The Absolute Best Way to Get the Stink Out of Workout Clothes

When standard detergent no longer cuts it, eliminate odor with these editor-tested methods. 

Photo: Getty Images

I have a laundry problem. Specifically, I have a stinky workout clothing laundry problem.

 

I'm not typically a smelly person (…pretty sure), but recently I noticed that even after washing, my workout clothes were a little, well, funky. Or they would smell fine right out of the wash, but as soon as I put them on and started sweating again, things got a little ripe. Ick.

 

Things got even worse when I started getting into hot yoga. When you wear a tank top, sports bra, and leggings for an hour-long workout in a 95-degree room, then shove those soaking-wet clothes in a plastic bag in the bottom of your desk drawer for the rest of the workday, you've got a recipe for serious stench. No amount of washing with regular detergent would get the smell out. (When I complained to our fitness editor, Roz, she said grimly, "Oh yeah, everyone says that hot yoga smell is the worst.")

 

"Odor in workout clothing is most commonly caused by a buildup of sweat and bacteria from your body," explains Mary Zeitler, lead consumer scientist at the Whirlpool Corporation Institute of Home Science. "How you store your workout clothes can also lead to additional odors—for example, leaving sweaty clothes in a closed up gym bag, locker, or hamper." (Um, guilty.)

 

In addition, the very qualities that keep high-performance fabrics comfortable during a workout—their ability to push water out of their fibers rather than retaining it, so you stay drier—make it harder for sudsy water in your washing machine to penetrate the fabric and pull the sweat and bacteria out.

 

I had to get rid of the stink, so I embarked on a months-long quest to find the absolute best way to get workout clothes odor-free. First, some general tips from Zeitler and my own trial-and-error:

  • Turn clothes inside out before washing (since the sweat, oils, and bacteria from your body accumulate on the inside of the clothes).
  • "Always use the sniff test before putting the garment into the dryer," Zeitler says. (You don't want to "cook" the smells in.)
  • Wash clothes as soon as possible after wearing.
  • If possible, let sweaty clothes air out immediately rather than stuffing them into a plastic bag or hamper.
  • Don't use more detergent than recommended or overstuff the machine, both of which make it harder for clothes to rinse clean. (In my tests, every single method did worse if I crammed too many items into one load.)

 

I ended up testing three different all-natural methods and four different specialized "sport" detergents, and crowning a winner and runner-up in each category. How I did it: I tried each method or specialty detergent at least two times (most of them four or five times), always washing in warm water and hanging dry. Each load had at least one super stinky hot yoga item in it. I sniffed everything right out of the wash and after drying, and also noted if clothes smelled worse when worn. I paired the natural methods with my usual laundry detergent, Seventh Generation Free & Clear. For the specialty detergents, I focused on brands that offered a fragrance-free version, since I'm sensitive to fragrances in laundry products.

Photo: Amazon.com

Photo: Amazon.com

Photo: Amazon.com

Photo: Amazon.com

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