The post-workout glow is a nice way of describing the buckets of perspiration and body odor that accompany a good exercise session. While your body can freshen up pretty easily after a nice shower, it’s a little harder to get rid of the smell that lingers in your workout clothes, even after you’ve washed them.
If you’ve been struggling to get the stench out of your clothes, trying different detergents and extra wash cycles, you’re not alone. It’s actually a common problem that many gymgoers face.
“It turns out that the smell on your workout clothes is more about the bacteria than the sweat,” said Sarah Clemence, the founder of Busy Blooming Joy, a website focusing on cleaning, decluttering and home organization.
She went on to explain: “We all have bacteria on our skin, and when we sweat, especially in our high-performance synthetic gear, the moisture and heat create an environment that bacteria simply adore. As they feast on our sweat, they produce waste (yes, bacteria poop), which is what causes that notorious ‘gym clothes’ smell.”
While you may think you’ve tried everything to get your gym apparel smelling like new, we went to the experts to find some ways to stop the bacteria from thriving in your workout clothes. Before throwing out your beloved Lululemon or Athleta, check out these tips.
1. Try Vinegar
Jennifer Kropf, the editorial director at Healthy Happy Impactful, said she has a hack that’s worked miracles for her gym clothing.
“Swap your usual detergent with a vinegar soak before washing,” Kropf advised. “Vinegar is a natural and effective way to break down oils and neutralize bacteria. After the soak, wash your clothes as usual, preferably with a detergent specifically designed for sportswear.”
If you want to try a vinegar soak, experts recommend submerging your clothes in white distilled vinegar for 10 minutes to 30 minutes.
2. Wash Your Clothes Immediately After Your Workout
Depending on how many clothes you have in your hamper, this may not be feasible for everyone. But many experts highlighted the importance of not letting your dirty gym clothes sit around for too long.
Melissa Burgard, a yoga teacher of seven years who basically lives in workout clothes, explained why you should wash your gear ASAP.
“The worst thing you can do is leave your workout clothes trapped in your gym bag until you wash them,” she said. “This can also cause mold, which will smell even worse.”
If you can’t toss your clothes in the wash right away, “at least hang them out to dry” once you’re home, she said.
3. Buy A Sports-Centric Detergent
Kropf pointed out that there are activewear-specific laundry detergents on the market. While regular detergents like Tide and Gain work on your everyday clothes to remove dirt and stains, you might need something stronger for your gym outfits.
“To make your workout clothes smell fresh again, it’s important to use a detergent specifically designed for activewear,” said Lauren Doss, the owner of Nashville Maids. “This type of detergent is formulated to remove sweat and oils from fabric more effectively than conventional laundry soaps.”
Many big brands have their own sports line. If you love Tide Pods for your regular clothing, try Tide Pods Plus with Febreze Sport Odor Defense. If you prefer the power of OxiClean, try out the Odor Blaster line, which targets sweat, stains and body odor. Lysol also produces a Sports Sanitizer Additive to use with your detergent of choice.
Avoid fabric softeners, Burgard said, “as they clog the fibers and trap bacteria.”
4. Use The Power Of The Sun
“Good old sunlight is a natural bacteria killer,” Clemens explained. “Try laying your clothes out in the sun for an hour or two.”
Hanging clothes up outdoors may seem old-fashioned, but it may help freshen them without any extra products.
This also works in conjunction with one of Kropf’s tips: “Damp clothes can become a breeding ground for bacteria, so ensure they’re bone-dry before storing them away.”
5. Consider Your Clothing Materials
“Choosing the right fabric can also play a significant role,” Kropf said.
Next time you shop for workout clothing, see if you can avoid synthetic materials.
“Synthetic fabrics, like polyester, are particularly prone to retaining smells because they’re essentially plastic, and plastic is nonabsorbent,” Clemence explained. “So, sweat doesn’t get absorbed into the fabric ― it just stays there, offering a feast for bacteria.”
But there’s one exception when it comes to synthetics. Special performance fabrics from athletic-wear brands are designed to wick sweat and keep you fresh, like Nike’s Dri-Fit clothing line or Lululemon’s Anti-Stink shirts. However, even these blends may still require some extra TLC to get out that persistent stink smell after a good workout.
If you’re looking for natural fibers, opt for something like cotton or bamboo, which will not trap odors. However, there is a downside.
“Cotton clothes may not offer the same level of performance or comfort during high-intensity workouts as synthetic fabrics do,” Clemence said.