When to Replace Compression Wear
Has your compression wear seen better days? Learn the signs that tell you it's time for a replacement.
If you’ve had your compression apparel for a while now and put it through plenty of activity and sweat, you may have noticed some beginning signs of wear and tear. While this is natural of any clothing item, worn out athletic wear can actually end up negatively impacting the performance of an athlete.
So, when it comes to your own compression apparel, you may be wondering when the right time is for a replacement. While there’s no exact answer to this question, there are a few key factors you can look to that will signal when it’s time to replace your various compression items. For starters, we’ll take a look at some of the common ways that compression apparel can break down.
When Should I Replace My Compression Apparel?
How often to replace your various compression items can depend a lot on what type of apparel it is, the material that is used, and which activity it is used for.
First, let’s consider how differences in apparel type can impact your typical product replacement timetable. For example, consider a sleeveless compression shirt in comparison to that of a long sleeve compression shirt. Most of the stretch and range of motion the sleeveless shirt will endure comes from being put on and taken off.
Add long sleeves to the shirt, however, and the shirt will naturally experience more stretch and a larger range of motion. In this way, you can see how certain compression apparel may lose its elasticity a bit quicker than other items simply based on its nature.
The typical elasticity breakdown of a compression product ranges from 1 to 2 years. If you are putting your compression gear through constant rigorous activity, you should look for a replacement after about a year. If your activity and usage is less demanding, you can expect to replace your gear after the two-year mark.
Second, it’s important to understand that a variety of fabric blends and styles fall under the realm of “compression wear.” And this compression apparel is crafted differently across different brands, sports, and styles. If you look at the product details on your various compression items you’ll notice a few common materials with minor adjustments in blend.
For example, it’s common to see polyester, nylon, and spandex (also goes by lycra or elastane) in your compression apparel. The fabric may be anywhere from 93% to 83% polyester paired with (7% to 17%) spandex. Your item could also be a three-way blend with polyester, spandex, and nylon.
These adjustments in material ratios, as well as varying stitching patterns, are used to serve different purposes. Additionally, you will perhaps notice from your own experience how the quality can vary from piece to piece or brand to brand.
Third, consider how your compression wear is being used. In other words, what type of workouts, activity, competition, etc. are you putting your gear through? Consider a sport like football. Not only does the compression apparel used by football players have the normal wear associated with any clothing item but it also experiences a high range of motion, sweat, outside forces (tackling, pulling, etc.), as well. Compression items used in vigorous activity like this are much more likely to have a higher turnover rate.
On the other hand, if you wear your compression apparel for an activity like walking (with a reduced range of motion, no outside factors pulling or roughing it up) the fabric is likely to stay in better condition for a longer period of time.
High-quality compression apparel can last for years with the proper care. In this case, you may end up deciding to update to new styles or different features before your gear needs an actual replacement.
Common Ways Your Compression Apparel Can Break Down
As the cycle of workouts and washings goes on and on, you’ll begin to notice some deterioration in your compression gear. Even with the best care, there’s no stopping this from happening. Here are some of the common ways your compression apparel will break down and signal that it’s time for a replacement.
Loss of Elasticity
Over time, compression wear losses its elasticity. If you look closely, you can see stretch lines in the fabric.
The inevitable course of breakdown for your compression garment is loss of elasticity. You notice a looser fit or that you’re constantly readjusting the sleeves, legs, or hems of your garment. If the support of your compression garment has deteriorated to the point where its stretch does not bounce back (i.e. recover) then it’s time to part ways, as it’s no longer performing that essential compression function.
Weakness in the Waistband
Waistband style can vary across compression shorts and tights. In some cases, the waistband is merely an extension of the body material (i.e. the same fabric). Other times it’s a different material sown to the body material. If you notice yourself constantly adjusting and pulling up at your waistband, there’s a good chance it has stretched out and lost its ability to recover. You’ll want to look for a replacement in this case.
Fraying at the Seams
Noticeable fraying and tearing at the seams.
Another way you might notice your compression garment breaking down is at the seams. Stitching patterns typically vary from one brand to the next. It may also differ between styles to achieve different performance attributes. Regardless, fraying and tearing can occur at the seams that causes chaffing and inconvenience. If you feel this discomfort during your activity, it’s best to replace the item and save yourself the pain and nuisance.
On the right, rough spot with "pills" in the fabric. On the left, a "stretch mark" where the fabric has thinned.
It’s also possible for your compression fabric to become stretched, roughed, or thinned out. In this case you might notice what look like stretch marks or rough patches that also feel rough and thinner in texture compared to the rest of the fabric. This may be the result of contact with another object or may occur more naturally from numerous put ons and take offs.
If they’re small in size, you may not notice them much and they might not affect the overall quality of the garment. However, as they grow in size, or depending on their placement, it’s possible that the spots compromise the garment’s ability to be fully effective.
When to Replace Compression: Trust Your Gut
Additionally, there’s no alternative for your own personal judgment. If you find yourself growing weary of a compression garment for one reason or another, there’s a good chance it’s underperforming.
So, if your budget allows it, go for a replacement. The new item is likely to perform better than the old one. Not to mention you’ll feel better with the update and likely get a boost in your performance, as well.
Taking good care of your compression apparel can preserve the quality and extend its lifespan. For more details on this, check out our guide to Best Care Practices for Compression Wear.