The Right Way to Clean Your Workout Clothes


Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert and advice columnist. She’ll be here every week helping to answer your filthiest questions. Are you dirty? Email her. Are you still dirty? Subscribe to Ask a Clean Person: The Podcast on Acast, iTunes or Stitcher, and like Ask a Clean Person on Facebook.

I wash my workout clothes right after use, but some of the moisture-wicking shirts that I have still smell, especially in the armpit areas, even after washing. A second washing doesn’t make it go away, either! How can I get the odor out? Thanks!

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The other day at the gym, I was thumbing through my phone in between split squat sets when a man walked past me toward the cardio machines and nearly knocked me out with the smell of mildew mixed with BO. I gave silent thanks for the fact that it was legs day and I wouldn’t be anywhere near him while I finished my workout, and went on about my day, because it’s not appropriate to approach a stranger and start telling him that he’s washing his gym clothes all wrong. But man, I really, really wanted to tell him that he’s washing his gym clothes all wrong!

So yeah, I can totally help you out with this problem. And, more importantly, I’d like to thank you for giving me an excuse to tell you that you’re washing your gym gear all wrong. This is a public service, truly.

Deodorizing Stinky Workout Gear

Synthetic fabrics are super prone to retaining odors, even when they’ve been through the wash, which I mention to you for two reasons. First, so that you’ll be aware, going forward, of the temperamental nature of these fabrics. And second, in case you’re worried that you have such powerful personal odor that you’re destroying expensive workout gear with the force of your own fumes.

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There are a bunch of factors that contribute to odor retention, most of which are easy enough to avoid once you know the specifics of how synthetic workout gear—especially the sweat-wicking stuff and anything with stretch in it—needs to be washed. I’ll go into that downcolumn, but first, let’s talk about what to do when you notice that even clean gym clothes have a noticeable sweat smell clinging to them.

Essentially, what’s happened when you find yourself with clean but malodorous clothing is that there’s product buildup on the fibers that traps odor-causing bacteria. So in order to get the smells out, we need to strip away all that buildup. And here’s how you’ll do that: Turn the the clothes inside out, machine wash them in cold water with half a dose of detergent (about a tablespoon is what to aim for) and 1 cup of white vinegar. The vinegar will help to break down product buildup and neutralize the bacteria that’s causing the smells. When the clothes come out of the wash you might get a slight whiff of vinegar, but as they dry that smell will dissipate. Then, either machine dry the gear on low heat or, ideally, allow them to air dry. Easy, right? Right.

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