The scientific reason behind your bad smelling activewear and easy DIY solutions

Why does your activewear stink and what can you do about it?

Life

Do you ever take your laundry out of the dryer and realize that your activewear still smells bad? Sometimes it feels like no amount of laundry detergent or scented fabric softener will get rid of that funky smell that lingers in all of your workout clothes. The reason this happens isn't because your washing machine isn't strong enough to get rid of the sweat from your run or all the burpees you did, but it's actually the fabric. Most workout clothes are made from synthetic fabrics or cotton, two materials that are great for working out in, but really bad at getting clean. Luckily there are a few ways to get rid of that smell that doesn't involve lots of harmful chemicals. So instead of throwing those smelly clothes away, check out some of our easy non-toxic cleaning methods and DIY solutions!

Why do workout clothes trap smell?

Most people think that the reason their workout clothes stink is because there is sweat trapped in them, but that is only partially true. Sweat by itself actually has no smell at all, but when it comes into contact with the bacteria on your skin, the sweat gets broken down and releases the typical body odor smell (1). So that means there isn't excess sweat trapped in your clothes, it's bacteria, along with dead skin cells and natural particles that are all contributing to the bad smell (2).

There is also a difference in how natural and synthetic workout clothes are affected by this bacteria. Natural fibers like cotton are more affected by sweat and bacteria compared to synthetic fibers because the bacteria that becomes trapped within the fabric can actually start to break down and degrade your clothes. The fibers of cotton are made completely of cellulose, a natural component of plants, and the bacteria can consume this substance and break down the clothes. Cotton is really good at absorbing sweat, so that means there is bacteria deep inside the cotton fibers and the bacteria can quickly multiply due to their massive food source i.e. your clothes. So not only will the bacteria in your sweat make your natural workout clothes smell bad, it will also degrade them over time until they fall apart (2).

Synthetic fabrics, on the other hand, are man-made fibers that are derived from petroleum products. Think plastic threads. Fabrics like spandex, polyester, and nylon are all made of synthetic materials and they are often marketed as sweat wicking or having a cooling effect. These types of fabrics collect bacteria in the space between the fibers, but does not absorb the sweat or bacteria in the fibers. These small spaces where the bacteria are trapped are really hard to access with standard cleaning products making the smell linger (2).

What makes it worse?

To get rid of the smell a lot of people use more detergent or heavily scented fabric softeners, but this only temporarily covers up the smell. These products coat the fibers and fill up the space between them, creating more and more build up the more you wash the clothes. Having build up on your clothes can trap the bacteria and every time you work out more bacteria will start to grow on your clothes.

Traditional detergents were made for traditional fibers like cotton, so when trying to get spandex or polyester fabrics clean, these detergents often aren't strong enough to penetrate deep into the synthetic fabric. Also sometimes your washing machine might be too big or too full and isn't able to clean the clothes effectively. The good news is that there are some non-toxic products and DIY methods that will really deep clean your clothes and make them smell brand new!

What can you do?

First things first, before you get into the products and DIY solutions, try some of these simple ways to avoid having stinky workout clothes in the first place. Sometimes all it takes is changing the temperature or washing your clothes a little sooner. But if none of these work, check out the special products and DIY solutions that are sure to get your clothes squeaky clean!

  1. Don't overfill your washing machine.
  2. Don't use extra laundry detergent.
  3. Stay away from fabric softener.
  4. Wash clothes as soon as possible after working out, don't let them sit wet.
  5. Always wash workout clothes in cold water.
  6. Use a powdered detergent to prevent buildup.

Products and DIY solutions

  1. Biokleen Bac-Out Stain remover. Uses natural enzymes to get deep in fabrics and kills bacteria.
  2. Molly Suds Activewear Laundry Detergents. Powdered laundry detergent that uses enzymes and baking soda that penetrates deep within fabrics.
  3. Defunkify Liquid Laundry Detergent. Specifically designed to break down odor and get deep into fibers.
  4. Add half a cup of baking soda to your laundry drum. Baking soda is a natural deodorizer.
  5. Laundry stripping! Laundry stripping is a way to remove built up oil, dirt, bacteria, and other detergents. Check out our article on stripping and how to do it!



Sources

  1. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/17865-sweating-and-body-odor
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4249026/
  3. https://hexperformance.com/pages/about-hex
Roundups

Non-Toxic Fabric Softener and Dryer Sheets

Natural dryer sheets and dryer sheet alternatives

Updated for 2019!

You know when you are doing laundry and everything comes out of the dryer all warm and fluffy and smelling amazing and you just fall asleep in a pile of clean clothes on the couch? Nope, just us? Oh well. While that might not be a common practice, throwing in a dryer sheet or adding a splash of fabric softener is pretty common. But, have you ever wondered how one of those rather small dryer sheets works to get rid of the static for a whole load of laundry? Are dryer sheets toxic? Are there alternatives to dryer sheets and fabric softeners?

Well, it turns out that dryer sheets often come with many added chemicals that you might not want all over your clothes. Next time you are doing a load of laundry (with some safe laundry detergent), check out one of these option instead. They will keep your clothes looking good without the potentially dangerous chemicals. All of the ones we recommend are widely available, have positive reviews, and have been checked for safety from a third party. Who wouldn't want a more natural dryer sheet?! We also have a suggestion for our favorite alternative to dryer sheets, wool dryer balls.


non-toxic dryer sheets and fabric softeners

a) Ecover Fabric Softener b) Method Dryer Sheets in Beach Sage c) Kintor Wool Dryer Balls d) Attitude Fabric Softener e) The Honest Company Dryer Cloths f) Attitude Reusable Static Eliminator and Softener g) Seventh Generation Natural Fabric Softener Sheets


We rely on EWG's consumer databases, the Think Dirty App, and GoodGuide in addition to consumer reviews and widespread availability of products to generate these recommendations. Learn more on our methodology page.

*Because Health is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program so that when you click through our Amazon links, a percentage of the proceeds from your purchases will go to Because Health. We encourage you to shop locally, but if you do buy online buying through our links will help us continue the critical environmental health education work we do. Our participation does not influence our product recommendations. To read more about how we recommend products, go to our methodology page.

Want an easy way to live healthier?
Sign up for our newsletter! Curated environmental health news delivered to your inbox every three weeks.
By submitting above, you agree to our privacy policy.
/ SOCIAL
Want an easy way to live healthier?
Sign up for our newsletter! Curated environmental health news delivered to your inbox every three weeks.
By submitting above, you agree to our privacy policy.
/ SOCIAL