Clothes stink after a tough workout? Try these tips

If you exercise on the regular, you’ve likely dealt with your fair share of stinky, smelly workout clothes, and you’re probably wondering how to get the sweat smell out of clothes. Even if you wash them immediately after a workout (which you always should), over time, it seems the faint smell of your last run lingers far longer than it should. Figuring out how to get the smell out of gym clothes can feel like a full-time job, but there are ways to get more life out of your activewear.

As mentioned above, washing your gym clothes as soon as you’re done with a sweat session is key. The last thing you want is to throw them in a hamper and let them fester for days with your other non-gym-wear. Not only will it be much harder to get days-old stink out of them, but wet clothes are a breeding ground for bacteria like staph, which can be deadly. This goes for meeting friends for brunch in your gym clothes, too.

sweaty gym clothes
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What to avoid

It seems to fly in the face of everything you’d think would make stinky clothes smell fresh, but do not use fabric softener when cleaning your gym clothes — it is their worst enemy. The softener creates a barrier of sorts that locks in the sweat and stench. What’s more, they block the wicking power that many gym attire is made of, so they no longer work the way they’re intended.

Similarly, laundry detergent works the same way and will actually allow bacteria into fabrics like Lycra and Spandex. Regular laundry detergent isn’t designed to get bacteria out, so it ends up building up on clothing, which makes them smell more over time. Use half the usual amount or skip detergent altogether, or buy a brand made for workout clothes — Hex is one of the best detergents for workout clothes.

What works

Pairing vinegar with smelly clothes seems like the worst idea ever, but it actually works. Vinegar is one of those miracle ingredients that cleans and gets rid of smells. Before you wash your gym clothes, soak them in the sink with 1 cup of white vinegar and cold water. Leave them there for 15 to 30 minutes (or as long as you can wait before loading them in the washing machine), then put them through a cycle. You can also add a little white vinegar to the wash with a little detergent so you get a decent-smelling result.

Baking soda is another ingredient that can get rid of unpleasant odors. If you’ve ever opened a box and thrown it in your fridge to get rid of strong smells, it works the same way in the wash. Baking soda is alkaline, so it’s ideal for eliminating the acidic odor that comes from sweat. If you’re a semi-regular baker, you probably have a box sitting around ready to use. Pour 1 cup in with your wash, and you’ll be kissing your stink goodbye.

If you have the option, hanging your clothes outside to line-dry versus putting them in the dryer also helps with keeping smells at bay. This gives them room to breathe, and they won’t get stuck in a ball together if you accidentally leave your clothes in the dryer for a day or three (no judgement).

woman sweating at gym
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Why though?

The advice above doesn’t make sense when you think about the commercials for fabric softeners and the glorious smell of your other clothes as they come out of the dryer, but the explanation makes pretty good sense. “Modern synthetic fabrics that make up our activewear (which are essentially plastic) 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 [and have a tendency to hold on to them],” explains Drew Westervelt, a former professional athlete and founder of Hex Performance.

The added fragrance in many detergents may help temporarily fix your smell problem, but it’s really more of a cover up than a fix. Using vinegar, baking soda, or even lemon juice counteracts the smell at its core and leaves you with gym clothes that smell as fresh as the day you bought them.

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