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Here’s the Right Way to Wash Workout Clothes and Keep Them Fresh

Woman sitting, leaning against a wall, in workout wear taking a break after running.
Alena Ozerova/Shutterstock

Workout clothes get gross fast! You put them on when they’re fresh and clean, but one grueling workout later, and they already have an odor that just won’t go away. Here’s how to get and keep them smelling fresh.

Since you’re wearing these items while you’re soaked in sweat, it’s easy to assume they need to be thoroughly washed—and they do. But the truth is, exercise gear needs a little extra love and care during laundry time. There’s a way to wash your workout clothes that goes beyond simply tossing them in with your casual wear.

Most of your gym clothes are made of materials like Lycra, spandex, or polyester, all of which needs to be washed differently than a material like cotton. These clothes also hold onto more than just sweat. Your body sheds bacteria and dead skin cells as you move, so your workout clothes are exactly as gross as you think they are!

If you just throw your workout clothes in with your regular, everyday washing, you might find they don’t last very long. You might also notice all the stink and grime isn’t removed.

Here are a few tips to wash your workout clothes the right way.

Let Clothes Air-Dry Immediately After Use

When you’re done with your workout and dripping in sweat, you might peel off your clothes and drop them in a sweaty heap to deal with later. This is the wrong move. As you can probably imagine, a pile of warm, damp clothing doesn’t only smell bad, but it breeds more bacteria and allows it to linger.

Hang them somewhere where they can air-dry, instead. Outside in the fresh air and breeze would be ideal, as it helps remove some of the odor, making it easier for you to remove the rest later. If that’s not possible, though, letting them air-dry anywhere is definitely the better option. Throw them over the shower curtain rod, the banister, any hard surface.

Avoid Fabric Softener

Fabric softener makes your clothes feel softer. However, it does this by leaving a waxy residue on your clothing to make them feel softer and look cleaner. The problem is this waxy residue doesn’t mesh with stretchy, moisture-wicking fabrics.

The coating that makes clothes seem cleaner actually blocks water and detergent from fully penetrating the fibers. Your workout clothes aren’t getting cleaner because the water and detergent can’t really get in there, so they might emerge from the wash still smelly and full of bacteria.

This is exactly the same reason fabric softener messes up your towels. Just avoid fabric softener whenever you’re washing your gym clothes.

Soak Them in White Vinegar First

White vinegar is a miracle ingredient that takes the stink and grime out of basically anything, including your workout clothes. When they’re particularly smelly and dirty, you can use white vinegar to remove the odor and make washing more effective.

Before you wash your clothes, soak them in a mixture of cold water and about half a cup of white vinegar for 15 to 30 minutes. It helps get rid of the smell and also starts to break down all the gross buildup.

If you don’t have time to soak the clothes in white vinegar, just throw some in the wash along with your detergent.

Turn Your Clothes Inside Out

Woman loading clothing in the washing machine while talking to her child.

Your workout clothes smell because you generally sweat more while wearing them. The scent comes from odor-causing bacteria from sweat and dead skin cells. These rub off of you and onto the inside of the clothing.

That’s why it just makes sense to turn your clothes inside out before throwing them in the washing machine. The inside of the clothes needs to be washed more than the outside. Turning them inside out allows the water and detergent to really penetrate the dirty parts a lot better. It also prevents zipper pulls and other abrasive elements from rubbing against and damaging other clothing.

Wash Them in Cold Water

Gym clothes are usually made of elastic materials that don’t play nicely with high heat. Heat can actually make the smell worse and break down the fibers and materials as it washes.

Wash your workout clothes in cold water to prevent the odor from getting worse. Also avoid the dryer. If you have to throw them in there, use a low- or no-heat setting.

Don’t Use Extra Detergent

When your clothes are really stinky and sweaty, you probably think it makes sense to add extra detergent, as it’ll remove the scent even more, right? Not so much.

Using too much detergent doesn’t get clothes any cleaner. Instead, it leaves behind a buildup of soap residue. Much like fabric softener, this leaves behind a film that traps odors in clothing after it comes out of the machine.

If you’ve noticed your workout clothes still smell when they come out of the washing machine, too much detergent could be the culprit.

Use a Sports Detergent

Do you absolutely have to buy a separate detergent for your workout clothes? No, but it certainly helps. Sports detergents are made with sweaty odor problems in mind, so they work a little bit better.

If you use a sports detergent, you don’t need anything extra, like white vinegar. We recommend HEX Performance. Tons of people with stinky sports gear (like football coaches and hockey players) swear by it.

Air-Dry When Possible

Again, you really want to avoid high heat with your workout clothes, especially when drying them. The dryer can easily damage or shrink your clothes, so your best bet is to air-dry them outside or ins in a well-ventilated area.

Jessica Booth Jessica Booth
Jessica Booth is a freelance writer for LifeSavvy. She has been working in the editorial world as a freelance writer for over two years and previously worked as an editor for over eight years.  Jessica writes about travel, beauty, wellness, health, food, home decor, and parenting, and has reviewed and tested out products for all of those verticals over the course of her career. Read Full Bio »
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