How To: Take the Stink Out of Your Workout Gear

>> Tuesday, April 13, 2010

What's behind this door? It's our third bedroom -- so, the laundry room, of course! Now, some of my favorite clothing items are in my fitness wardrobe (like my new Lululemon ensemble and my running skirt). On a daily basis, items are drenched with gallons of my putrid sweat. (I hope most of you have finished lunch by now.) I'm not embarrassed to say I sweat like a hog. In fact, I take pride in this fact -- it means I workout hard and that my body is efficient with cooling itself.

What I don't take pride in, however, are my housekeeping skills. And one major component of housekeeping is laundry.

Until recently, I didn't care much about throwing my regular workout gear and my "normal" clothes into the wash together. Wash, spin, and dry . . . it's all good. But Stephen has become increasingly picky about his running items -- not wanting me to dry them, etc. -- and it's made me become so, too. So we decided to come up with some tips and tricks for washing your most active -- and likely most expensive -- clothing

First, take a look at these labels from randomly selected items in our laundry basket:

What do they all have in common? Not a spec of natural fiber among them. Yup -- here we have nylon, polyester, Lycra, and more spandex than can be found in Richard Simmons' short-shorts. These special materials call for special handling, but don't go out and buy that fancy sports-only detergent just yet.

Now check out the cleaning instructions that I found most common among all pieces of clothing:

So, we're OK to machine wash -- cold. Like colors (and fabrics, I'm assuming). No ironing. No fabric softeners. Tumble dry on low. Or even line dry. It's all so confusing. And for a while, we tried to treat pieces individually -- meet their specific needs. As a person who absolutely hates doing laundry, I said ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.

Here's a one-size-fits-all approach to laundering your workout gear. We find these methods work on pretty much every item -- keeping each performance-ready and stink-free.
  • Set your washer to the warm/cold setting. This way, you can get the benefit of the warm water's scrubbing power . . . without the fading effects of hot water. We have also used only the cold water setting, but sometimes we find our clothes aren't as fresh as we'd like. So, water temperature matters.
  • Also set your washer to the heavy duty setting. This way, you get a better clean without setting your timer longer -- thereby wasting less water in the process. You need that heavy duty power versus a regular or gentle cycle to power through the smelly sweat-soaked garments.
  • Consider buying a cold-wash detergent. This way, it's specifically formulated for cold washing temperatures. Otherwise, we've had good results using our generic liquid and powder detergents. Our favorite right now is Method Laundry Detergent in "free + clear," though it's a bit pricey. Overall, we like using unscented detergents because when you're hot and sweaty, that perfume-y smell tends to overwhelm.
  • Hit the kitchen. If your clothes are extra stinky, consider adding some scoops (1/2 cup to a full cup, depending on load size) of baking soda. I've also read that vinegar can help, though I've never tried it. But the method is to fill a spray bottle with vinegar (just regular, nothing fancy), and spot treat your items. So, say, spray some on the underarms of your shirts.
  • Steer clear of the dryer. That's right: don't dry your clothes. We don't dry any of our workout stuff because, for example, some of these man-made materials may melt or lose their elasticity under hot heat. In fact, at times I've smelled a slightly melt-y smell after drying something by mistake. So, save some energy and just lie them out flat or hang them up. We have some ropes in our basement specifically installed for this purpose.
  • If you must use a dryer, don't use fabric sheets. They can coat your clothing in their scent and softening "stuff" -- effectively taking away the benefits your fancy clothes have with sweat-wicking power, etc.
Overall, good exercise clothes are expensive, but they offer many benefits including moisture-wicking abilities, extra stretch, lightweight-warmth,  cool-ness, etc. You need to care for them correctly to ensure these awesome powers stay, well, powerful. But if you treat 'em right, they'll return the favor again and again. And if you have any tips to share that we didn't cover, please leave us a comment or email us at

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