How To Care for Your Karate Uniform

Taking good care of your Karate uniform is an essential but often overlooked aspect of martial arts practice. You probably don’t want your uniform to deteriorate quickly, and you also don’t want to spread bad odors around your dojo and disturb your training partners. Furthermore, having a uniform that looks great can boost your confidence and help put you in the zone, so you must care for it well, so how do we accomplish that?

To properly care for your Karate uniform, you should wash it after every use. You should wash it on a cold cycle, without bleach, and you should ideally hang it out to dry. If you use a dryer set it on low heat to tumble dry and hang it after. Soaking before washing helps with odors.

This article will examine what kind of uniform you need for Karate and what steps you should take to ensure it’s clean and doesn’t smell or look bad. After reading the article, you’ll know exactly what to do to look good in your uniform and make your practice more enjoyable by having a clean uniform. 

What Do You Wear in Karate?

In Karate, you wear a gi that is similar to the one in most Japanese martial arts. It’s descended from the kind of gi Judo practitioners wear, but it is lighter and looser. This is because the focus of Karate is on kicks and punches, so mobility is more important than using thick durable fabric.

Originally, there was not much difference between a judogi and a karate gi. In his early demonstrations, sensei Funakoshi wore a gi that was just a regular Judo gi, for example, but because of the different nature of the sport, the Karate gi developed in a slightly different way. 

Judo focuses on throws, so the Judo gi needs to be heavy and durable; it can even weigh up to a kilogram (35 oz). On the other hand, Karate requires more mobility for the kicks and punches, so a typical Karate gi weighs no more than half a kilogram (16 oz) and is much looser fitting.

However, even in Karate, many practitioners prefer a heavier gi. Furthermore, a heavier gi will be more durable, making it more cost-effective and can sometimes have better ventilation. 

A good Karate gi has to be made from cotton canvas to be durable enough for the sport. Some cheaper Karate gis may be made from thinner materials or just be more lightweight cotton, but they are not durable enough for long termuse. 

A Karate uniform is rather simple, unlike some other martial arts with more ceremonial uniforms, and it consists of only three parts:

  • The belt (obi)
  • The jacket (uwagi)
  • The pants (zubon)

A Karate gi is almost always white, although some clubs may use different uniform colors to distinguish between students and instructors. However, in competitions, only white gis are used. 

Different styles of Karate may prefer different types of gi, but the differences are not big from style to style, and usually, the same gi can work for any style, sometimes with small alterations. For example, the Kyokushin style of karate prefers short sleeves and pants to maximize mobility.

You can also find different cuts of the Karate gi, but the differences are mostly cosmetic. There are three main cuts:

  • The Japanese cut: The Japanese cut has pretty short sleeves and legs to increase mobility, and it also has a longer lapel to prevent it from going up over the belt. It is designed for functionality.
  • The kata cut: This cut is similar but rarer, and it has even shorter sleeves and pants. It is designed for aesthetic appeal rather than functionality. This makes sense since katas focus a lot on the beauty of the form. 
  • The European cut: This cut has longer sleeves and pants, and it is also designed for its aesthetic appeal, although it is less practical. Karatekas who have no access to other cuts but prefer the functionality of the Japanese cut usually shorten the sleeves and legs. 

Do Karate Uniforms Shrink?

Like all clothes made from cotton, Karate uniforms tend to shrink considerably when washed in hot water. This is why it’s advisable to wash them in cold water and hang them to dry to reduce the shrinking risk. Furthermore, it might be a good idea to buy a pre-shrunk gi that fits. 

You should also watch out when using a dryer for drying your gi. Tumble drying on low heat is okay and mostly just affects the longevity of the gi to some extent, but drying it on high heat may cause it to shrink so much that it’s unwearable afterward, so it might be the best idea to just hang it out to dry. 

How Do You Wash a Karate Uniform?

Washing a Karate uniform properly involves pre-soaking your gi when necessary, washing the uniform on a cold cycle, and hanging it out to dry or using low heat tumble dry in a dryer.  Although your uniform may be white, you shouldn’t use bleach during the wash process. 

Pre-soaking your gi is not vital, but it can help a lot if you need to get rid of stubborn odors. Generally, it’s a good idea to pre-soak clothes if they are particularly dirty, and even more so if you have to wash them in cold water. This will help stains to come loose, which means more effective washing.

Soaking your gi in the washing machine is useful if your washing machine has a soak cycle, but you can also use a plastic tub or utility sink; it will work just as fine. Soak for up to three hours with a couple of tablespoons of laundry detergent or a half cup of baking soda in cold water and put the gi in the washing machine.

You don’t have to wash it separately; you can wash it together with other like-colored clothes that you would wash normally. 

Washing on a cold cycle is recommended to prevent shrinking. If you’ve got a gi that’s too big, you may wash it on a hot cycle to decrease its size, but otherwise, it’s not recommended. 

After washing, hang it out to dry immediately in a room with air circulation. If you hang it to try outside in the summer it will dry fast and get some minor bleaching effects from the sun. You might have to wait longer during winter, so it’s advisable to have more than one gi so you can alternate between them. 

You should also avoid using bleach. While it’s a great way to get rid of stubborn stains and make clothes white, it’s also a great way to damage the material and the stitching. You should always prioritize the structural integrity of the gi rather than aesthetics.  

How To Deodorize a Karate Uniform

The best way to make sure that your karate uniform is not stinky is to use a detergent such as Tide Sport. It is also vital to hang it out to dry as soon as you wash it and not leave it in the washing machine. Apart from that, you may opt for baking soda, vodka, or vinegar for homemade solutions. 

Tide Sport

Tide Sport is a great way to deal with stubborn dirt on your sports clothes. Since you’re probably sweating a lot during your karate practice, regular detergents may not do much for the smells, so using a specialized sports detergent like Tide Sport can do the trick. 

Drying Immediately

This is a very important step in your Karate gi care. If you leave your gi in the washing machine for a long time, the humidity and warmth will quickly create a perfect environment for bacteria to grow and stink up your uniform.

Baking Soda

  1. Mix half a cup of baking soda with water.
  2. Soak your Karate gi in the solution for a few hours or overnight.
  3. Stir occasionally.
  4. Put it in the washing machine.
  5. Alternatively, you can sprinkle baking soda on the gi and shake it off a few hours later.


Alcohol may be a weird addition to your martial arts journey, but it can help you get rid of unpleasant smells.

  1. Spray vodka on your gi.
  2. Wait until the alcohol evaporates.
  3. It should take the bad smells with it as it evaporates.


Vinegar may also seem like a weird choice since it has a very strong smell, but it can actually deodorize clothes if used properly. Add half a cup or a cup of it to your laundry when washing your gi, and it should get rid of bad smells. 

How Do I Make My Karate Uniform Softer?

You can make your Karate uniform softer by adding fabric softener when washing it. It does reduce the life of the uniform though. Your Karate uniform will naturally grow softer with use and repeated washings.

The stiffness of every Karate uniform changes over time. If your uniform feels a bit too stiff, it’s probably because it’s new, so it will become softer with time. If you do use fabric softener to soften it just realize it will reduce the useful life of the gi overall.

Should I Iron My Karate Gi?

It is usually not necessary to iron a Karate gi and comes with some risk of damage to the gi. If you hang it out to dry and fold it properly, it will not be too wrinkly. You can also stretch it before hanging it to get rid of some bigger wrinkles. Steaming can remove wrinkles without risking damage.

Final Thoughts

Taking care of your Karate uniform is not that complicated in most circumstances. If you are running into issues with odor control follow the steps for soaking in baking soda or vinegar or use the unconventional method of spritzing with vodka.

Generally speaking, just washing it in the washing machine on a cold cycle and tumble drying it in the dryer on low heat will do just fine for most Karate students. However, hanging it up to dry instead of using the dryer might add a little extra life to your Karate gi.

For more check out How Often Should You Train Karate?


Hi, I'm Andre and I am the author of this website. I currently train primarily in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu but supplement with other grappling martial arts as well as help to coach my kid's blended grappling program.

Recent Posts