How to Clean Smelly Gym Clothes

CC BY 2.0. Upupa4me

Green cleaning methods are the most effective way to get rid of stench.

If you own gym clothes, then you’ll be familiar with the nasty smell that goes along with them. The downside to using high-tech, synthetic wicking fabrics is their inability to get perfectly clean in the laundry. They’re designed to repel water, which is great when you’re sweating profusely and don’t want to feel soggy clothes next to your skin, but it’s less desirable when you want those clothes to get soaking wet and full of detergent.

Gym clothes require special treatment, so it’s worth familiarizing yourself with a few basic concepts in order to minimize stench and maximize cleanliness.

Dry them out.

Don’t throw damp gym clothes into the laundry hamper unless you’re washing immediately. If allowed to sit in a dark confined space, bacteria will grow and the smell will get worse. Always air-dry your damp clothes before tossing into the hamper.

If you must pack them away in a gym bag, then take the advice of Toronto cleaning guru Melissa Maker. She recommends putting clothes into a Ziploc bag and spraying with “insurance spray,” made from 1 cup of water with 10 drops of lavender essential oil, to discourage bacterial growth until you can air-dry them.

Soak them.

If the smell is really bad, try soaking your athletic wear in a clean sink filled with water and white vinegar (one cup of vinegar per 4 cups of water). Soak for half an hour before washing. Vinegar is a natural bacterial killer.

Use less detergent.

It may sound counterintuitive, but less detergent is better when washing gym clothes. Again, because of the quality of the fabric, detergent can clog up the fibers and inhibit the fabric’s ability to repel water. Choose a natural detergent without fragrance. Add a cup of baking soda for added cleaning power. A second soap-free rinse is recommended by some cleaning experts, too, to get rid of all detergent traces. Always wash the clothes inside out.

Do not use fabric softener.

Just like detergent, fabric softener can build up on the fabric’s surface. Instead, add a cup of white vinegar to the fabric softener compartment in the washing machine, or add a cup during the rinse cycle. (Don’t pour it in with the washing cycle if you’ve used baking soda because they will neutralize each other.)

Dry them again.

Avoid the dryer if possible, since the heat can compromise the synthetic fabric and even ‘set’ the smell, if any remains after washing. Hang dry, preferably in the sunshine. If you must use a dryer, do a sniff test first.

Freeze them.

If you’re really getting desperate, try putting smelly clothes in the freezer to kill bacteria. Leave them there for a few days before laundering. (This technique is recommended by Levi’s as a substitute for washing dirty jeans.)

Freshen up your shoes.

Another tip from Melissa Maker that I love – take two coffee filters, add a spoonful of baking soda to each, and tie in a sachet with an elastic band. Place one in each shoe, which absorbs bad smells.

Care for your gym bag.

Wipe down your gym bag with a water-vinegar spray weekly. Add some drops of eucalyptus, peppermint, orange, or lemongrass for added antibacterial power. Launder once a month in cold water and air-dry, taking care to reshape the bag while drying. When using your gym bag, try to separate the wet sweaty stuff from the rest of the bag so as to minimize smell transfer.

Store clothes wisely.

If you can, hang your gym clothes in a place where they receive good air circulation, instead of tucking them away in a dark drawer.