10 Tips for Getting Workout Clothes Clean and Fresh

Workout clothes can really stink! If you thought your gym clothes smelled bad because you work out hard, you’d only be partly right. Sure, that offensive odor is a good indicator that you’ve done your job at the gym, but it’s not only that hard-earned perspiration that’s causing odors. Sweat, skin cells, salt and sebum are the primary culprits, as well as bacteria.

So what is sebum? You may be sorry you asked. Sebum is a sticky, waxy fat that settles into the fibers of your workout clothes and attracts odor-causing soils. Washing clothes in hot water melts the sebum, but most performance clothing is made from synthetic fibers that require cold water washing. 

The channels and grooves found in moisture-wicking synthetics trap body soil that compounds the odor problem. See, it isn’t just you. It’s those odor-attracting fabrics that are causing such a stink. To minimize the amount of odor and get your performance wear smelling fresh and clean, you’ll need a strategy. 

Getting Lingering Odors Out of Workout Clothes Takes Strategy

Those breathable, flexible performance fabrics are great for staying cool and giving you a good range of motion in the gym, but once you finish your workout, those fabrics become odor-magnets. If your sweat-soaked clothes are in a pile or a hamper, bacteria can grow and cause odors to linger and get worse. Leave them unwashed long enough, and you could end up with offensive odor and even mold. 

Follow these steps to get your workout clothes fresh and clean again:

1.  Wash your workout clothes as soon as possible after exercising

If you just had a serious sweat session and your clothes are soaked, wash them immediately. If you didn’t get too sweaty, you may be tempted to wear your workout gear again before washing. But experts say you should wash workout clothes after every use if you want to prevent odors. 

Washing them immediately is the best way to get rid of the bacteria that make them smelly. If all that working out, housework and other responsibilities keep you from washing your workout clothes right away, hanging them up or on a drying rack can prevent most odor-causing bacteria from growing. 

While your gym clothes can get dirtier than your regular clothes and can typically retain more odors, it’s important to know that most performance wear is delicate and requires a different laundering approach to get it fresh and clean. 

2 . Give your sweaty workout clothes a soak

The key to breaking down dirt, sweat and oil in performance fabrics is white distilled vinegar. This budget-friendly product is a great cleaner and deodorizer with a low level of acid that cuts through body oil and helps release odor-causing soil and bacteria from fabrics.

Mix one part white distilled vinegar to four parts water in a container. Submerge your workout clothes and let them soak for 30 minutes before washing. If you’re not going to throw them in the washer right away, rinse your clothes with water and let them drip dry before tossing them in the hamper.

3. Turn your gym clothes inside-out

Most of the grime and odor-causing bacteria accumulate inside your gym clothes, not outside. Turning workout clothes inside-out helps get rid of dirt, sweat and body oils for cleaner, better-smelling workout clothes. 

Additional benefits? Clothes washed inside-out look newer longer and keep moisture-wicking, flexible fabrics performing the way they should. The inside of your workout clothes takes all the abuse from your washer’s agitation and your clothes get just as clean. The fabric on the outside of your clothes will be less faded and look newer longer.

4.  Wash your workout clothes in cold water

Hot water breaks down synthetic fabrics and creates shrinkage. Set your load to a delicate cycle with cold water to help your workout clothes maintain their shape, breathability and overall longevity. 

5.  Wash like fabrics together for longer wear

Avoid washing synthetic fabrics with towels and other linty items and heavy garments like jeans and sweatshirts. Performance fabric will pick up lint in the wash, and heavy clothing can create pilling and damage delicate fabrics. Washing like items together is the most efficient and effective way to keep all your athletic wear, everyday clothes, bedding and more looking their best.

6 . Be stingy with your detergent

It’s tempting to add extra detergent when you’re washing dirty, smelly gym clothes, but more detergent is actually bad for synthetic fabrics. Your washing machine has different cycles that require a certain amount of detergent. Any excess detergent can create a layer of buildup in your garments that doesn’t wash out. That buildup traps dead skin, dirt and body oils, creating an ideal environment for bacteria and fungus.

Moisture-wicking fabrics repel moisture and keep you cool and comfortable during your workout, but they also repel the water used in the rinse cycle. Less rinsing leaves a film on your clothes that locks in the odor-causing bacteria you’re trying to avoid. Use about half the detergent you’d use for regular fabrics and your workout clothes will be just as clean and less likely to retain odors.

7.  Skip the fabric softener

The worst thing you can do when washing synthetic fabrics is to use fabric softener. Fabric softeners damage flexible fabrics and leave behind a film that can trap more odors. Fabric softener will degrade performance fabrics and make them increasingly difficult to clean. You’ll end up with gym clothes that don’t perform as well as they should and smell worse than they have to. 

To mimic the benefits of fabric softeners, add half a cup of white vinegar to your wash cycle. The vinegar will safely soften your synthetic fabrics and naturally kill offensive odors. As a bonus, vinegar is inexpensive and has virtually no negative impact on the environment.

8.  Air dry your workout clothes for longer wear and better performance

The heat from your dryer can break down performance fabric and alter the shape, flexibility and fit. Exposing your activewear to the heat and friction of a dryer can damage delicate fabrics. The heat weakens elastic fibers, which can lead to tears and holes. For optimal performance and long wear, it’s best to air dry any clothes with synthetic fabrics.

9.  Add extra cleaning and odor-eliminating power

The popularity of performance clothing has resulted in the rise of performance wear detergents. Detergents specifically made for synthetic workout gear penetrate the tighter weave of synthetic fibers found in performance clothing. Using organic, plant-based enzymes and other formulas, these detergents dissolve sweat, body oils and odor-causing bacteria. These detergents not only get rid of odors, but they also clean gently to maintain the performance and appearance of synthetic fabrics. 

For even more odor-fighting help, you can add a cup of baking soda to your next load; it’ll give your detergent a boost. Baking soda is a natural deodorizer and cleanser that gently neutralizes odors without harming delicate fabrics. Your workout gear will smell fresher when you put it on and you may even find your clothes retain less odor once you start working up a sweat. 

10.  Don’t forget about those stinky sneakers

Most of us don’t think about cleaning our cross-trainers, but those sweaty shoes probably get worn more often than all our other workout gear combined. Keep in mind that athletic shoes are designed to be durable and supportive with fabrics and materials that can be damaged by machine washing.

All those synthetic fibers, glues, foam padding and stitching can break down with normal washing, decreasing the shoe’s performance. Here’s how to keep your athletic shoes looking good and smelling fresh.

  • Remove the shoelaces and throw them in the wash
  • Using an old toothbrush, remove dirt from the soles of your sneakers
  • Make a paste with baking soda and detergent and use a toothbrush to scrub the dirty spots
  • Use a clean, damp sponge to remove extra paste and wipe everything dry with a cloth 
  • Sprinkle baking soda inside your clean workout shoes and let them air dry
  • Once dried, shake out the baking soda and re-thread your sneakers with clean laces

Follow these workout gear cleaning tips and make your performance fabrics last longer, perform better and smell fresher workout after workout. To find more time to work out and keep your performance wear fresh and clean, The Maids has the answer


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