Get the Stink Out of Workout Clothes

Love hot yoga? Live for a hard workout? Cleansing your body by sweating buckets is great for your skin, fabulous for your circulation, essential to your glow. But it’s hard to feel great when you’re working out in a malodorous cloud. You know, . . . you’ve just begun your workout, and as skin temps rise, you realize that your “clean” workout clothes aren’t as clean as you thought.

Truth is, workout clothes can sometimes resist cleanliness. Yes, of course you wash after every wear, but somehow the subtle funk remains. The reason is simple: Sweat and bacteria are still caught between the fibers of your clothes—despite that extra rinse cycle. This can be especially true of “performance” fabrics, which are created for water resistance, meaning that it is harder for water and detergent to get into the fabric to deep-clean.

Not letting bacteria bloom in your clothes (crumpled up in your bag or on the floor unwashed for long periods of time) is the first step. If you can’t wash them right away, let them air dry so that bacteria won’t increase exponentially. Second, don’t overfill your washer—workout wear needs extra water. Next, try these four natural remedies to truly come clean.

1.  Give clothes a vinegar or lemon-juice soak. Soak clothes in 4 parts water, 1 part vinegar or lemon juice, for 30 minutes before washing in the machine. The acids in both vinegar and lemon juice help kill bacteria. Note: Be careful not to throw vinegar-soaked clothes into a washer with bleach or bleach-containing detergent. Combining them does creates harmful chlorine gas. Rinse clothes thoroughly with water before putting them into the wash.

2.  Add 15–20 drops of tea tree oil to the soak. Soaking clothes in diluted tea tree oil may help slow the growth of odor-causing bacteria. Tea tree oil has natural antiseptic properties and has been used for centuries by Aborigines in Australia to disinfect and heal wounds and fight other bodily infections. How does it work? Natural compounds in tea tree oil compromise bacteria or yeast cell function, stopping them in their tracks. You can purchase it at natural products stores.

3.  Add baking soda to the wash. Baking soda has mild alkaline properties, which when added to detergent help lift sweat and bacteria out of the clothes. Baking soda also neutralizes odors and, if using it, gives bleach extra oomph. Sprinkle ½ cup into every medium-sized load.

4.  Dry on hot—or use the sun’s disinfecting power. Setting the drier on “high” can help eliminate any lingering intruders and help you smell fresh the next time around. Problem is, the synthetic fibers in most sportswear fabrics, even when blended with natural fibers such as cotton, can’t take the heat. In that case, set items out to dry in full sunlight for several hours, turning the garments at least once so that all surfaces get direct sun.