Tips to keep your workout clothes smelling fresh

  • Posted: Monday, September 23, 2013 12:03 a.m.

How to get the sweat stains and especially smells out of your workout clothes, is it possible?

Don’t you hate it? Your favorite workout clothes and it doesn’t matter how much you wash them, when you start sweating you smell the old sweat! Or your favorite white workout top with yellow “pit stains…” grrrrrr! Frustrating right?


Well, sweat, or perspiration, is part of our body’s cooling mechanism. Water on your skin’s surface evaporates and helps cool you down. Sweat itself does not actually smell; the odor is caused by bacteria on your skin that releases unpleasant-smelling natural chemicals that can stain or leave an odor on your favorite workout clothes, even after you wash them. Thanks to puberty, sweat glands become more active than before you were a teenager. Everybody’s body chemistry is different. Some people do everything possible to prevent yellow, stained, reeking armpits, and are unsuccessful. Then, you have the ones who have no clue what you are talking about. The best way to keep clean is to bath or shower everyday using a mild soap or body wash;  warm water will wash away any bacteria that contribute to the smells. If you sweat a lot, you might find that shirts, T-shirts, socks, and underwear made from cotton will help absorb sweat more effectively. Cotton loves to absorb the water, then holds it close to your body where the slow evaporation chills you (especially in air conditioned areas). That is one of the reasons lots of people wear synthetic clothes, made for rigorous workouts. With synthetic fibers the water stays on its surface, and your body heat pushes the sheath of water down the fiber and out to where the air can “whisk” it away.

Now, what is coming out of your pores?

Lots of times, sweat called eccrine ( 99% water with a little salt and urea added) comes out of your pores. No color or smell there. But, in times of stress, your sweat areas can release a second, oily type of sweat, apocrine, which is loaded with protein, carbohydrate, ammonia and fatty acids. Joining the two sweats on the skin is called sebum, another fatty secretion designed to protect your skin. Some fats from sebum and sweat stick to your clothes and oxidize there, turning yellow and smelling rancid. So, how do we get rid of it?

During this research, I came up with lots of possible solutions. As much as I sweat, I do not have a problem with smelly, stained clothes, after I wash them but then I use dri-fit material (synthetic) which washes easily. Now, in the past when I had a favorite 50-50 (cotton/synthetic) tank I did have the problem since I sweat so much that there was just this musty stench I could smell after I started sweating. I finally threw it away after I tried some of the remedies below.

I should have tried all of them (especially the borax and baking soda one!) to try all of these remedies. However, it was time for a new shirt anyway! The remedies below all sound harmless enough that I believe it will be definitely worth a try:

* Rub degreaser dish detergent on the spots. Wash normally.

* With an old toothbrush, brush shampoo for oily hair on stains and smelly spots. Then wash normally.

* Add a “squirt” of toothpaste to your load of laundry.

* A cup of borax and baking soda are great odor removers, but are relatively ineffective as stain removers.

* Add one cup of white vinegar to your load.

* Sprinkle or rub white vinegar on the spots. Wash now or later.

* Make a baking soda paste. Apply to stains/ smelly spots; let set for 20 minutes. Then wash.

Some people swear by these remedies; I hope one of these will work for you. If at all possible, I would love to get some feedback on these remedies, working or not!

Ester H Marsh ACSM Cpt, Associate Executive and Health and Fitness Director JF Hurley Family YMCA

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