Workout Gear: Work Out That Smell

Key Points

  • Some fabrics in workout gear hold onto sweaty smells even after you wash them.

  • Sweat smells bad because it comes in contact with bacteria on the skin.

  • Get rid of sweaty-smelling workout gear by soaking it in vinegar or borax and baking soda, avoiding the hamper, washing inside out, drying outside, planning for laundry days, and doing a sink wash.

Exercising is one of the most fulfilling activities. It makes you feel accomplished. You enjoy your time at the gym and praise yourself for crushing those calories. Everything's great — until it's time to do laundry. Smelly workout gear holds some back from hitting the gym.

It's embarrassing when your clothes stink. Even after a wash, some workout clothes carry a sweaty stench. Properly caring for your workout gear prevents odor from fusing into the fibers and following you around.

What's That Smell?

Nearly everyone sweats — some more than others. Perspiration smells for several reasons.

Factors that affect the smell of sweat include:

  • Hormones

  • Diet

  • Environment

  • Hydration

  • Medication

  • Underlying disorders

  • Weight

  • Stress

When the body's temperature increases, it expels water from apocrine glands on the skin. This water, mixed with sodium and other molecules, cools the skin's surface and lowers body temperature. When sweat encounters the bacteria naturally found on the skin, it creates an odor.

Two women in workout clothes

Some sweat smells worse than others. When the body undergoes stress, it reacts by sweating. Stress sweat smells worse than normal sweat because it comes from glands near hair follicles. Stress sweat also has more proteins and fatty acids than normal perspiration, contributing to a more intense aroma.

Excessive Sweating

Hyperhidrosis is a condition in which the body, most commonly the armpits and palms, sweat excessively. Usually, hyperhidrosis poses no serious threat to physical health. However, consider talking to a doctor if you experience some of the following issues.

  • Constant sweat stains, even if you're not hot

  • Avoiding certain activities because of fear of sweating too much

  • Frequently changing or showering because of sweat

  • Obsessive thoughts, anxiety, or depression regarding excessive sweating

  • Challenges to your daily life caused by excessive sweating, such as driving or writing with sweaty hands

Hyperhidrosis develops from hyperthyroidism, medications, anxiety, certain illnesses, hypoglycemia, environment, infections, pregnancy, or menopause.

Treating hyperhidrosis involves strong antiperspirants, wearing loose and light clothing, avoiding triggers, and sometimes surgery. Wear certain fabrics that absorb and block sweat to avoid discomfort.

Fabrics That Absorb and Block Sweat

Many workout clothes have materials that pull sweat from the body. Drew Westervelt, the founder of Hex Performance, a detergent for activewear, explains that "modern synthetic fabrics that make up our activewear were built to wick moisture off the body in order to dry fast. Due to this wicking benefit, these fabrics are oil-loving. In other words, they easily absorb oil, sweat, and bacteria."

Some fabrics absorb sweat, while others try to prevent it from happening. Sweat-absorbing materials include cotton, bamboo, merino wool, and linen. Sweat-resistant fabrics are polyester, nylon, rayon, and cotton/lycra blends.

It's awful when sweaty odors seep into certain materials and stick around, so washing workout gear is essential for those with stronger scents.

Workout gear

Reduce the Sweaty Smell

Consider low-intensity exercises if you have a busy week with little time for laundry. Working out is beneficial even if you don't sweat. Yoga, for example, is a great way to burn some calories and loosen your muscles with little sweat. Stretching, walking, and body weight exercises produce less sweat as well.

Working out in a climate-controlled environment also prevents sweating. Work out in the early morning or at night when the weather is coolest.

Some people sweat excessively, and it's hard to avoid. Drink extra water to dilute the sweat so it smells less potent. Showering before a workout removes bacteria from the skin, reducing the sweaty smell left behind on clothes.

What To Do With Sweaty Clothes

The best way to keep your workout clothes from smelling is to wash them immediately after every use. That's not always feasible, however.

Here are some other methods to keep your workout clothes fresh and ready for the gym.

Soak in Vinegar and Water

Use one cup of white distilled vinegar in a sink, tub, or washer full of water. Let the clothes soak for about 30 minutes, then wash them normally. The acid molecules in vinegar bind with smelly compounds and neutralize them, removing the stench. The smell of vinegar disappears after the wash.

Adding a cup of vinegar to a normal wash cycle also works. However, doing this too often wears out the clothes faster.

Soak in Borax, Baking Soda, and OxiClean

Borax is a sodium compound powder that dissolves in water and creates a cleaning solution. Mix one cup each of borax, baking soda, and powdered detergent into a tub full of water. Let the clothes soak for 30 minutes, then wash regularly.

Avoid the Dirty Clothes Bin

Odor-causing bacteria grow in damp, dark environments. Piling your sweaty clothes in the back of your closet helps bacteria thrive and creates worse smells. Hang up your clothes before putting them in the dirty clothes basket. This allows the sweat to dry, preventing the growth of bacteria and mold once the clothes go into the bin.

Girl in sports bra and shorts

Wash Them Inside Out

Sweat and oil from the body seep into the inside of your clothes. Washing your clothes inside out allows the water and detergent to encounter the source of the odor directly.

Don't add extra detergent or fabric softener — more detergent doesn't equal less smell. It leaves soap build-up on the clothes, making it harder to clean the deep fibers in the fabric.

Dry Them Outside

UV rays from the sun kill certain bacteria. Allowing clothes to hang outside airs them out and prevents odor attachment. It's also easier on the fabric because it doesn't encounter intense heat.

Pay attention to your workout clothes' wash and dry instructions. Certain fabrics break down and lose shape when washed and dried inappropriately.

Plan Laundry Day According to Exercise

Some exercises, like cardio and hot yoga, make you sweat more than others. Plan to do laundry the evening of your cardio day. That way, your sweatiest clothes don't sit for long.

Switching up your routine is also an option. If you know your laundry will sit for a few days, try low-intensity exercises to prevent excess sweat build-up.

Do a Quick Sink Wash

Some might not have access to a washer very often. If you need to clean your workout clothes, there's nothing wrong with a sink wash.

Woman in a workout outfit

Fill your sink with warm water and a few drops of laundry detergent. Lightly massage your clothes in the sink for a few minutes, then drain the water. Turn on the faucet for a thorough rinse.

Gently ring the clothes out and hang them to dry in a well-lit and ventilated area. The light prevents bacteria from multiplying in the dark.

Store on a Hanger

Hang up workout clothes when not in use. This gives them more airflow than when you shove them in a drawer. More airflow dissolves the particles causing bad smells into the air. If you're short on closet space, find triple-layer hangers that hold three to four pairs of pants at once.

Carrying Sweaty Clothes

It's common to work out in the morning before school or work. That sometimes means storing sweaty clothes in a gym bag, backpack, or backseat. Take a couple of precautions to avoid holding your nose near your stuff.

Roll Dirty Clothes in Towels

Lay out a towel and spread your clothes on top of it. Roll your clothes up in the towel to absorb moisture and prevent bacteria. The towel also absorbs the sweat smell, making it easier to hide.

Use Dryer Sheets

Stash an extra dryer sheet in your gym bag. It covers the smell and adds a fresh scent to your workout clothes. It also reduces static and prevents your gym bag or backpack from smelling. Cut them in half to use twice as long!

Keep Fabric Freshener Handy

Many retail stores sell travel-size fabric fresheners. Carry a spray bottle of fabric freshener with you. Spritz your clothes after a workout to mask the smell. Spray once or twice in your gym bag to prevent the smell from transferring.

If your car has upholstery on the seating, it absorbs the sweat from your body and clothes. After some time, a smell develops from the growth of bacteria. Use fabric freshener on upholstery and a cleaning solution and cloth for leather seats to nip bad smells in the bud.

Girl with workout gear

Hang To Dry Before Storage

If you're able to, hang your workout clothes to dry before storing them. Some people shower at the gym after their workout. Let your clothes hang to dry in your locker while showering. Letting them dry before storing them lessens the strength of the smell.

Spray Cologne and Perfume

Spray cologne or perfume on your body before and after getting dressed. This delivers the scent inside and outside the garment. When you sweat, the fragrance mixes with the sweat, resulting in a more acceptable smell.

It's also helpful to spray your clothes before storing them in your bag.

Reusing Workout Clothes

You might be able to wear a workout set again before laundry day if it's not too sweaty. However, unless you barely sweat, it's best to wash workout clothes between uses. The build-up of moisture and bacteria on dirty gym clothes might cause skin infections or irritability.

Keeping Workout Clothes in Good Shape

Having cute workout clothes makes you feel better about working out. It's hard to give up your favorite pair of leggings when they lose shape and wear out.

Proper workout clothes are expensive. Take care of them so you don't have to keep buying them. Store them safely in drawers or closets to protect against fading from the sun, rips, and tears.

Only soak your workout clothes about once every 60 days. Doing this too often weakens the threads and fabric, leading to holes and thin spots. It also wears out seams and accessories such as pockets.

Cleaning Workout Gear

Now that your clothes are clean and fresh, focus on your workout gear, like dumbbells, resistance bands, and gym bags. Since sweat leads to increased bacteria, cleaning your workout gear is crucial.

Girl in workout set

Spray down any soft surfaces with a disinfectant spray. Bleach is safe for hard surfaces, but be mindful of using it on fabric. Be sure to clean weights, water bottles, hats, and sweat towels appropriately.

If you work out at home and typically sweat a lot on the floor, wipe it down each time. If you have carpet, try foam tiles.

Say Goodbye to Bad Smells

Body odor is far from flattering. No one wants to open their gym bag and get punched with the armpit stench. Whether you're sweating outside at the park or joining friends at the gym, you don't want to get caught smelling like onions.

Working out makes you happier and healthier, but laundry piles up. The mixture of sweat and bacteria, combined with moisture and dark environments, leads to mold and stinky smells. Sometimes the scent lingers on clothes, even after washing them. Wash them as soon as possible. Otherwise, hang them to dry and wash them when you're able to.

Follow FitAndFab for the best advice on getting the most out of your workout.

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