Laundry & Cleaning

The one mistake that's ruining your workout clothes

Your outfit came straight from the laundry—why does it stink as soon as you start sweating?

Credit: Getty Images / skynesher

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In addition to being an editor here at Reviewed, I’m a personal trainer and a fitness buff. For years when I was working as a freelance writer/personal trainer/group fitness instructor/running coach, it was a rarity that something I wore didn’t have a high spandex content. (If I’m being honest—I work from home now, so that’s still mostly true.) I also used to be a staff writer at a large women’s magazine famed for its cleaning knowledge, and I learned a thing or two about laundry and fabric in the process. Trust me: I know about workout clothes. And I know what happens if you don’t take care of them properly. (Ahem, they start to stink.)

Why do workout clothes develop an odor over time?

Activewear is made of synthetic fabric—typically a polyester and spandex blend—that works great at siphoning away sweat from skin to keep you cooler, more comfortable, and less chafed during a perspiration-heavy session. That same material also tends to hold in bacteria collected from your skin and any workout equipment you touch, which over time makes it reek to high heaven the moment it gets damp again during a workout—even if your clothing is fresh from the laundry. And once that smell is embedded, it’s pretty much impossible to banish.

How can you prevent odor from building up?

sweaty clothes drying
Credit: Reviewed / Amy Roberts

An actual image of the author's post-run clothing, post-rinse out. (Not pictured: The fact that it doesn't smell too bad.)

It couldn’t be more simple: Rinse your clothes out after your workout.

In an ideal world, you’d take off those sweaty duds and run them through the washer before you’ve fully caught your breath after that last interval. You'd use a sports detergent, formulated for cleaning activewear, such as Hex Performance Anti-Stink Laundry Detergent, as well as a less-is-more attitude with detergent, as excess soap can build up in clothes and make the smell worse. But this immediate machine-washing is not practical for any number of reasons—most of us do not work out in our laundry rooms, for one—so an alternate, almost-as-good solution is needed. And all it takes is some tap water.

All it takes is some tap water.

A long thorough rinse with cool, clear water can flush a lot of the icky stuff out of your workout gear, or at least dilute the stink-causing effects. First, turn the clothes inside out—which, let's face it, is probably how they peeled off your body anyway. If you’re at home, just hold under a cool faucet, paying special attention to armpits and crotches (sorry, not sorry). Wring well, and let clothes fully dry in the bathroom before stashing in your well-vented hamper until laundry day. If you’re at the gym, rinse, squeeze out just enough so clothes are not dripping, and bring home in a plastic bag, then rinse again when you get there and let dry. Easy peasy.

Your workout partner (and your activewear budget) will thank me.

Get Hex Performance Anti-Stink Laundry Detergent