This scenario sound familiar? You’re on a run, or in the midst of your workout, and get a less than pleasant whiff of smell. Then, you realize the source is your shirt. Inevitably, it seems some of our favorite gear begins to lose its shape, elasticity, or possibly worst of all, smells bad. THAT smell. But, take heart, there’s hope. If you wonder “HOW do I get rid of my running clothes’ smell?”, you’re in the exact right place. Better yet, prevention is also a main topic in today’s lesson: “No More Smell in My Running Clothes 101.“
But first, a tiny bit of science. That technical fabric that so expertly repels or absorbs moisture for your running comfort has a down side. The very same attributes that keep you dry and comfy also make running clothes difficult to clean (and thus, smell). The tiny pores in workout gear tend to clog with excess detergent, fabric softener, sweat, etc. Those “clogged pores” make it very difficult for the water and soap to penetrate the fibers and bacteria within the garment. Alas, a stubborn smell lingers.
PREVENT “THAT” RUNNING CLOTHES SMELL
(An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of smell.)
WASH CLOTHES INSIDE-OUT
This is where the majority of odor-causing bacteria, dirt and oils reside, and they need to be kicked out! The detergent and water can more directly attack the source of the unpleasant bacteria that create the stink when the garment is inside-out.
USE THE RIGHT AMOUNT OF DETERGENT
Too much detergent = too many smells in your running clothes. YES! There really is too much of a good thing. Sure, logic would seem to favor more detergent for cleaner clothes. But the opposite is true. Too much detergent results in a build-up of soap on your clothes that traps the odors in your clothes after the wash cycle. Follow the directions for your respective brand; don’t think more is better.
DON’T WAIT DAYS TO WASH YOUR GEAR
The dark and closed confines of a gym bag, or hamper do a great job of keeping in the moisture in your clothes. Karen Welch, Ph.D., a senior scientist at Microban, says “When you have something that has moisture in it, you promote microbial growth. And the longer they grow, the more odors they produce.”
That can lead to a perma-stink in your clothes, a build-up of odor that accumulates in gear over time. The reason, according to Welch is “the water in the sweat just pushes them (odor) into the air again.
A tip if you can’t wash your clothes shortly after wearing them: hang up the wet stuff immediately after your run. Once it is dry, put in a hamper and wash when you can get to it.
JUST SAY NO TO FABRIC SOFTENER
Yes, we all love that soft feeling it brings, the pleasant scents. BUT, here’s the dark side: fabric softener leaves a coating on your clothes. That coating leads to odor retention, even when your laundry is clean. The reason? The coating makes it more difficult for water/detergent to penetrate/clean the fibers, and those foul smell-causing bacteria are safely snoozing in your running clothes.
TRY A LAUNDRY BOOSTER OR SPORTS DETERGENT
The sports detergent options are more than an advertising gimmick. They do contain enzymes that target the bad guys (odor causing bacteria); enzyme super-heroes such as protease, mannanase, and amylase to name a few. Here are some sports specific detergents: Tide Sport, Sport Suds or HEX Performance Detergent, with formulas to address odors.
Another low cost option is adding a quarter-cup to half-cup (depending on load size) of white vinegar or baking soda. Or, you can add both – but add the baking soda to the rinse cycle (versus adding both at the start of the wash cycle) if possible.
OPT OUT ON HEAT
In the dry cycle, do not use heat. Heat tends to amplify the running clothes smell, not to mention break down the fabric of the “tech” fibers in your athletic gear. Use a low or no-heat option for the dryer, or even better, let your clothes air dry. In the wash cycle, the same applies – use cold water.
Experts recommend to air/line dry your gear also because while it is more time consuming, it helps preserve the performance, longevity, and fit of your gear. Melissa Maker, cleaning expert/author of Clean My Space: The Secret to Cleaning Better, Faster, and Loving Your Home Every Day states “High-performance fabric is not designed to handle hot water, so it will often weaken many of the nylon or latex fibers, “ she says. “Lukewarm is max. Any hotter than that, you run the risk of ruining your clothing.”
KEEP LIKE FABRICS TOGETHER
This is less about smell, and more about maintaining your athletic wear. Most athletic gear has some stretch and give, so avoid heavy fabrics like denim as that will beat up tech wear fabric. Also avoid mingling your gear with lint-laden items like towels, fleece, sweatshirts, etc.
CHOOSE A BAMBOO BLEND FABRIC
Choose clothing made with a blend of bamboo fabric. Bamboo is antibacterial & anti-fungal because it possesses an anti-bacteria and bacteriostatic bio-agent called “Bamboo Kun” (seriously). Not only does this mean the plant flourishes without pesticides, that quality remains in its textile form, killing all bacteria keeping you feeling fresher/odor free longer. My all-time favorite brand is Raw Threads. The vast majority of their offerings are a blend of bamboo and organic cotton. And, their designs are FUN, and functional for athletic life.
IF THAT SMELL NOW RESIDES IN YOUR RUNNING CLOTHES
You likely have some running clothes that have a smell to eliminate. The best thing to do is to prevent them from following the tips above. But, hey! You are reading this now, so like me, you have some clothes that need some TLC.
To address the build-up (from excess detergent and fabric softener, hamper bound clothes, etc.), do the following:
Wash the clothes with a half dose of detergent, but add a half-cup to full cup of white vinegar (size of load dictates) to the RINSE cycle. The vinegar helps to eliminate odor, plus break down detergent build-up. Pour the vinegar in the cup/reservoir for fabric softener. The vinegar not only helps rid of odor/build-up, it acts as a natural softener to your clothes.
Another option is to soak your clothes for 15-30 minutes in white vinegar (half to full cup) and cold water prior to throwing them in the washing machine.
Bonus Pro Tips for Other Running Gear
Cleaning your EAR BUDS, especially those like the Apple EarPods. Rubbing alcohol! The simplest way are the alcohol prep pads. Keep a few in your runner’s gym bag, and clean them when needed. Or, just use a paper towel or cotton swab damp (not soaked) with rubbing alcohol.
Cleaning your SMARTPHONE: use those same prep pads to clean your smartphone, too! The Apple website states that 70% isopropyl alcohol wipe or any disinfecting wipe (like Clorox) to clean your phone. It specifically states to NOT use bleach, so don’t use cleaning products with bleach. Also avoid getting moisture in any openings.