Check out Seymour’s much more comprehensive guide about gi care first: http://meerkat69.blogspot.com/2012/02/article-gi-aftercare-guide.html
So, you bought a gi. You think you can just wear, use, wash, repeat like it’s a t-shirt? Oh no my friend, a gi is an investment, and I’m about to lay down everything I know about protecting that investment. There are a few assumptions here. First, every manufacturer is different. Some pre-wash the gi better than others. Some have explicit care instructions because they have a patterned silk lining because you need to look like a complete
fucking asshat gangster when you roll.
- Step 1 is always to talk to the manufacturer to get the information about the care of the gi because of the variations in treatment, dye, and material. Some retailers do provide very good information about the products they carry, but I hold the stance that the best source of truth is the manufacturer.
- When I first got a gi I was told that traditionally you should let it soak in rain water for two full days before you wash it. I have no idea if that’s true or not, but I will say that based on my personal experimentation and experience letting any gi soak in cold water for a day or so is a great step when you first get it. I’ve had gi’s where some dye (or other chemicals?) comes out this way. I use a bathtub. It’s not pure rainwater, but the tap water where I’m from is super clean. As the story goes, skipping this step means the fabric will soak up all of the oil and gunk on your skin which isn’t good for the material or the dye.
- Color lock it. The next step after letting it soak is going to be to wash it, but we’re also going to add some vinegar to the mix. You don’t need a lot. I used a half-cup to wash two new gi’s the last time I did it. Christo at Fushida said it wasn’t necessary, but the difference has been inarguable. If the gi is just white (no dye, patches, etc.) you can skip this, but almost no BJJ gi meets those qualifications. You can also skip this if you’re trying to get the color to fade faster, but then why did you buy a colored gi?
- Air dry the gi at this point. When it’s completely dry, try it on. If it fits as is, continue to only wash it in cold water, only air dry it, and skip to step 6.
- To shrink the gi we’re going to wash it again, but this time we’re going to be playing with the temperature and potentially the dryer to shrink the gi to your frame. How much a gi will shrink varies wildly by manufacturer from like 3 inches on each sleeve (I’m looking at you HSU…) to virtually none (Killer Bee). Since you already have this information from the manufacturer follow their instructions so you don’t end up with a gi that’s too small. Just remember, too big can be fixed later, too small is permanent. Each time you wash/dry the gi with heat it has the potential to shrink, so don’t increase the temperature unless you’re ready for exponential shrinking. Sometimes two rounds on warm is better than one round on hot. You should also keep in mind if your gi has a foam or rubber core in the collar. This can melt/warp under high temperatures and many manufacturers don’t recommend using a dryer for this reason.
- Roll. You now have a gi that fits, won’t fade (as fast), and is clean. Go train some, you’ve earned it.
- Wash your gi. You know that guy who washes his gi once a week and smells like crotch all the time? Don’t be that guy. Wash it inside out when you get the chance. If at all possible, turn it inside out and give it a rinse right after class then toss it in the washer right away. Washing it inside out helps prevent the really bad yellow stains you’ll get on a white gi from being a sweaty guy. To prevent shriking (since you already did that), you can keep washing the gi on cold and air drying it. If the gi has shrunken as much as it will go and you’ve verified this, you can wash it on hot and use the dryer (keeping that collar in mind).
- Air drying your gi can make it very stiff and sometimes uncomfortable. You can toss your gi into the dryer on no heat (tumble dry) with a fabric softener sheet to remedy this. There’s also the old method of tumble drying it with a tennis ball. The tennis ball works, but has the potential to reduce the life of your gi. I’ve also done the tennis ball trick to make collars which were too stiff more malleable.
So, short synopsis – soak, color-lock, shrink, wear, wash, wear, wash, wear, wash… Just don’t be that guy who doesn’t wash between wears.