How to Clean Your Workout Clothes Like a Pro

Pssst! You on the treadmill—you stink! We chatted with the folks over at Philly's Wash Cycle Laundry to find out how to get the stink out of gym clothes.



We’ve all been there—or at least, our noses have. You walk by someone at the gym or jog by them on the Schuylkill Trail, and a distinct, pungent aroma of B.O. smacks you in the face. You can’t help but crinkle your nose. It’s just foul.

But the fact of the matter is this: If there’s one place a person is going to stink, it’s the gym. After all, this is when you’re actually encouraging your sweat glands to work overtime. And while I know sweat is actually a good thing because it’s the body’s cooling system, and a super sweaty person means their cooling system is working efficiently, blah, blah, blah—it doesn’t change the fact that sweat stinks. Period.

I’m not too ashamed to admit that I’ve thrown away a good number of T-shirts over the years when I realize they’re past their prime. You know what I mean—you’ve sweat in them enough times that no amount of washing will get the stench or stains out. But what are you supposed to do before you get to that point? What’s the best way to keep your gym clothes stain-and-stench-free for the long haul?

For this, I consulted the laundry gurus over at Wash Cycle Laundry, the same folks Philly Mag saw fit to bestow with a Best of Philly award this year. Why? Because these guys—who, by the way, will pick up your dirty laundry, wash it with eco-friendly products, and return it to you via bike delivery the very next day—know their stuff.

What You’re Up Against: The Stain War

When it comes to gym clothes, says owner Gabriel Mandujano, you’re doing battle on a couple of fronts: there’s sweat, of course, but also residue from cosmetic products, like deodorant, makeup and lotions. Every time you sweat, all the stuff you’ve slathered on your body comes off with it—and those chemicals get embedded in your clothing fibers. Plus, the dirt, smells and germs from the equipment you touch at the gym—mats, free weights, treadmills—make their way on to your clothes, too. Ick.

Mandujano says the key to getting it all out is cleaning your clothes before they dry: “Drying causes the stain to sink in,” he says. And if you throw your sweat-soaked clothes in those little plastic bags provided by your gym and leave them in there over night or, um, for a week (guilty), you’re opening a Pandora’s box of laundering headaches. “If wet clothes don’t have good ventilation, it increases the chance that mildew will grow. Mildew is one of the worst kinds of stains. It’s like a tree—it has roots,” Mandujano says. “It gets into the fibers of the clothing and is just about impossible to get rid of.”

Besides mildew, the hardest stains to get out of gym clothes are those left by makeup. Beauty products like foundation and mascara are meant to be water resistant, which makes them extra stubborn. But as with any stain, pretreating is usually a good bet. While products like Shout and Spray ‘N Wash will work (just check your garment’s care instructions to make sure they aren’t too strong), regular laundry detergent will do the trick, too, says Mandujano. Put a few drops on the stain, rub the detergent in, and toss it in the wash with the regular amount of laundry for the load. Done.

Which Detergent Is Best?

Mandujano says the biggest difference in whether detergents “work” or not is how diluted they are is. Price isn’t always the perfect indicator (a.k.a. the cheapest isn’t always the most diluted), but it can provide a good gauge. Tide, he says, has the reputation for being the best of the big brands, but he’s a proponent of going the natural-detergent route: “Especially when we’re talking about gym clothes, we’re talking about people sweating in their clothes. And if you’re sweating in it, you’re absorbing the detergent it was washed in back into your skin. You don’t want something toxic right next to your skin.”

Wash Cycle Laundry uses a brand called Sun & Earth (which is also headquartered right here in KOP—hollaaaaa), but stores like Whole Foods and even Target carry other natural brands, such as Seventh Generation.

If you have a tough stain, Mandujano says it’s okay to break out the big guns: bleach. He recommends going for a powdered oxygen-based bleach (rather than chlorine) because it’s color-safe and non-toxic, which means it’s better for the environment and for you.

Fabric Facts

Okay, but what about fabric considerations? Should tech fabrics, like ones that wick, be treated differently than plain old cotton? It’s true—not all fabrics are created equal. Cotton’s hard to mess up, so you can wash it on hot and throw it in the dryer, and it’ll be just fine. But things get trickier with tech fabrics, which Mandujano says are usually plastic-based, meaning they don’t hold up as well in heat. The best bet with those is to wash on warm or cold in a gentle cycle (or hand-wash) and hang to dry. When in doubt, follow the care instructions on the label.

“The life of a fabric is really measured in number of washes rather than number of years,” he says. So the easier you are on any fabric—and the less you mangle it in the wash—the longer it will last.

And, shoot, when I’m paying $98 for a pair of yoga pants, it had better last.

>> What tricks and tips do you have for getting bad smells and stains out of clothes? Any home remedies that work? Share in the comments!

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