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illustration of woman wearing a tank top and graphical representations of how to de-stink athletic apparel

We all sweat — some more than others, some less, and some on a spectrum of fragrance depending on age, environment, and lifestyle.

While different cultures have varying expectations around body odor, you (or your workout buddy) will most likely be the best judge of what’s tolerable. And if your own scent has veered into funky territory — especially propelled by the summer heat — trying to remove that lasting smell from your fitness gear can be frustrating.

Commercial detergents can irritate the skin and senses, often just masking odor, while their harsh chemicals can pollute our waterways. Instead, try these ideas to minimize and prevent pungent aromas in gym clothes.

1. Go for natural fabrics.

Sweat-wicking, antimicrobial clothing, which often uses a blend of Lycra and polyester, does indeed pull sweat away from the body — but it holds on to the oils and bacteria that cause odor. Choose natural fabrics like cotton or wool whenever possible. (Learn more about antimicrobial sportswear at “Why Anti-Odor Clothes Stink“.)

2. Act quickly and air it out.

Malodorous microbes thrive in moist settings, so remove your clothes and shoes from your gym bag as soon as possible. Hang to dry in your laundry room or outside until it’s time to wash.

3. Use the sun.

Take advantage of the season’s bright days to harness the power of the sun’s ultraviolet light to kill bacteria. Lay clothing on a flat vented surface or drape over a clothesline outdoors.

4. Try vinegar.

With its natural antimicrobial qualities, vinegar is our go-to odor neutralizer. Turn foul garments inside out and soak in a solution of 1 cup distilled white vinegar to 4 cups cold water for 10 minutes prior to washing. Place clothes in the washing machine and launder as usual.

5. Investigate the source.

Hormones, stress, food, and more can affect our body odor. Integrative-medicine physician Tiffany Lester, MD, suggests promoting a more pleasant aroma by eating plant-based whole foods, drinking liquid chlorophyll (which works like an internal deodorant), and replenishing the skin microbiome. (See “ASK THE DOCTOR: What Your Body Odor Is Trying to Tell You” to learn more.)

Don’t Sweat It

Get answers to common questions about perspiration at “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sweat“.

This article originally appeared as “De-Stink Your Sweats” in the July/August 2021 issue of Experience Life.

Icons by: Jenny Jacobson
Profile picture of Courtney Lewis Opdahl
Courtney Lewis Opdahl

Courtney Lewis Opdahl is Experience Life’s managing editor and a member of the Inclusion Council at Life Time.

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  1. The best way that I’ve found to eliminate odor from technical apparel is to use Stink Free by 2 Tom’s, Nathans Power Wash or Nathan’s Power Wash Sport. These detergents are designed to remove the perspiration that gets stuck between the layers of fabric softener and color brighteners (found in industrial detergents & where the odor builds) that clog the moisture channels designed to wick sweat and keep the apparel dry. It’s why the apparel not only stinks, but gets saturated with sweat after intense workouts within a few months. The detergents restore technical apparel to the original capability, eliminates odor, and saves money by prolonging the garment’s life.

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