Let’s face it. Running clothes get stinky. Yes, ladies, even our running clothes get stinky. Yuck. I’ve seen lots of discussion online about stinky running clothes and a general sense of horror at the level of stinkiness some clothes can achieve. These discussions inspired me to share my strategy for keeping clothes smelling fresh. It’s simple.
First, a little primer on why running clothes stink – and why they maintain their smell even after washing. When we sweat, we not only sweat out water, but salts, oils, fats, and other organic compounds. We also sweat off whatever it was that was on our skin to begin with, including lotion, deodorant, and the like. While the water part of sweat, and most of the salts, are easily washed out, the other compounds can cling. Ew. Fabrics have pores and the pores in fabric, just like pores anywhere else, get clogged up with these yucky bits. When the yucky bits begin to break down, they stink. The clogged pores also capture more junk, compounding the problem and the smell.
Immediately after wearing, and stinking up, running clothes, either wash them or hang them to dry out. It is critical to long-term smell to not let the clothes mildew or sit around sweaty. I keep two cheap plastic hampers in my basement near my washing machine to use as dirty clothes drying racks. I hang the wet clothes around the edges of the hamper. Then, when they have dried, I just push the clothes into the hamper to await their turn to be washed. If you’re tight on space, try a cheap round hamper on top of the washer. Even less space, hang them outside, or off the shower rod for a few hours. The drier your clothes can be pre-wash, the better off you’ll be.
Synthetic, wicking, fabrics are fantastic. But, the same thing that makes them wick makes them stink. The little pores that transport moisture away from the skin are also likely to get clogged. When the pores clog, the clothes stink. To wash, and successfully de-stink your synthetic fabrics, you need two things. First, you need a powder-baed laundry enhancer. I like Oxy Clean, but I’ve had equally good results with Borax. Next, you’ll want a laundry detergent that’s up to the task. The best laundry detergent for synthetic workout clothes is Win High Performance Sports Detergent.
I love this stuff! It has a special ratio of cleaning agents to work best on synthetic fabrics and a nice smell (and it’s HE safe for you people with fancier washing machines than I). It’s a little expensive, so I alternate between my usual Cold Water Tide and Win. Wash your clothes in warm or hot water (personal preference, I use warm) with the amount of powder and detergent required for your load size. For best results, use more water than you think you need. This strategy will ensure that the clothes have sufficient room to move around, swishing the water through the pores. What if you have one of those fancy new load sensing washers, you ask. Trick the machine into adding extra water by using the add clothes feature or by adding water manually. Once your clothes are clean and fresh, air dry or dry in a very hot dryer. I air dry to make up for all the extra water I use. One important note – never, ever use fabric softener of any kind (including dryer sheets) with synthetic fabrics. Fabric softener clogs the pores and will trap stink in the fabric. What if you already used the softener (gasp)? That’s ok. Follow the instructions for cotton, below, then wash with Win and hot water to remove any reside. Your fabrics will be fine once you remove the softener from the pores.
My running husband still runs in cotton t shirts (I know!) and I can tell you it’s much harder to de-stink cotton, but it can be done. I find that drying them completely before washing helps. I routinely wash my husband’s cotton shirts in warm water and Tide (Cold Water, or the kind with color-safe bleach) with Oxy Clean and dry them in a very hot dryer. Once a month or so, I perform a de-stinking procedure on the worst offenders. To de-stink cotton, you only need regular, household vinegar. Get yourself a gallon jug of vinegar and, for each full load of stinky stuff, add approximately two cups of vinegar to a “soak” cycle. If your machine doesn’t have soak, let it fill and run though half of a wash cycle with the vinegar, then drain it. After draining the vinegar water, wash the clothes in warm or hot water (personal preference) with a powder-based laundry additive and detergent of your choice. Win is safe for cotton, and works well. I also like ordinary Tide. As with synthetics, stay away from fabric softeners, and even the Tide with Febreze in it. Dry the clothes in a very hot dryer.
There you have it – my tips to stay smelling fresh, even if it’s just at the start of your runs.