How To Make Your Gym Clothes Stop Smelling Even After You've Washed Them

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Young woman exercises on the promenade after running in the morning

If you exercise on any basis, then you already know how high-maintenance workout clothes can be. Go through one or two grueling sweat sessions, and you're left with leggings, shorts, tanks, socks, and sports bras that smell like an entire soccer team just went traipsing through your room. Often, it seems like figuring out how to get smell out of gym clothes is the biggest workout of all.

It can sometimes feel like, no matter how often you wash them, the smell will never come out of your gym clothes. There's a reason for this: Clothes made specifically for working out are typically made with stretchy materials like Lycra or Spandex. These materials basically repel water, which is exactly what you want them to do when you're sweating all over yourself at the gym, but not what you want them to do when you're trying to wash them. How are you supposed to get these materials to smell better if you can't even properly get through them?

The good thing is that, although it may take a little time and extra effort, you can get the smell of sweat out of your workout clothes — you just have to play by the rules. Washing gym clothes may be a little different than washing your other clothes, but the time is worth your while when you don't have to smell like a locker room anymore. Here are a few easy tips on getting the smell out of sweat out of your workout clothes.

1. Avoid Fabric Softener At All Costs


Fabric softener is actually your gym clothes' worst enemy. Instead of making the clothes cleaner, it actually creates a sort of barrier that locks stinky smells in. It's basically trapping grime and bacteria in your clothes, which is the opposite of what you want. Fabric softener blocks the wicking power of the fabrics of workout clothes, so they no longer work the way they're supposed to (which is to keep you clean and dry). It will prevent the sweat on your clothes from evaporating, which makes them smell more.

Stretchy materials, like Spandex, can also get broken down by fabric softener. So, not only does it make your clothes smell, it also ruins the way they fit.

2. Limit Your Use Of Laundry Detergent


It sounds weird to get rid of laundry detergent when trying to make clothes smell better, but in this case it's true. Similar to fabric softener, laundry detergent and stretchy materials like Lycra and Spandex don't go well together. This is because materials like these are made of manmade fibers that are woven really tightly together — because of that, bacteria gets trapped easily. Regular laundry detergent isn't made to get all the way in there to get that bacteria out, so instead, it builds up on clothing, leading to more smells and a lot of gross bacteria. Use only half the usual amount, skip it altogether, or opt for a detergent made especially for workout clothes like Hex, for example.

3. Never Leave Your Gym Clothes In A Pile On The Floor


Our schedules are busy, and it can be easy to rush home after your workout, peel off your disgusting clothes, throw them into a pile on the floor, climb into the shower, and forget all about them. But doing this isn't helping you at all. If your sweaty clothes stay in a pile or sit in a hamper, the bacteria grows and the smell lingers and gets worse. And the smell doesn't just get worse - it can actually lead to the growth of mold.

If you have no time to wash them, at least hang them up or lay them on a drying rack. According to Self, drying the clothes can reduce up to 90 percent of the bacteria that would otherwise be there.

4. Wash Them Immediately When They're Really Sweaty


If you just had a serious sweat sesh and your clothes are soaked, try to wash them immediately. When they're that sweaty, they need to be taken care of quickly. One laundry expert says that they really should be washed after every single use - although that can definitely be too hard for many people. If you didn't get very sweaty, it's okay to wait a few uses before washing. But if you find that your clothes are genuinely very wet, washing them immediately is the best way to get rid of the bacteria that makes them smelly.

5. Stick Them In The Freezer


Looking for a relatively quick fix that doesn't involve you doing laundry? Put your workout clothes in a plastic bag in the freezer. The icy cold air will destroy the bacteria that's growing that's causing all of that odor in the first place. This should never take the place of laundry, but it can be a nice little hack you use once in a while.

6. Soak In A White Vinegar Solution Before Washing


White vinegar is a miracle ingredient when it comes to getting rid of icky odors. Before you wash your gym clothes, soak them in the sink or a clean tub with one cup of white vinegar and some cold water. Leave them there for about 15 to 30 minutes, then clean in the washing machine. You can add a little white vinegar to the wash too, if you think they need it. Either or will help eliminate odors better than simply using your regular old laundry detergent.

Heinz White Vinegar, $15, Amazon

7. Add Baking Soda To The Wash


Baking soda is another ingredient you probably already have in your kitchen that can get rid of unpleasant odors. Baking soda doesn't just mask a bad scent (like many detergents do): it actually gets rid of it. Baking soda is alkaline, making it ideal for eliminating the acidic odor that comes from sweat. It also absorbs oils that come with that odor to really get rid of them for good. Put one cup of baking soda into the washing machine with your gross clothes and let the magic happen.

Arm & Hammer Baking Soda, $7, Amazon

8. Or Try Adding Lemon Juice


Lemons are another kitchen essential you can use to make your gym clothes smell better. Squeeze the juice out of one large lemon into the washing machine. The citric acid breaks down the oils in the materials, leaving them bacteria and funky scent free. It also gets rid of bacteria that leads to those terrible smells so that, like baking soda, it actually gets rid of a stink instead of just hiding it.

9. Hang Them Outside To Dry


Sun and fresh air is the best natural way to get rid of odors. After you wash your clothes, hang them to dry outside and let the sun do its work of getting rid of smells. On top of that, hanging your clothes outside helps keep them in better condition so that they last longer, it's more environmentally friendly, and it reduces wrinkles.

Just make sure you turn them inside out first so they don't fade. You can also hang your sweaty clothes outside when you don't have time to wash them.

10. Stop Sitting Around In Your Workout Clothes After You're Done Working Out


I know your gym clothes are really cute, and I know how comfy it can be to go from the gym to running errands to grabbing coffee with a friend (look how athletic you are!). But it's a really bad idea. Wearing your sweaty gym clothes harbors bacteria, making them more sweaty, and leaving you at risk for infections. The wicking fabrics most workout clothes are made of will absorb your body oils and all of your body odor, which is probably not great after a sweat sesh. Take 'em off, put on some clean ones. Who will know the difference?

This article was originally published on June 4, 2015 and was updated on September 10, 2019.

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