered.

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