If you’ve ever worn your workout clothes for something other than working out — raise your hand if you’ve worn yoga pants to brunch! — you probably know a thing or two about athleisure. In fact, athleisure, or “casual clothing designed to be worn both for exercising and for general use,” is so popular that the term is now officially in the dictionary.
But before you slip on that freshly laundered workout top to run errands, you may want to do a smell test. Your workout clothes endure more wear and tear (and sweat) than your regular clothes, so if you’re not taking care of them correctly, the aroma from last week’s plyo workout may linger, even after a wash cycle. Read on for practical tips on how to get the funk out of your workout clothes.
First, a Quick Lesson in Fabric Science
Most athletic apparel is marketed to keep us “drier, cooler, and more comfortable” while we get our sweat on. But clothes can get in the way of the body’s natural ability to keep us cool via sweating, which is why a lot of workout gear is designed specifically to absorb moisture.
For clothing labeled “moisture-wicking,” the idea is that the fabric will pull sweat away from your skin and through the clothing surface so it can evaporate and keep you dry. So does it really work?
In a small study that examined the effects of a form-fitted, moisture-wicking shirt, the body temperature of the participants wearing a shirt made of synthetic materials was lower than participants who wore 100-percent cotton shirts. The polyester elastane shirts also retained less sweat during exercise. The researchers suggest that the synthetic fibers’ ability to ventilate and evaporate may help keep you cooler.
TL;DR: Likely, yes.
How to Remove Lingering Odors From Your Workout Clothes
Because of its ability to absorb moisture, aka sweat, athletic wear is a different beast when it’s time to do laundry. Follow these tips to keep your workout gear fresher, longer.
Don’t let your clothes fester: It’s unrealistic to do a load of laundry every time you work out. But also don’t forget about them. Adding damp clothes to the dirty laundry pile will only make them stinkier. Research shows that bacteria grows on sweaty clothes when they sit for an extended period of time.
If your clothes are totally soaked through, toss them in the wash immediately. No time to wash? Lay them on a drying rack or hang them to dry before laundry day.
Steer clear of fabric softener: Fabric softener not only damages stretchy clothes, but it also leaves behind a film that can hold smells captive. For a natural softener that can stave off stale sweat smells, add half a cup of white vinegar to the wash cycle.
Don’t add more detergent: Smellier load calls for more detergent, right? Wrong. Washing machines are designed to use a set amount of detergent based on the size of the load. Excess soap will just build up on your clothes, which will then trap dead skin and harbor fungus. Ick.
Raid your kitchen: Lemon juice, baking soda, and vinegar can all reduce unpleasant post-workout smells. Pour a ½ cup of baking soda or squeeze the juice of one large lemon to the rinse cycle. The baking soda neutralizes odors while the citric acid in the juice breaks down the oils in the clothing fibers.
If you don’t want to wait around for the rinse cycle, look for detergents that have baking soda added. Or soak your workout clothes in a mixture of white vinegar and cold water for about 15 to 30 minutes before tossing in the washing machine. The vinegar acts as both a natural fabric softener and bacteria killer.
Consider natural fabrics: While synthetic fabrics such as polyester and polypropylene once dominated the athletic-wear sector, natural fibers such as cotton, wool and bamboo have found a home in a number of athletic lines. Research indicates that wool garments retain fewer odors than clothing made with polyester, which actually creates more unpleasant smells compared to cotton clothing.
Toss it: Keep an eye (and nose) on the state of your workout gear. Chafing spots, stretched straps and waistbands, unsightly holes, and a smell that simply won’t go away are all signs it’s time to get new gear. The lifespan of any piece of workout wear — despite what it’s made of — will vary, depending on how often you use and abuse it and how well you take care of it.
The athleisure trend is here to stay (for now, at least!), so if you want your cute workout/brunch outfit to be on point, just remember to treat it right.