27 Feb 2012

Article: Gi Aftercare Guide

The following article was written by me and first published in Issue 2 of Jiu Jitsu Magazine. It is reproduced here with kind permission of Jiu Jitsu Magazine.


By Seymour Yang

It is quite possibly the worst scenario that any jiu jitsu enthusiast can experience - the just-bought gi that shrank too much. There can be no worse feeling than, after spending hours of research time and spending possibly hundreds of dollars on a new uniform, for it to end up being too small or in fact the opposite - a gi that refuses to shrink and is still too large after you wash it. Most gi companies will not return or exchange your gi after you have used it if there is nothing faulty with it. So how should one look after a gi after it has been bought?

Size and fabric
As discussed in Issue One of Jiu Jitsu Magazine, the type of fabric or weave that a BJJ gi is composed of can affect the amount of shrinkage it can experience. Gis made from fabric that have been pre-treated (see panel on Mercerization and Sanforization treatments) suffer the least shrinkage. Most gis labelled ‘pearl weave’ are pre-treated and experience minimal shrinkage regardless of wash and dry temperature. Other gis, such as many brands of gold weave cotton and judo style single weave cotton, experience slightly greater degree of shrinkage. Many experienced gi buyers talk of ‘shrinking to fit’ and often advise to buy a ‘size up’ from the normal size. This advice is useful for some gi brands, less so with others. It’s a pretty difficult area to judge because each brand - the way it is cut, the material used and the way it is pre-treated, can differ markedly from each other. 

I like it the way it is
For most jiu jitsu students, buying a gi at their correct size as stated on the gi maker’s charts seems the most logical thing to do. In general, assuming your body shape is not hugely outside of the normal range of limb, torso and height sizes, you will get a gi that fits well, even after many washes. However, to ensure that the gi stays that way, washing each time at 30 degrees Celsius and then air drying (not under boiling hot weather) is highly recommended. In fact, if you observe the care label on the actual gi you’ll very rarely see a wash temperature higher than 30 degrees and you most certainly  will hardly see a recommendation to tumble dry. The main reason for this, as manufacturers often state, is due to the increased risk of fabric damage when their products are washed and dried at high temperatures. The longevity of most gis, it would seem, is cut much shorter when frequently washed at higher temperatures.

Honey I shrank the gi
Many years ago, the majority of BJJ uniforms on the market  were not pre-treated, so users were often advised to buy a size up in the hope that it would shrink over time (under regular wash temperatures) to end up being the right size. Most users preferred to speed up the process by first washing at a high temperature and then proceeding to tumble dry the item at the highest setting - checking every five minutes or so until the uniform reduced in size to satisfaction. Uniforms that are not pre-treated can be shrunk in this way and it is feasible to achieve quite a remarkable degree of shrinkage. Be aware however that most gi makers do not recommend high temperatures for their products, so you shrink to fit at your own risk.

Monkeying around
If only gis would shrink equally in all directions, then most people’s lives would be simpler. But owing to the direction of the weave, most gis shrink much more along the width (known as the weft) than they do along the length (known as the warp). So often, after washing, you will notice that the gi has shrunk much more horizontally along the sleeve lengths and torso width than it has done when measuring vertically down the jacket length.

The potential problem here is that people with long arms may end up with a gi that fits good everywhere except along the sleeve lengths. If the space between the ends of the sleeve cuffs and the beginning of your wrist bone extend further than three fingers widths, it may fall foul of the gi-checker at a major BJJ tournament.

To avoid a new gi suffering from oddly-proportioned shrinkage patterns, it is probably a good idea to wash the gi at a low temperature over several washes and monitor the shrinkage pattern. It is still possible to use the high heat drying method to obtain more shrinkage out of the garment at a later stage. But the cold wash method, although slower in obtaining decent shrinkage, at least allows you to avoid making a costly error.

Other options to consider are tailoring services. When buying a gi size up from your standard frame, even after high heatwashing and drying, quite often the body and leg lengths are too long (due to the warp and weft differences described above). In such cases, as long as the sleeve cuffs are of an acceptable length, it might be advisable to take the gi to a tailors to have the body or trouser length shortened. Do ensure you inform the tailor that the folds must be stitched to withstand rigorous pulling and, if possible, reinforce these seams with extra tape.

Colour Me Bad
Most new coloured gis will run some of the dye when you first wash it so obviously, don’t put your squeaky clean white underwear in with your ruby red gi! Most gis these days will retain their dye quite well and fade slowly over time with each subsequent wash. Some gi brands recommend the use of a colour fixative, or soaking the gi in a tub of vinegar and other household agents. It’s possible this will help lock in some of the excess dye, but the effect is probably negligible over time. Some folk even like wearing a heavily distressed and faded out gi to class to possibly evoke the air of someone who has been training a long long time.

Of course wearing a white gi will avoid all the problems associated with dyed gis, but then there is the problem of a white gi picking up dirt easily and looking extremely grey over time, no matter how hard you wash it. Applying bleach to whiten up a tired old gi is definitely not the solution. The bleach will weaken the cotton fibres and render your old faithful into a shredded mess soon enough. Dyeing your gi a new colour could bring new life to an old uniform but if it really has outlasted its lifespan, then it’s time to retire that gi...

When Gis Die
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, by its very nature, is an activity that will place huge demands on the uniform. A good gi should last several years of hard and frequent usage. In Brazil, many hardcore practitioners will train three times a day..with only just one or two gis in their possession! Luckily the hot weather (on most days) helps to dry out their gis fast and the hot sun, so many believe, helps sterilise their gi against bacterial and fungal colonisation. The fact that such gis end up parched and rough like sandpaper is often seen as a beneficial side effect!

Sadly, not everywhere in the world is blessed with Brazilian sunshine so the rest of us must rely on a washing machine, a dryer and copious use of detergents and softeners. Over time however, some gis just simply die. They either get ripped up or shrink too much or even just smell too funky. When that time comes, it is probably best to lay your gi to rest and get a new one. Only question is...which gi? 

Your brand new gi has undergone a myriad of treatment processes to ensure it looks good and is tough yet comfortable enough for the job. Here is a brief summary of pre-treatment techniques.

Bleaching - natural cotton is actually a rather unattractive grey colour. Bleaching makes it white, ready to be dyed another colour, or kept as a white gi.

Dyeing - Ever dye your own clothes? It’s a laborious process consisting of mixing, stirring, waitnig, stirring etc etc. Well imagine the same process but on an industrial scale!

Mercerization - is a process where cotton is treated in caustic soda. The process makes cotton easier to absorb dye molecules and strengthens its fibres. Interestingly, the process also gives the garment a slight sheen, hence the name ‘pearl weave’ on many gi brands. 

Sanforization - is a physical process that tugs, pulls and stretches the cotton fabric before washing and drying. The process prevents shrinkage in the final garment, with some gi makers claiming as little as 1% or even less!

Odor Control 

Man! What’s that funky smell? Oh, it’s my gi, sorry. Seriously though guys, there’s really no need to wear a smelly gi to class. That smell is a by-product from the millions of microbes that love to munch on the fluids exuding from your sweat pores. The key to eliminating those odors is to eliminate the bugs.

Here are ten suggestions: 
1. Wash after every training session and dry your gi properly before folding it away. Seems obvious but packing a damp gi into your gear bag or folded up in your wardrobe is creating a haven for bugs to cultivate. 

2. Every now and again, give the gi a hot wash (60 degrees), assuming you are confident it will not shrink further than it has done already. Most bugs are killed in hot water, although it is useful to know that 65 degrees is the hospital standard for clean laundry. 

3. Add some vinegar to your wash. A little acetic acid upsets microbes and helps neutralise hard to get rid of odors. 

4. Toast the gi – you could try an oven but I suggest a few minutes at high heat (when the gi is dry) in the tumble dryer might do the trick. Careful not to melt the rubber lapel core. 

5. Use fragranced washing powder and fabric softeners along with products that release oxygen to ‘bleach’ out stains as these also act as disinfectants. Do not use chlorine bleach as this will weaken the gi fabric. 

6. Pop a fragranced tumble dryer sheet into your gear bag. 

7. Spray it with a little fabric deodorant. 

8. Freeze your gi – rinse the gi after training, seal it in an air tight bag, store it in a freezer then wash it the next day. Weird I know, but some say it really does work! 

9. Add some Borax – this handy household product is a miracle cleaning agent and will kill the bugs lurking in your gi. It’s a bit toxic though so handle with care. 

10. Baking soda – another handy household item, baking soda (bicarbonate of soda) is an effective cleaner and is non-toxic.


About the Author


Author & Artist

Meerkatsu is the artist name for BJJ black belt Seymour Yang.


Submission said...

Wow Seymour, you've done it again!

I think this is the most detailed bjj gi washing guide there is. This will help many people including myself!

Not too much written about Hemp gis that actually get better with every wash, but it's ok we'll change that soon!

Anonymous said...

Very informative but my question is will throwing a dry in the dryer shrink it?sorry for the dumb question I just started bjj and I'm a noob

Meerkatsu said...

A dry gi? No it will not shrink it, it will just make it hot but not affect size - apart from maybe warping the collar.

Carter86 said...

I'd have to try that freezing technique lol

Some of my gis smell funky and I do not like it!

Anonymous said...

FYI Borax is just powdered bleach, so I would keep it out of the wash unless you have a white gi. It can also have the same weakening effect on the fabric as bleach so user beware!

trini jim said...


I've bought a " natural coloured " ( browny/khaki) judo go off internet and wondered if baking soda will whiten it for me.

I note your advice not to use bleach.

trini jim said...


I've bought a " natural coloured " ( browny/khaki) judo go off internet and wondered if baking soda will whiten it for me.

I note your advice not to use bleach.


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