There are rules to keeping your pricey, technical fabric workout gear clean and odour free without damaging it. I used to simply dump my family’s sweat infused gear into the wash the way I would normal cotton clothing. Over time, a faint funky odour would develop which became increasingly pronounced. I was also ignoring all care instruction for the high-performance synthetic fabrics that most workout gear is made from these days. This resulted in damage to the fabric, a loss of elasticity, and the gradual development of a faint smell of mildew and old sweat. Blech! I’ve since learned that this can be totally avoided if you follow these 5 simple rules that I now swear by to wash workout gear and keep it free of funk!
DAMP IS BAD
Do not leave your sweaty workout gear languishing in the laundry basket. Rather, if you’re not going to wash it immediately, hang it out to dry completely before tossing it into the laundry. The odour-releasing bacteria that give off that unpleasant whiff of mildew thrive in a nice damp environment. The longer you leave them in the basket, the more time they have to grow, and the more odours they produce. Over time, it will become a “permastink” if not treated properly.
CHECK YOUR LABELS AND WASH CYCLE TEMPERATURE
To avoid damaging the delicate synthetic fabric of your workout gear, specific care instructions are provided on the labels. This will include the temperature you should wash your gear at, usually no more than a tepid 30˚C. Do NOT wash your workout gear in hot water. It can weaken the nylon and latex fibers and damage your gear.
I recently invested in a new washing machine. One of the most valuable features for me is that it has a specific “Sportswear” wash cycle. It’s a much shorter less vigorous cycle than the “standard” cycle for cottons. If your washing machine has one of these settings or cycles, use it for your workout gear.
USE THE RIGHT DETERGENT
Normal laundry detergent is not effective in the removal of the bacteria causing funk in your workout gear. Simply adding more won’t do the trick either. In fact, it will just contribute to a build-up of more residue in the fabric, trapping and feeding the bacteria causing the unpleasant odour.
These days, there are sports detergents available that have been specifically formulated to safely strip away the oils and bacteria, and remove sweat stains, that build up in sports gear. It’s not just a sales gimmick. My detergent of choice is the ASSOS Active Wear Cleanser which I purchase at my local cycle shop. Essentially, it’s an antibacterial treatment that’s formulated to clean your workout gear, keep the colour vibrant, and to maintain the elasticity of the fabric. Important to me is that it’s PH-neutral and skin-friendly.
You should be able to find it at most cycling stores or online from Chris Willemse Cycles here. (R550 for 1L or R315 for 300ml) It’s pricey but works, so it’s worth it when you consider your investment in sports kit.
Alternatively, you can try Wintergreen Protect Activewear Pre-Wash Soak, available at certain Sportsmans Warehouse stores for R99. (Available at these stores.) Recommended by cyclists, this is an Antimicrobial which kills the odour causing bacteria embedded in the fabric, even in cold water. It promises to leave your kit truly odour-free. (Find a brochure for Protect products here if you’re interested.)
Alternatively, you can use this homemade pre-wash soak once a week to keep the odour producing bacteria at bay.
Step 1: Combine 1 cup of white vinegar with 2 teaspoons of baking soda in a tub of water. You can also add 2 teaspoons of 3% hydrogen peroxide to the solution if you have it but be careful and make sure not to use full strength. (Check out the wonders hydrogen peroxide can do for your washing here.)
Step 2: Soak your workout gear in this solution for an hour. The vinegar will help to break down product buildup and neutralise the bacteria that’s causing the smells.
Step 3: Pop your gear into the washing machine (don’t ignore the care instructions making sure the temperature is right). Use half of your normal amount of detergent and add 1 cup of white vinegar and 2 tablespoons of baking soda to the detergent dispenser.
NEVER USE FABRIC SOFTENER, EVER!
Yes, while fabric softener makes your sheets and towels smell deliciously fresh and smelling of summer meadows, it is not meant for use on the technical fabrics used in high-performance workout gear. These days we invest in expensive workout clothing for its ability to breathe, wick and keep us cool. Fabric softener effectively clogs the material up so that it no longer wicks moisture. This means it won’t perform the same and it will allow those nasty bacteria and odours to build up. Instead, use the vinegar-based homemade pre-wash soak solution above.
NEVER TUMBLE DRY YOUR WORKOUT GEAR
Shrinkage factor aside, tumble dryers damage the synthetic fibres in performance sports clothes, especially when used at higher temperatures. They also heat up any residue bacteria which can result in your clothes smelling like they did before you washed them. Hang your sports clothes outside to dry. The fabrics are quick dry after all!
A final word of advice, wash and dry your clothing inside out. It helps the detergent and sunlight get to the smelliest bits while helping to protect the colour.
I’ve been following these rules for washing workout gear for a couple of years now. Not only is my gear lasting longer, but I am finally free of the funk.