You’ve finally decided to work out regularly, but then you notice that your gym clothes have retained a musty odor even after you’ve washed them. Despite the efforts of your trusty washer and detergent, you just can’t get rid of that post-workout smell that comes after a few squats, push-ups, and burpees and stop your gym clothes from stinking.

So what causes this unpleasant scent to linger? We could point to the build-up of sweat, natural oils, and odor-causing bacteria as the main culprit. The synthetic fabric in your gym clothes is designed to be quick-drying to wick away perspiration, but this also allows bacteria and body oils to get extra clingy. Because traditional detergents are meant to handle common fabrics like cotton, they may not be as effective when it comes to cleaning synthetic fabrics. When upgrading your gym gear, you may want to buy antimicrobial tights and leggings which are made from material that helps prevent odor-causing bacteria populations from thriving. And if you want your go-to workout clothes to retain that fresh, out-of-the-laundry smell, here are a few tips to help you out.

Don’t Put Your Clothes in the Hamper

After a sweaty workout session, don’t throw your gym clothes straight into the hamper. The damp fabric, darkness, and accumulation of heat in the hamper can exacerbate the odor caused by bacteria.Instead, it’s best to hang your clothes out to dry or put them somewhere with good airflow and access to natural light before wash day. You should also turn your clothes inside out to ensure that water and detergent can access the most sweaty parts that cause the unpleasant odor.

It’s also important not to mix your gym clothes with heavier items like towels, fleece pullovers, and sweatshirts. Heavy fabrics could transfer lint to your gym wear’s synthetic fabric, which makes it harder for water and detergent to penetrate.

Get the Right Detergent⁠—and Skip Fabric Softener

Using more detergent does not mean more cleaning power! In fact, too much detergent could leave residue in the fabric, which feeds the bacteria and makes it harder to get rid of the odor. You should instead purchase detergents specifically designed to clean synthetic fabrics that often make up activewear, performance wear, and athleisure clothing.

It’s also best to avoid using fabric softeners on your workout gear. Even though they add a fragrance that you might think would mask the funky smell on your clothes, they don’t actually make them cleaner. On the contrary, fabric softener leaves a residue on your clothes and it accumulates on the fabric with every use. This coating can actually lock in the bacteria and grime that causes the stinky smell.

Use DIY Deodorizers

One life hack to consider is soaking your clothes in vinegar immediately before throwing them in the wash. If you weren’t able to do this, putting a small amount of vinegar in your laundry would also help. Baking soda is another deodorizer, and adding a cup of this together with a cup of white vinegar and detergent helps dispels the stink.

Another great deodorizer is lemon juice, which breaks down body oils in your clothes and has a natural zesty smell. If the odor is caused by mildew, you could also soak your clothes in buttermilk the night before doing your laundry to kill the spores.

Use Hot Water for Washing

Hot water kills germs and bacteria, so many people often employ this method for cleaning kitchen items and sterilizing baby bottles. It also works for your laundry. Hot water can be useful for heavy cleaning and getting out tough stains. The setting for hot water in most washers is around 130 degrees Fahrenheit (54.4 degrees Celsius), which could get your gym wear feeling clean and fresh. Just make sure to check the material and your clothes’ labels for specific instructions to avoid damaging them as high temperatures can fade colors or shrink certain fabrics. For instance, you can see care instructions here for polyester, which though easy to wash, is sensitive to heat, so best washed in cool or warm water.  

It’s also a good practice to avoid re-wearing your gym clothes, even if they still look and smell clean. You may think that you’re saving yourself time and energy, but wearing your gear twice (or thrice) could make them more difficult to clean. If you sweat a lot or have an intense workout, re-wearing your clothes after a gym session is a no-no. Wash your garments in between each use or buy a few more workout clothes so you’ll have clean ones to wear until laundry day.

Avoid Machine-Drying Your Clothes

Dryers are a convenient invention of the modern age, but they could be detrimental to your gym wear. Machine-drying your clothes might not get all the moisture out, unlike hanging them out to dry in the sun. If you really need to machine-dry your gear, a low or no-heat setting will dry them out without damaging them.

The best way to dry your clothes is by using natural airflow and the sun’s UV rays to kill the remaining bacteria. Using dryers for performance fabrics could also wear them down, and the rough tumble-dry process could shorten the lifespan of your clothes. Drying your clothes through natural air-drying helps maintain their shape and fit.

Say No More to Stink!

A good workout routine isn’t complete without gear that looks, smells, and feels good. Make sure to follow these tips to keep your clothes smelling fresh so you can stay on the right track toward your fitness goals.