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What to Do With Dirty Workout Clothes Between Washes

July 9, 2019

Do you go to the gym? If so, you’ll want to invest in some activewear. Unlike regular clothes, which are meant for everyday wear, these garments are specifically designed for exercise. For one thing, they’re made from moisture-wicking fabrics (e.g. polyester, nylon, viscose, etc). Why is this important? Because you’ll be sweating!  By wearing activewear, the sweat will not stick to your skin (something that’s common with cotton); instead, it will evaporate from the surface. Let’s face it, no one likes being clammy when they’re working out!

Second of all, they are tight fitting. This isn’t just for showing off your curves, it’s actually for safety reasons. The last thing that you’d want is for your pants to get caught in your exercise equipment! Also, you won’t have to worry about them flapping around while you’re moving around, which, let’s face it—can be distracting.

Last but not least, they offer support. Take compression leggings, for instance—they’ll hold your muscles firmly in place so that there will be more blood flow. As a result, you’ll be able to perform better. That’s not all, they’re said to reduce muscle fatigue and soreness during and after workouts as well.

When to Wash Your Workout Clothes

Activewear should always be washed after each wear. Given how close-fitting they are, chances are, the material would have come into contact with your sweat. Left alone, this can lead to icky odors. On top of that, dirt and other debris can actually cause damage to the fibers over time.

when to wash workout clothes

Note: There is one exception—loose fitting tanks or tops. Assuming that you did low impact exercises, you can probably wear it a second time before putting it in the washer.

Fortunately, the majority of athletic clothes are made from synthetic materials. What does this mean? It means that they dry fast. In other words, there isn’t much of an excuse not to put them in the wash!

Washing Your Workout Clothes Properly

There’s more than one way to wash your activewear. The easiest method perhaps is to use the washing machine. Simply turn your items inside out, put them in the machine (laundry bag optional), add detergent, and the press start button—the washer will do everything for you. There are a few things that you want to keep in mind, though. For instance, you always want to use cold water. Fabric softeners should also be avoided as they will hinder the fibers’ ability to pull moisture to the surface.

The second method requires a bit more work, but it’s much more gentle on your clothes—it involves washing them in the sink. Once you’ve dissolved your detergent in the water, place your activewear in. Let it soak for a bit before massaging and rinsing them clean. Easy peasy!

What to Do if You Don’t Have Time to Wash Your Clothes

In a perfect world, we would all wash our clothes as soon as we get home. The reality, however, is a bit different. There will be instances where you simply won’t be able to wash them. For instance, you might have to go back to work after going to the gym. In cases like that, you’ll have to make do with what you’ve got.

Sure, you might not be able to put them in the washing machine, but that doesn’t mean that you should just leave them in your bag to rot. There are still things that you can do—here are a few of them!

1. Air Them Out

One of the worst things that you can do is to stuff your dirty workout clothes into a bag. You might just think “oh I’ll just wash them when I get home”, but the damage will be done by then. The dark, moist environment will only breed contaminants. By the time you open it up later, you’ll probably be met with a pungent odor.

air out your clothes

What should you do instead? Hang it up—let it air out. What does that do? It lets your clothes breathe. The circulating air will help to reduce moisture, which will prevent the growth of odors. The goal is not to create an ideal environment for these microorganisms.

In some cases, you might even be able to wear the item again after airing it out! Probably only for loose-fitting items, though. You’ll still want to wash the garment when you have a chance.

2. Soak Them In Vinegar

Just because you can’t wash the item doesn’t mean that you can’t soak it. As it turns out, vinegar is great for getting rid of odors—it’s just the thing that you need for dirty workout clothes! The best part? It’s cheap and readily accessible. Heck, you could even bring some to work! That way, you’ll be able to soak your clothes, even if you’re heading back to the office after going to the gym.

It’s easy to use too. Simply fill the sink (you can also use a tub or a container) with cold water and add in one cup of white vinegar. Agitate the liquid to mix, and plunk your clothes in. Make sure that all of the fabric is in the solution. Wait 15-20 minutes (that will allow the vinegar to penetrate into the fibers) before rinsing it clean with water. From there, all you have to do is hang it up somewhere to dry.

3. Spray Some Air Freshener

Have somewhere to be afterward? Forgot to bring a change of clothes? Here’s a temporary fix—spray some air freshener (something like Frebreze works great) over your workout clothes, both the front and back. Let it air out for a few minutes before putting it back on. That will help to mask the odor so that it won’t be so “in your face”, so to speak.

When you get home, put the item in the wash. After all, the air freshener will not actually make your shirt cleaner, it’ll only make it smell fresher. 

4. Freshen Them Up With Dryer Sheets

Down to your last gym shirt? Forgot or don’t have time to wash it? You can easily “refreshen” it with a couple of dryer sheets. What you want to do is to throw the garment into the dryer. Add a few dryer sheets and let the machine run. By the time it’s done, your shirt will end up smelling a lot nicer than before. You can pretty much use any brand of dryer sheet—as long as it comes with some sort of fragrance!

deodorize with dryer sheets

As an added plus, the dryer will help get rid of any wrinkles too! It’s a win-win situation.

5. Apply Baking Soda to the Clothes

Baking soda is similar to vinegar in that it’s great for getting rid of smells. It’s accessible too—chances are, most of us already have it in the house!

Start by mixing a couple of tablespoons with water in a small bowl; you should end up with something that resembles a thin paste. Next, apply it to your shirt—pay extra attention to the underarm area as that’s where most of the sweat goes. You might have to turn the item inside out when you’re doing this.

Allow the baking soda mixture to dry on the fabric once you’re done. From there, brush away the residue with a brush. With a little bit of luck, the powder would have eliminated most of the smell.

Alternatively, you can put the piece of clothing into a plastic bag. Add half a cup of baking soda, secure the opening, and shake—the goal is to evenly distribute the powder onto your shirt. Once you’re done shaking, let the bag sit for 15 to 20 minutes. Eventually, you can remove the item from the bag—just make sure to shake off the baking soda before wearing it again.

6. Apply Lemon Juice

Did you know that lemon juice can be used to remove smells? Ultimately, this is due to the fact that it is acidic. Apply it to your clothes and it’ll be able to neutralize most odors.

In order to do so, you’ll want to make a solution by mixing it with water. Combine one tablespoon of lemon juice with one cup of cool water in a bowl. Carefully transfer the liquid into a spray bottle and use it to mist the offending shirt. Avoid using pure lemon juice as it may be too strong.

Pro-tip: It’s a good idea to test the lemon juice on an inconspicuous part of the shirt first, before applying it to the whole thing. Depending on the material, it may cause discoloration.

7. Put Them In The Freezer

As it turns out, you can actually remove odors from your clothes by putting them in the freezer. This makes sense when you think about it—after all, the smells are created by contaminants, many of which can be killed by cold temperatures.

putting clothes in freezer

Don’t just put your shirt next to the frozen pizza, though. Place it in a plastic bag, before putting it in the freezer—that will protect them from the icy depths and keep your food clean. Leave it in for a couple of hours and you’ll be good to go!

8. Use Essential Oils

Another method is to freshen up your clothes with essential oils. The best part is that you can choose the scent that you want to use! For instance, you could choose something that has a lavender, grapefruit, or lemon scent.

To start, you want to mix a few drops of your favorite essential oil with water in a spray bottle. Agitate lightly to mix the solution. When you’re finished, you can spray it onto the offending areas (e.g. underarms, back, etc).

9. Apply Vodka (Yes, the Drink)

Did you know that there’s more than one use for vodka? That’s right, it’s not just a beverage—it can also be used to refreshen up your clothes! Bet you didn’t know that! You don’t need the fancy stuff either; the cheap bottles will do.

What you want to do is to pour it into a spray bottle. Do not add any water as that will weaken the alcohol’s effectiveness (the higher the alcohol content, the stronger its odor-eliminating power). Spray the vodka onto your dirty clothes (pay extra attention to the underarm areas)—that’s all there is to it! As the alcohol evaporates, it will take the smell with it!

Here’s an interesting tidbit—allegedly, many Broadway actors use this method to “clean” their clothes when they’re performing!

10. Steam It

Don’t have time to put your dirty clothes in the wash? How about steaming the fabric? It doesn’t take much time at all, especially if you have a garment steamer!

why you should steam your clothes

How does it work? The hot steam is capable of neutralizing most of the contaminants on the item that’s responsible for the odors. As an added bonus, it’ll get rid of wrinkles too! Your shirt will probably be a bit wet afterwards so let it dry (you can hang it up on a chair or something similar) before wearing it again.

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Picture of Sophia Grant

Sophia Grant

Sophia Grant brings her extensive knowledge of laundry and clothing care to the masses with her intensive cleaning guides. Her thorough understanding of fabrics, detergents, and washing techniques helps readers master the art of maintaining their wardrobe. Sophia's advice ensures that anyone can achieve professional-level results at home, keeping their garments looking pristine and lasting longer.

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