So you bought yourself a brand spanking new gi. Congratulations. Now how do you care for this thing, so that you can get the most use out of it without accidentally killing it?
- To shrink or not to shrink
Whether you’re in-between sizes, or you like your gi to fit a bit more snug, you may want to shrink it. You can do this with a cotton or hemp gi, but not so much with your ripstop pants. If you do opt to do this, don’t just go blasting your brand new - and potentially expensive - jiu jitsu gi with hot water and an industrial grade dryer. It’s hard to go back from over-shrinking your gi. Most gis are made from 100% cotton, and during construction, the cotton fibers are put under tension - basically pulled and straightened before they’re woven together. Heat releases this tension, which allows the fibers to relax and reduce to their natural size. So instead, take your time and monitor the shrinking process. Start with washing hot and air-drying, then if you need to, add heat and tumble dry low. Rarely will you require high heat… but, hey, it’s your gi. Do with it what you want.
- Wash your gi (i.e. don’t be “that guy”)
Assuming your gi is the size you want it, you now have to keep it clean without destroying it. First rule of jiu jitsu club: wash your gi after every use. Yeah, some guys say they can get two training sessions out of their gis, but once you sweat - even a little bit - the naturally-occurring bacteria in your skin makes themselves at home in your gi. At the very least, you’re gi will smell a little funky during the second practice. At the worst, you risk spreading some kind of skin fungus or infection. So wear once, wash once, and repeat. In the process, wash in cold and avoid bleach or harsh detergents. This prevents the natural fibers from breaking down, diminishing the lifespan of your gi.
- A little heat goes a long way
The preferred method of drying your gi is letting it air dry. Take care air-drying in direct sunlight, however. While the sun’s ultraviolet rays have a natural anti-bacterial effect, it can fade colors and the heat can potentially shrink the cotton fibers. However, depending on where you live - humid climates, for example - this might not be an option at all. The “air dry” setting on your dryer is a great alternative. Tumble drying low is fine, if you want to tighten up the fibers, but avoid leaving it in too long. Finally, unless you want to give your gi to your kid sister, avoid drying on high heat. Not only does this shrink it mercilessly, the heat can also damage the fibers - regardless of whether it’s cotton, hemp or polyester - diminishing the lifespan of your gi.
- That questionable stain
Blood, grease, hair dye, or that bit of chocolate cookie you ate after training… whatever it is, you’re guaranteed to get some kind of stain on your gi. Before you mourn your pristine gi and throw it in the wash with a gallon of bleach, try to spot clean it first. For a white gi, a tiny bit of bleach applied directly to the stain and allowed to sit for a few minutes prior to washing isn’t going irreparably bleach the rest of your gi - including your colored embroideries or patches. For both white and colored gis, if the stain is oil-based, work a mix of vinegar and dishwashing fluid into it before washing. Most hair dyes will wash out fine, but if you’re worried, the vinegar/dishwashing fluid also works in this case as well. If all that doesn’t work, call your grandma. She’ll know what to do.
- It’s aliiiiiiive….
You heard it: that terrifying ripping sound. Maybe you squatted a little too low the day after Thanksgiving, or your training partner was a little too aggressive with his/her lapel game… whatever it was, your trusty gi has finally ripped. Don’t give up on it just yet. Depending on the size and location, some tears can be repaired. If you’re not confident in your own patching skills - remember, you need to add another strip of fabric behind the tear to anchor your stitches - take it to your nearest tailor. They’ll be able to tell you if it’s salvageable. I had a gi that I brought back from the dead a record six times. I called it the “Franken-gi.”
- The dreaded “gi funk”
Everybody experiences it. It’s a constant battle… one that you will ultimately lose. However, you can postpone the inevitable with a few good habits and tricks of the trade. First of all, and referring back to No. 2 in this article, wash your gi after every use. The sooner, the better. If you can risk the slight shrinkage mentioned in No. 3, air drying your gi in the sun before you wash it is also useful in keeping the odor-causing bacteria at bay. Adding a bit of vinegar to your wash, or even soaking a stinky gi in a vinegar/water solution prior to washing can also help. If you’ve let it get too far, and you’re desperate, you can hit it with industrial grade carpet and fabric cleaning detergent (the kind you get at Home Depot). If all else fails, throw caution to the wind and wash it with bleach, but expect it to come out with off-color patches and embroideries. Eventually, you will have to make the decision to just let it go. It’s hard, I know, but the last person your training partner wants to roll with is the person with the funky smelling gi.
Train on. Oss.