Tips For Washing Smelly Athletic Clothes

If you’re anything like us, you get out there biking, running, hiking, hitting the gym, and doing all sorts of athletic activities on a regular basis. Inevitably, your hard-worn athletic clothes will begin to smell funky and unclean, even right after washing them. What gives?! There are specially formulated sports detergents as well as natural methods with stuff you likely already have in your cabinets that can help to make your clothes smell fresh again. If one doesn’t do the trick, try another to see what’s best. If none of these methods work for you, we’re sorry for anyone that goes biking with you. 🙂  All jokes aside, you may have to try a few different methods or repeat the steps more than once to find what works for your clothes.

When you’re doing your normal wash, here are our favorite deodorizing techniques to get your stinky athletic clothing to smell fresh again.

  1. Baking soda – Adding baking soda to the wash, along with your detergent, is a great natural way to freshen up your clothes. Baking soda is a natural deodorizer and most people have a box of baking soda in their cabinet already. All you need to do is add a cup of baking soda in the washer with your clothes alongside the normal amount of detergent. Your clothes should come out of the wash bacteria and smell free! If they don’t, try one of the below methods.

  2. Distilled white vinegar – Another natural method is to do a pre-soak wash with distilled white vinegar. Simply add a cup of white vinegar to your washing machine with your clothes and set your washer on a pre-wash or delicate cycle with cold water. When that’s completed, you’ll still need to wash your clothes as you normally would with warm water and detergent.

    If this doesn’t cut it, one other method with vinegar is grab a bucket and soak your gym clothes in one part white distilled vinegar and four parts cold water for 30 minutes or so before washing. After soaking, ring out the clothes and wash as you normally would.

  3. Athletic detergents – There are quite a few different brands of athletic or sport detergent that are specially formulated to deal with synthetic performance fabrics. Brands include Nathan Sport-Wash, Win Green, Hex Performance Laundry Detergent, Sport Suds, Sweat X Sport Laundry Detergent, and many others. These are specially formulated to remove the oils and bacteria that build up on your athletic clothes. Make sure you select a brand that is free from scents, dyes, or other chemicals, depending on your preferences or sensitivities.

    Tips For Washing Smelly Athletic Clothes - Stack of Athletic Laundry

    We prefer the natural methods of baking soda and/or vinegar, as we almost always already have those lying around the house. If you need to go big, you can try the vinegar/water bucket pre-soak and then add the baking soda to your wash afterwards. It’s all about testing what works for you.


    Want to try making your own laundry detergent? Click here to see our favorite homemade laundry detergent recipe that is free of fragrance and dyes.

    At this point, you may be wondering why your athletic clothes are so smelly in the first place. The odor in your workout clothes is caused by a buildup of bacteria, body oils, and sweat from your body. The bacteria builds up in the pores of the synthetic fabric and the very nature of what makes your workout clothes perform well (the ability to push sweat out of the fabric rather than retaining it and dry quickly) makes it difficult for the detergent to penetrate the grooves of the fabric during the regular wash cycle.

    Here are some tips to help keep your bike clothes as odor-free as possible:

    • Let your sweaty clothes air out after wearing. Try to avoid stuffing them into a plastic bag or backpack for hours. Bacteria thrive in dark places, so by airing your clothes out, you’ll help reduce the growth of mold and mildew.

    • Change your clothes right after working out. If possible, don’t hang out in your sweaty gym clothes for a long time afterwards, as sweat and bacteria can be trapped in the fibers, which can clog your pores and cause acne or bacterial infection.

    • Wash your clothes inside out as the sweat and oil buildup on the inside of the clothes, where your body comes into contact with them.

    • Don’t overstuff your washing machine. While it’s tempting to do it all in one load, a stuffed washer won’t get things as clean as everything will just be crammed together in one big ball of clothes and not get the proper amount of detergent, water, and agitation it needs to be cleaned properly.

    • Don’t use more than the recommended amount of detergent. More is not better, in this case. This could make it harder for your clothes to rinse clean and leave behind detergent in the fabric, which will just harbor odors and bacteria. Your washer is designed to run a specific cycle with a specific amount of detergent.

    • Do the “sniff test” before putting items into the dryer. Make sure things smell clean before putting them into the dryer because you don’t want to “bake” in the smells. If needed, just let still-smelly items air dry and wash them again later.

    • Wash clothes right after working out to limit the growth of bacteria.

    • If you can’t wash your clothes right away, you can seal them in a plastic bag and stick them in the freezer. The cold air prevents the bacteria from growing. Depending on how much you work out, who you live with, or how much freezer space you have, this might not be the best solution.

    • Skip the fabric softener. This can clog the pores of your fabric, trapping in odors, or prevent detergent from cleaning the garment properly. Fabric softener can also block the moisture wicking properties of your clothing and break down stretchy fabrics like spandex, so your best bet is to just avoid it.

    • Let your performance apparel hang dry. Lots of machine drying can cause your athletic apparel to wear down more quickly so air drying is another solid option to keep your garments looking good for longer. Plus, you’ll save on your electric bill.

    • Squeeze in lemon juice (from one large lemon) during the wash process. The acid in the lemon will break down the oils in the material, similar to how the baking soda works, leaving your clothes bacteria free.

    If you’re looking to refresh your athletic apparel, lucky for you, we offer a complete line of women’s specific mountain bike apparel that’s comfortable, moisture-wicking, and durable. Check out the apparel here.


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