Whether you’re a White Belt or 5th Dan Black Belt, if you practice Jiu-Jitsu, you’ll want to keep your gi and belt clean. Keeping your uniform clean shows honor and respect for your instructors, fellow students, and Jiu-Jitsu heritage. In Jiu-Jitsu, there are many different belt colors indicating skill in the sport.
To preserve your belt (and belt color) it’s important to know how to wash and care for your Jiu-Jitsu belt. In this article, we’ll cover the reasons you should wash your Jiu-Jitsu belt and the risks of not washing it – as well as how to wash your Jiu-Jitsu belt.
Read on to find out more about why some students don’t want to wash their belts – ever, how Jiu-Jitsu belts differ from belts worn in other martial arts, and why you’ll be glad your hands are stronger than when you first started Jiu-Jitsu.
Table of Contents
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu vs. Japanese Jiu-Jitsu
Jiu-Jitsu is a “family of martial arts” that focuses on close combat and includes grappling, throws, and joint lock techniques. Tradition has it that Jiu-Jitsu was first developed by Buddhist monks as a way to ensure self-defense but without weapons. From the Samurai to today’s military, Jiu-Jitsu and related techniques from other modern martial arts (Judo, Aikido, for example) remain important for close combat.
For this article, we’ll include belts from two distinct major practices – Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) and traditional Japanese Jiu-Jitsu. You may be familiar with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu from watching (or participating) in MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) competitions. (BJJ techniques are also frequently taught in self-defense classes.) For more on the differences between these two styles, check out this resource.
Note that spelling “Jiu-Jitsu” differs by region and style. Meaning also differs depending on the spelling. “Jitsu” in Kanji refers to “truth” or “honesty” while “Jutsu” can refer to “method.”
Jiu-Jitsu Belt Styles
In Jiu-Jitsu and most martial arts, practitioners wear an “obi” or belt tied around their gi. (A “gi” refers to the top and pants, usually both white, worn during martial arts training and competition.
Particularly for Jiu-Jitsu, the obi is made of thick cotton and signifies the skill level of the student or teacher. Depending on the style, an obi can also be embroidered or striped to denote rank. Throughout this article, when we refer to “belt” we mean a Jiu-Jitsu obi.
Jiu-Jitsu Belt Colors
Depending on the type of Jiu-Jitsu, your belts can be in different colors.
Tradition Japanese Jiu-Jitsu Belt Colors
Traditional Japanese Jiu-Jitsu styles have nine color belts:
- Black (1st Dan)
Higher Dan ranks may include red.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Belt Colors
BJJ belts use fewer colors than Japanese Jiu-Jitsu, including:
Dan ranks (higher Black Belt ranks) include combinations of black and red (for highest ranks). Use of these belt colors means you’ll definitely want to carefully wash your belt to prevent fading – more on this soon.
Should You Wash Your Jiu-Jitsu Belt?
Before going further, let’s answer the question as to whether or not you should wash your belt. There are several reasons to wash your belt regularly. But first, let’s take a look at why some people just as emphatically say no to washing their Jiu-Jitsu (or any martial arts) belt.
Tradition and Myth Around Not Washing Your Jiu-Jitsu Belt
There are two reasons many martial artists refuse to wash their belts. The first reason is the belief that washing the belt will somehow wash away your martial arts energy (chi). That energy or power is accumulated over time as you train, practice, and advance in Jiu-Jitsu (or other martial arts.) The thinking is that washing your belt both literally and symbolically negatively affects that stored energy.
The second reason is the legend that original martial arts practitioners had just one belt – white. And, with the passage of time, as one trained and practiced that white belt became darker and darker with dirt, sweat, and blood until that once white belt turned completely black. By not washing your belt, others could tell your level of experience.
Those of us who have practiced martial arts understand the feelings of gratitude and honor when one’s master presents you with the belt appropriate to the rank you just earned. It’s then you know that the hours and days and sometimes years of dedication in practice and training were worth it.
You will remember those moments always with respect, gratitude, and humility for your teacher. Your belt is the symbol that holds all of these things. All of this is why you want to care for your belt, and that includes washing it periodically.
The Risks of Not Washing Your Jiu-Jitsu Belt
In Jiu-Jitsu, you’re grappling your opponent as well as falling and rolling around on a mat. No matter how good the ventilation and air conditioning are in a dojo, there’s huge potential for bacteria to flourish in likely hot and sweaty conditions. And bacteria means the potential for skin and other bacterial infections.
In fact, staph infections are one of the biggest meat-borne illnesses. And of course, Staphylococcus Aureus can cause severe illness that can potentially lead to your death.
Because there is greater potential for skin-to-skin contact in Jiu-Jitsu, there are other skin infections to worry about, including:
- Herpes Simplex
- MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus)
A clean dojo, gi, and belt can reduce the risk of contracting any of these (which is much easier than treating these conditions.
Here’s a resource with more details and a YouTube video (seen below) from retired MMA fighter Ramsey Dewey. (After reading the first reference and watching the second, my bet is you’ll be convinced to wash your belt).
How to Wash Your Jiu-Jitsu Belt
This section provides some easy ways to care for your Jiu-Jitsu belt. We’ll cover hand-washing your belt (the preferred method for professionals and instructors), washing in a washing machine (the less desirable method), and using cleaning solutions or tape to either rub or lift off stains and dirt. We’ll also cover how to take care of Jiu-Jitsu belts that have stripes.
Washing Your Jiu-Jitsu Belt By Hand
The consensus is to wash your Jiu-Jitsu belt by hand. Here are the steps based on Craft of Combat and similar articles:
- Fill a sink (preferably a large kitchen sink) with cold water. You can use warm water, but never hot water. (Ironically, hot water can both shrink your belt or cause it to stretch by relaxing the cotton fibers.)
- Add vinegar to the water – it’s an antibacterial agent that will take care of both sweaty smell and infectious bacteria.
- Add laundry detergent (there are detergents with antibacterial agents added.) Just a splash of detergent is enough.
- Place your belt in the water and let it soak in the vinegar and soap. Jiu-Jitsu belts are thicker than other martial arts belts, so let them soak for a while.
- Per the strong hands comment earlier in this article – you’re the washing machine. Twist and agitate the belt for several minutes to remove dirt and grime.
- Drain the water, rinse the belt in running water, and then fill the sink with enough cold water to continue rinsing the belt (again, agitate it with your hands.)
- Drain the rinse water and gently squeeze the belt to remove some of the water.
- You can then either continue to remove water by hand or gently spin it on a short washing machine spin cycle.
- Slightly stretch and smooth the belt before handing it up to dry. (If outside, not too long in direct sunlight as that can cause the color to fade.)
Now that you know how to wash your Jiu-Jitsu belt by hand, let’s move on to washing it in a washing machine.
Washing Your Belt in a Washing Machine
You can wash your belt in a washing machine if you follow these suggestions. (Cotton belts are amenable to machine washing):
- Wash your belt separately from other clothes (particularly your white gi…) Washing separately also ensures your belt doesn’t put a tangled stranglehold on other items in your laundry. (Don’t use bleach, especially on a color belt.)
- Use cold water or a “warm wash / cold rinse” cycle. This minimizes shrinkage and will preserve the color of your belt.
- Add just a little detergent – use something noted as “mild” or for “delicate” washing. You can also use a detergent with antibacterial properties.
- Use a light or short spin cycle.
- Don’t dry your belt in a commercial or home laundry dryer! Instead, lightly stretch and smooth (i.e.flatten) your belt and then hang it up to dry. Again, if outside, not too long in direct sunlight to keep color intact.
Now, let’s focus on Jiu-Jitsu belts that are made with materials other than cotton or ones that have special designs on them.
Washing Satin, Silk, and Belts with Stripes
If your belt has stripes, then washing by hand is the only way to go. If the stripes come off in washing then they were likely taped on and you can replace them. In replacing them, use waterproof stripes that stay on and don’t lose color or shape when wet. (Another option is to lightly stitch around the edges of the stripes to ensure they stay on. (See this Fighterside article for more details.)
Though most Jiu-Jitsu belts are made of cotton, some are made with silk on satin. Given both of these materials are delicate, washing these belts by hand is also a must. Don’t spin or dry these in a washing machine or dryer. Wash and wring gently by hand before hanging up to dry.
Other Options for Cleaning Your Jiu-Jitsu Belt
If you can’t wash your belt or are looking for other cleaning options, here are a few suggestions:
- You can wipe down your belt with a damp cloth or towel after training and hang it outside to dry. Or place it somewhere inside that it will dry in sunlight – although a hazard re fading, sunlight (i.e., UV light), will kill a good bit of the bacteria on the belt.
- It is possible to dry-clean your belt.
- You can use packaging tape to press onto your belt to lift dirt out. Progressively repeat along the length of your belt.
- It’s possible to purchase martial arts belts that are treated with anti-odor and microbial solutions.
- Last, you can purchase multiple belts and change them out. (Somehow this option is less appealing to us as we do get attached to a belt for the life of that rank…)
For more details on these kinds of options, check out this Kataaro site.
Washing Your Jiu-Jitsu Gi
A quick note on a related topic – washing your Gi should be as second nature as washing your belt. There are several things to consider here as well (like not using bleach as it loosens the fibers, just as with a belt.)
The same worries for skin infections exist with your Gi, and even more so since it directly touches the areas of your body that sweat and touch the dojo mat and other fighters.
Washing Your Jiu-Jitsu Belt – Wrapping It Up
This article has provided information to help you understand why you should wash your Jiu-Jitsu belt and some easy-to-follow tips on how to wash or clean your belt. We covered options for washing your belt by hand and in a washing machine, as well as notes on how to wash belts with stripes or belts made out of materials other than cotton.
Having a clean Jiu-Jitsu belt (and gi) means you and your fellow Jiu-Jitsu practitioners can focus on Jiu-Jitsu and not worry about contracting bacterial infections (or be distracted because you didn’t wash your belt and gi after a month of training sessions…)
Jiu-Jitsu is an amazing martial art with a rich history. Keeping your belt in clean condition is one way to honor that history, Jiu-Jitsu masters, and the students you study and practice with today.