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It’s happened to us all, we get ready to work out only to realize our “clean” gym clothes have armpit stains and a leftover odor from our last sweat session. But how when we wash them do they still stink? Taking proper care of your workout clothes is just as important in your post-workout routine as washing your body and hydrating. 

Leaving the sweat in your clothes can lead to a build up of oils and bacteria. This is the perfect environment for smells to take root and linger for the long run. Here are eight great tips on how to get sweat smell out of your clothes.

Man pressing a barbell with a 45-pound weight plate on each side overhead in a demonstration of one of the best barbell exercises.
The overhead press is one of the best barbell exercises.

Tip 1: Wear Clothes Only Once

It may be tempting when your alarm goes off to just grab that bundle of yesterday’s workout clothes and pull them on. However, wearing a fresh pair of workout clothes every time you work out will help not only keep your pores clear but also keep your clothes smelling fresh.

When you work out, you sweat. This isn’t anything new, but did you know that your sweat contains oils and odor-causing bacteria? These are then absorbed into your clothes, and this is what causes that post workout body odor. 

To avoid this, it is important to wear clothes just once so you aren’t overloading your gym clothes with those pesky odor causing bacterias and body oils. If you are drawn to the same sports bra or pair of pants, buy multiples so you are able to rotate them for a fresh clean pair each time. 

Tip 2: Choose Fabrics Wisely

While moisture-wicking fabric is great to prevent chafing on long runs, it might be the worst at sweat odor control. A study by Applied Environmental Microbiology1 proved that cotton may be the best fabric to fight odors. Researchers showed that polyester fabrics smelled worse because the fabric made a better host for the bacteria to grow versus cotton.

If you find yourself constantly pulling your workout clothes out of the dryer and getting hit with a wave of hot garbage, it might be best to get some cotton gear into your rotation.

person using treadmill to walk backward

Tip 3: Don’t Leave Clothes Bunched Up 

Get those smelly clothes out of your gym bag right away! The sooner you can launder your clothes, the better. Let your activewear air dry after a workout. I know for the sake of tidiness it’s easier to toss them in the laundry basket, but if you’re able to lay them out until the sweat dries, it will help keep the stench to a minimum.

When clothes bunch up, it takes them longer to dry, giving the bacteria in your sweat longer to grow and stink (gross, mold and mildew!). It’s almost as if you are marinating your clothes in the body odor. Laying them out will help them dry faster and be less smelly after a wash. 

Tip 4: Wear Deodorant

This one might seem like a no-brainer, but if you want to avoid stink, the first step is to prevent it from happening. Whether you choose an antiperspirant or just deodorant is up to you, as either might help. Look for a product that is intended to prevent the bacteria on your skin from creating the stink, which stops the problem at its source. 

Tip 5: Soak Overnight

Some workout gear can be pricey (hello, Lululemon leggings!), so to protect our investment, we will go extra steps. This could include a pre-soak overnight before a wash. You can use a natural, affordable deodorizer like baking soda to help get the stink out of your clothes.

First, rinse your clothes to wash off any remaining sweat, then soak them in the sink or washer using hot water with about two cups of baking soda overnight. You could also use white vinegar if you don’t have any baking soda on hand. Pour a cup of vinegar into the machine with the soak. However, remember that vinegar and bleach are toxic, so don’t soak any fabrics in vinegar that you plan on bleaching.

goblet squat

If you are short on time, you can always do the baking soda soak in the washing machine for an hour or two before washing. 

Tip 6: Pre-Treat Before You Wash

Pre-treat your clothes by spot-treating! Using a bio enzyme spot treatment, you can spray areas like the underarm, back, and any other areas you get sweat stains on your T-shirts and other clothing.

The American Cleaning Institute2 tells us that bio enzymes in laundry spot treatments work by breaking the proteins of the sweat stains into smaller pieces, making it easier to be removed in the wash. Enzymes also work best in cold water, which is great because cold water, unlike warm water, keeps the integrity of your clothing longer. 

Be sure to check the care label of any garments before using any spot treatments and pay attention to what temperature water and wash cycle they recommend washing in. 

Tip 7: Wash Inside Out

This tip seems simple but packs a big punch. Washing your workout clothes inside out gives the detergent and spot treatments you used better access to where the sweat is. Since the inside of your clothes is where your skin touches, that’s where oil builds up the most.

Think of it like dropping ketchup on your shirt while eating; you wouldn’t reach inside your shirt to try and rub the ketchup off. Turning clothes inside out gives you access to the stains and stench right at the source.

Tip 8: Skip Fabric Softener

With so many options on display at the store, it’s easy to fall into thinking fabric softeners will help keep your clothes smelling fresh, but they actually can have the opposite effect on your clothes.

Fabric softeners create a buildup on your clothes during a machine wash, trapping in the bacteria and body oils, making the perfect environment for that body odor to grow. Not to mention, most moisture-wicking materials already provide a great environment for bacteria to multiply. Then you add in a fabric softener buildup, and you’ve got a really stinky recipe for disaster.  

This smelly buildup could be the reason that no matter how many times you wash, you just can’t get the smell out. To strip that buildup off your clothes, do the baking soda soak then skip fabric softeners and dryer sheets going forward.

Buying a laundry detergent marked for sport or odor removal might benefit your clothes as well. These detergents are made to be used on technical fibers, like moisture wicking, instead of natural fibers like most regular detergents are.

using horizon ex59 elliptical

Final Thoughts

While sweaty clothes may give you a sense of accomplishment, no one wants their clothes coming out of the wash smelling like they didn’t wash. Preventing oil build ups is the main goal in keeping your clothes smelling clean. 

Remember, fabric softeners and balled up damp clothes are your enemy, baking soda and bio enzyme pre-treatments are your friends, and showing off a new outfit every workout helps. With these tips your clothes will be able to handle anything you throw at them. Happy sweating!

How to Get Sweat Smell Out of Clothes FAQs

How do you get a bad sweat smell out of clothes?

The easiest way to get sweat smell out of clothes is to only wear them once, skip fabric softeners and turn them inside out when you wash

Why do my clothes still smell of sweat after washing?

If your clothes still smell like sweat after a trip through the wash, you may need a spot treatment or you are causing a build up of body oils by using fabric softeners. Soaking your clothes in baking soda and hot water before washing will solve both these problems. 

How do you get underarm odor out of clothes?

Wear a good deodorant while working out and spot-treat your clothes with a bio enzyme stain remover before washing inside out

Does sweat smell come out of clothes?

Yes, sweat smells can come out of clothes. If your clothes still have an odor after a normal wash you may need to take some extra steps like soaking them in baking soda before washing to ensure the odor comes out.

References

  1. Callewaert C, De Maeseneire E, Kerckhof FM, Verliefde A, Van de Wiele T, Boon N. Microbial odor profile of polyester and cotton clothes after a fitness session. Appl Environ Microbiol. 2014 Nov;80(21):6611-9. doi: 10.1128/AEM.01422-14. Epub 2014 Aug 15. PMID: 25128346; PMCID: PMC4249026.
  2. The role of enzymes in detergent products – Cleaning Institute. American Cleaning Institute. (n.d.). Retrieved October 10, 2023, from https://www.cleaninginstitute.org/sites/default/files/documents/Enzymes-factsheet.pdf

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