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Why Do My Workout Clothes Still Smell Bad After Washing?

February 11, 2019

Working out is a great way to stay fit. Health-wise, it also comes with a number of benefits. For one thing, it lowers your blood pressure, which reduces your risk of heart disease. On top of that, it helps to strengthen your muscles. Given all that, it’s important that you try to incorporate exercise into your everyday routine. For some people, this means going for a run. For others, it means joining the gym. 

When it comes to exercising, you should always have the proper gear. After all, you wouldn’t want to injure yourself! Aside from wearing appropriate shoes, it’s important to have the right clothes—that is, you want to wear activewear. Unlike regular clothes, these garments are specially designed to keep you dry and comfortable throughout your workout. In some cases, they also provide you with extra support.

At the end of the day, however, sweat still gets onto the fabric; your activewear will eventually start to smell bad. Ultimately, this is why you want to bring a change of clothes to the gym. As far as your workout gear goes, you want to put them into the wash as soon as possible.

Sometimes, however, the odor will linger even after you’ve tossed them into the washer. Why does this happen? Perhaps you didn’t add enough detergent? How can you prevent this from happening? These are some of the questions that we’ll be addressing below.

Why are my Gym Clothes Still Stinky After Being Washed?

washing away the stink

There are several reasons why your gym clothes might still have an odor to them. Let’s go over some of the more common ones below.

Gym Clothes Naturally Repel Water

Gym clothes are typically made out of synthetics such as polyester, spandex, and lycra. Due to the fact that they repel water, they are great for keeping you dry. However, this also makes them difficult to wash properly. As you can imagine, they also repel the soapy water in the washing machine. The trick then is to use the right kind of cleaning formula.

You Might be Using the Wrong Type of Detergent

As explained earlier, activewear is different from normal clothes in that they are made out of different materials. Due to their hydrophobic properties, athletic clothing tends to absorb body oils, which contributes to the unpleasant odor. Ultimately, the key to getting rid of the smell is to use the right kind of laundry detergent. As you probably already know, there are various types of detergent out there, all of which are suited for different scenarios. For instance, Tide is effective is at pulling odors from cotton; however, it is not suited for cleaning activewear. 

At the end of the day, you want to use something that is specially formulated for gym clothes—that’s right, something like ACTIVE detergent. Unlike traditional detergents, most of which are designed for regular clothing, ACTIVE detergent contains enzymes that are designed to dissolve and break down sweat, oil, and grime. From there, chelating agents and natural surfactants return the clothing fibers to their original state. In other words, nothing is damaged in the process.

It Might be Time to Clean Your Washing Machine

why you should clean your washing machine

Did you know that your washing machine, like our clothes, also need to be cleaned? Don’t be fooled into thinking that it’s clean—the truth is, it is a hospitable surface for many types of contaminants. Fortunately, most of them are harmless. However, they can easily get stuck in the fibers of your activewear; this often leads to a perpetual odor.

Luckily, it’s quite easy to clean the washing machine. All you have to do is run a hot cycle with a little bit of vinegar. Not only will it get rid of the contaminants, but it will deodorize the machine as well. If you want, you can also scrub the inside with a sponge. As a general rule, you should clean your washer every month; this will help to prevent the build-up of icky grime and odors. Of course, your clothes will be cleaner as well!

Are You Using Fabric Softener?

While fabric softener might be great for regular clothes, it should be skipped for activewear. The way they work, they deposit a wax-like coating on the fabric. Sure, this might make them softer and more comfortable to wear, but it also prevents them from getting fully cleaned. After all, how is the detergent supposed to penetrate into the fibers with the extra layer?

Don’t worry, though, if you’ve added fabric softener to your load of gym clothes—there’s an easy fix. What you want to do is wash them in the machine again with no detergent; this should rinse away the lingering conditioner.

Are You Leaving Your Gym Clothes in the Washing Machine for Long Periods of Time?

Contaminants love moisture. When you leave your gym clothes in the washing machine, they proliferate in the wet environment. In some cases, you might even get mold! The point is, you should never let your clothes sit in the washer after they’ve been washed; the contaminants will lead to the development a nasty odor.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to take the stink out once that has happened. The only solution is to wash them from the beginning again. Remember, never dry your clothes if they’re not fresh! They’ll only get stinkier once you put them away.

How to Get the Musty Sweat Smell Out of Workout Clothing

Now that we’ve gone over the reasons why they might be smelly, let’s go ahead and take a look at how you can tackle that odor.

benefits of white vinegar

Soak Your Clothes in White Vinegar

White vinegar is great for deodorizing clothes. If your gym clothes are still smelly, try soaking them in a vinegar-water mixture (we recommend one part vinegar to four parts water). More specifically, you’ll want to let the items soak for at least 15 minutes. When the time is up, rinse them with water and put them in the washing machine. 

Add White Vinegar Into the Washing Machine

If you want, you can also add white vinegar directly into the machine (approx. half a cup). This will help to get rid of the icky sweat smell. As an added bonus, it will also soften up your clothes!

Note: If you want, you can soak it and wash it with vinegar.

Soak Your Clothes in Baking Soda

Baking soda is similar to vinegar in that it can be used to get rid of icky odors. For this method, mix half a cup of baking soda into a tub of water. Depending on how smelly your gym clothes are, you might need to let them soak for a few hours (it’s perfectly fine to leave them in overnight). Afterward, give them a good rinse and pop them into the washing machine.

Pro-tip: If there’s a particularly smelly spot, apply a bit of baking soda paste to the area before letting the item soak.

cleaning with baking soda

Add Baking Soda Into the Washing Machine

Alternatively, you can add half a cup of baking soda to the washing machine (in addition to ACTIVE detergent). This is another great way to get rid of odors. If you want, you can even add a bit of white vinegar to the mix.

How to Keep Your Gym Clothes Smelling Fresh

When it comes to stinky odors, prevention is key. After all, you won’t have to work as hard to get the stink out, if it isn’t as smelly in the first place!

Don’t Sit Around In Your Gym Clothes After a Workout

As comfortable as they might be, you always want to change out of your gym clothes after working out. Assuming that you’ve broken a sweat, the fabric is only going to get wetter and moister with time—the perfect environment for odors to grow. Not only is that going to make everything stinkier, but it can lead to skin irritations, even infections!

Don’t Just Throw Your Gym Clothes Into Your Bag

avoid stuffing gym clothes into your bag

One of the biggest mistakes that people make is that they throw their dirty clothes into their gym bag immediately after taking them off. As it is, the dark quarters makes it even easier for odors to thrive. Ultimately, what you want to do is to air them out before stuffing them into a big.

Understandably, that’s not always possible. If that’s the case, you want to air them out at the next opportunity. If this means taking them out of the bag and laying them out in your car—go for it. Alternatively, you can hang it up when you get home. The worst thing that you can do is to leave it in a bag for a few days. Ick!

Turn Everything Inside Out When You’re Putting them in the Wash

When you put them into the machine, turn your gym clothes inside out. After all, most of the sweat would have accumulated on the inside. By turning them inside out, that surface will be on the outside. Add a bit of ACTIVE detergent and the icky stuff will come right out!

Pre-soak Your Gym Clothes Before Washing Them

Consider pre-soaking your gym clothes before throwing them into the washer. In terms of what to soak it with, you want to add some ACTIVE detergent into a sink of warm water. Put the items into the sink after mixing the solution. Allow them to sit anywhere from 15 minutes to a few hours (it really depends on how dirty your clothes are). For the most parts, that will help to get rid of the sweaty smell. Once that’s done, put them into the washing machine as normal.

Skip the Fabric Softener

As mentioned earlier, you should never use fabric softener with activewear; it only makes it harder to get rid of the sweat. If you really want to soften your clothes, consider adding a bit of vinegar to your wash load.

What’s the Best Laundry Detergent for Sweaty Workout Clothes?

Workout clothes should not be washed with your average laundry detergent. As explained earlier, they are simply not capable of getting rid of the gunk. Instead, you want to use an enzymatic detergent. Instead of just washing over the icky stuff, these ingredients will break down the sweat and body oils. Not only will that freshen up your clothes, but it will increase their performance as well.

Not sure which enzymatic detergent to use? How about giving ACTIVE detergent a try? Specially designed for activewear, the formula contains special enzymes that will eliminate oil, sweat, and grime. Did we also mention that it contains natural ingredients? Even the enzymes are plant-based! Want to know more about the product? Click here.

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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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