Ooooh that smell
Can’t you smell that smell
Ooooh that smell
The smell of death that surrounds you
Is there any better way to describe a post-gym pile of laundry than these Lynyrd Skynyrd lyrics? Singing That Smell would be a far cry more fun than dealing with the chore, but alas, it’s got to be done. Or people will start avoiding you.
You know what we’re talking about — that funky stank that grows in your workout clothes. You can’t miss it, and neither can anyone inside a ten-foot radius of you and the offending apparel.
“Freshly secreted sweat has little odor, because the long-chain fatty acids the axillaries secrete are too big to be volatile,” says the study’s first author, Chris Callewaert of Ghent University in Belgium. He further explained that the main culprit is a bacteria called micrococci, which “are able to grow better on polyester” than cotton. His research continues to learn why this is exactly.
He’s not the only one blaming the funk on the makeup of your duds. Renowned dry cleaner Eduardo Herrara of Slate NYC (they do Bergdorf Goodman laundry!) told Men’s Fitness that the typical fibers in workout clothes, like Spandex and Lycra, are made to repel water (as well as detergent, skin oil and fabric softener). So those bacteria that Callewaert describe actually stick to (and inside) the clothing fibers.
“In order to wash these garments properly, water has to penetrate the clothing fibers,” he stated.
1. Pre-treat the stink. Herrara’s recipe for de-stinking workout clothes involves a homemade pre-treat solution. He dilutes one ounce of laundry detergent in a half gallon of warm water, and then adds the juice of an entire lemon. (The citric acid breaks up the oils.) Then he uses this solution to scrub the armpits, neckline, and other prominently odiferous zones on the shirts, pants, socks, etc.
2. Wash with white vinegar. Mark Pinhasovich relies on “plain ‘ole white vinegar.” He knows a little about sweaty laundry, as the at-home winner of Biggest Loser Season 10. He says the vinegar will kill the bacteria that causes the odors. However, he does caution that the trade-off is the vinegar smell. “I use the second rinse option on the washer to avoid this.”
Dempsey Marks, a fitness trainer, yoga instructor, and founder of DempseyFit.com, also recommended this approach, saying, “the best ratio is one part vinegar, four parts water for a 10-15 minute soak. Do this prior to washing your clothes to help prevent stains.”
3. Dry out with dryer sheets. Kelly Turner, an ACE certified personal trainer and fitness journalist, staves off the stink at the source by keeping dryer sheets in her gym bag. “I let some float around in the main compartment and then tuck a few in my shoes to soak up moisture and get rid of the stink,” she says. She finds that dryer sheets work just as well and are much cheaper than the specialty products made to do the same thing.
4. Pass on pit stains. There’s nothing mellow about yellow armpit stains. Jennipher Walters, CEO of FitBottomedGirls.com and co-author of The FBG Anti-Diet, “swears by” Deo-Go to keep stains out of her favorite workout clothes.
5. Make them smell good. Margo Donohue, certified fitness instructor and creator of Brooklyn Fit Chick, just wants to smell nice! She “swears by!” these Downy Unstopable Crystals. She recognizes that some people like to avoid fragrances, but calls herself “a total sucker for them.” Donohue raves about the sweet smell these give her workout attire and how “this stuff gets the STINK out!”
6. Just do your laundry. It’s pretty simple for Alan Ali, a wellness blogger who hits the gym daily as he trains for his first triathlon. He washes his workout clothes regularly in standard detergent. “I don’t want to waste my money on clothes I am planning to lose weight out of,” he explained. So Ali keeps a few key pieces on hand… and keeps them clean!
“The sooner you wash your workout clothes after your sweat-sesh, the better chance that you have of getting the stink out,” explained Marks. “If you can’t do your laundry immediately [like Ali does], try not to leave your workout clothes in a big, sweaty pile (in your gym bag or even in your laundry room!). Instead, hang them up to dry and air out.”
7. Get a green clean. “For clothes that stink, I’m a big fan of Molly’s All Sport Laundry Wash,” raved Walters. She says the cleaner is made for technical fabrics, isn’t too expensive ($13 for 32 loads), and is good for the environment. Plus, it actually works with the benefit of no harsh chemicals.
8. Use pantry basics. “You can also add a bit of baking soda or lemon juice to your washer to disinfect and kill odors. Just be sure not to use bleach if you’re utilizing this tactic,” recommended Marks.
9. Heat ’em up. Drying your clothes on the hottest setting that your workout clothes’ laundering instructions allow will also help kill the stink-causing bacteria, suggests Marks.
10. Buy new duds! “If all of this fails to remove the stench, it might be time to invest in some new workout gear!” said Marks.
TapGenes Take Away: Your workout clothes stink, but it’s not entirely your sweat’s fault! Wash regularly and follow a few gym rat tips to keep your clothes clean.