Activewear technology is a beautiful thing. Sweat-wicking fabrics keep us feeling fresher than ever, so we don't have to sit in our own sweat; moisture is drawn out to the surface of the fabric, where it can evaporate, leaving us feeling cool and dry sometimes mere minutes after a sweaty hot yoga or cycling session. But the operative word here is moisture, not bacteria. You might feel dry, but it doesn't mean you're clean. Even if the fabric in your pants or activewear is antimicrobial, you need to make sure you're washing your clothes after every single workout.
Here's what happens: you work out in your favorite yoga pants. The pants dry quickly, and you forget about the sweatiness as you head to brunch or lunch, and then go on with the rest of your day. These pants are slimming and athleisure is trendy and acceptable outside of the gym, so you keep 'em on. After all, you feel fine! You strip down at the end of the day, and fold the pants back up, because they feel dry and you're just going to sweat in them again anyway . . . right?
The next time you wear them, though, your neighbors are in for a surprise. You might not notice, but the heat and sweat will reactivate the dormant bacteria, causing a particularly foul stench that may be undetectable to you as the wearer. There's a reason gyms and boutique studios (SoulCycle, for instance) have rules about laundry and fresh clothes — people don't realize that their clothes are smelling, and it can create an entirely unpleasant experience for nearby classmates.
Then there's another factor: you are washing your clothes, but the smell won't budge. What's up with that? Did you leave them unwashed for too long? Is your detergent working? In some unfortunate cases, there can be a rebloom of odors that don't come out in the wash. Delightful.
So what can you do? HOW CAN WE SMELL CLEAN AGAIN!? There are simple ways to effectively prevent and combat odor, stay clean, and feel fresh for every workout. Here's what we'd suggest (heads-up: get used to doing more laundry!).
- Strip down immediately. Especially if they're really sweaty! This is also important for your skin, as trapping that sweat and bacteria against your skin can cause breakouts, or worse: yeast infections. As alluring as it can be to wear your supercute yoga pants to grab avocado toast with your best friends, we'd suggest packing a fresh pair to change into. It's totally OK if it's another pair of yoga pants. We won't tell. We've even heard of some gym-goers and trainers wearing their clothes into the shower and rinsing them out immediately before changing into fresh clothes.
- Don't leave them in plastic bags for too long. Trapping the moisture is the definition of a bad idea in this case. Don't forget about your damp, sweaty clothes trapped in a plastic laundry bag; if you do, you're in for a really smelly wake up — sometimes even mold.
- Wash ASAP, wash often. We're not going to run a load of laundry every single day, but try to wash your clothes as soon as possible to get all the icky stuff out. You definitely don't want to wait weeks before doing laundry, even if you still have clothes to wear! Personally, I run one to two activewear laundry loads each week. If you don't want to run a full load, but have a few things you need to wash, try hand washing in your sink or bathtub and hang to dry.
- If you have to wait to wash, air dry. Extra sweaty clothes? Don't just throw them in the hamper — your laundry basket will become a bacteria breeding ground (and will smell terrible . . . noticing a theme here?). Air dry before tossing them in with the rest of the laundry.
- Use a sports detergent. Certain detergents specifically fight odors from sweat; you can find sports-specific detergents at your local Target or grocery store, or opt for a specialty brand online, like HEX. Although the goal is not to mask the odor, you can still add a touch of freshness to your laundry with fragrance pellets like Downy Unstoppables.
- Freeze 'em! I first heard of this concept for cleaning jeans, and it's been applied to activewear, too. Put your clothes in a plastic bag in the freezer to kill the bacteria (typically overnight), then thaw and wash immediately. This can help fight odor quickly before you add detergent into the mix.