Five months ago, I finally put my money where my mouth is and got myself back into the gym. Until recently – humble brag – I’d managed to squeeze in four high-intensity, bootcamp-style workouts a week. As you can imagine, I have been washing a lot of sweaty athleticwear. But here’s the surprising thing. Last week, while typing away on my laptop, it wasn’t actually workout gear that had me sheepishly sniffing a whiff of my clothes. It was a bamboo tank top fresh off a hanger in my closet. What gives?
You sweat a lot. Even when you’re not exercising.
The average person is thought to perspire up to three litres per day from two-to-four million eccrine sweat glands. (When exercising, it’s 0.5-to-two litres per hour.) Factors like age, health, DNA, gender, BMI, climate, weather, stress and anxiety can send your body into a sweaty overdrive.
What makes a shirt smell when it’s sweated on?
Sweat itself does not smell. Rather, according to Healthline.com, “the smell is an interaction between bacteria and secretions of your apocrine gland.”
The intensity of body sweat odor can depend on the material your clothes are made of. Synthetics for example, can promote a higher concentration of microbial growth than textiles like cotton and wool.
I wash my workout gear with frequency – because the issue of sweat is obvious – but when we consider how much a body perspires even while sitting still, we may realize that our wardrobe absorbs a lot of body sweat.
What’s more, we may decide not to wash a garment because it is not obviously soiled.
When sweat is unwittingly left to linger in the fibres of clothing, bacteria becomes deep-set, building up an odor over time. The problem compounds when an item sits for days in a laundry hamper before being washed. Mildew thrives in warm, moist environments, further adding to the funk.
As such, you can slip on an otherwise clean pair of leggings or a top and get a strong whiff of odor. Other times, a musty funk shows up after an hour or so of wearing a garment – that’s your current sweat interacting with latent bacteria.
Circling back to the moment I’m hit by the underarm odor of my bamboo blend tank top, I realize it’s something I wore often throughout my last pregnancy and during the post-partum period. I’d gained nearly 50 lbs thanks to carrying twins and they were born in summer, so it was certainly a time in life when I was perspiring more than usual.
Tips for preventing sweat odor on clothing
Preventing clothing from developing an odor is easier than attempting to rid deep-set funk.
- Wash workout gear sooner than later. If you’re waiting for a full load, rinse gear in the shower post-work out and hang-dry.
- If you’re not ready to wash an item right away, spot-wash the sweatiest parts and allow to hang-dry.
- Do not re-wear sweaty athletic gear; wash after use.
- Never put a moist item of clothing in the hamper.
- Shower more frequently.
- Wash clothing more frequently using a small load wash setting.
- Use an effective laundry detergent.
- Wear an undershirt.
- Wear clothing made from natural fibre textiles.
- Wash sweaty clothing inside-out.
How to wash and treat clothing that smells of sweat and body odor
First, inspect the garment care label. Fussy fabrics and dry clean-only items should be treated alternately.
Second, if the odor is coming from the underarm area of a shirt, look to see if there is any deodorant residue that should be removed first. If so, use a toothbrush or soft bristle brush to remove debris.
Next, use baking soda or vinegar to pre-treat, which will help neutralize the odor.
Soak the item for at least 30 minutes in a sink or basin using a blend of one part distilled white vinegar and four parts cold water. Rinse and wash the item on its typical wash setting using a Tru Earth laundry detergent eco-strip.
Alternatively, you can add 60 ml of white vinegar to the rinse cycle of the wash.
Otherwise, try adding half a cup of baking soda to the wash cycle.
Hang-dry and perform a sniff test. If the odor persists, place the item(s) in a basin, sink or bucket. Add two cups of baking soda and just enough tepid-warm water to cover the garment. Soak for an entire day and then wash as normal with a Tru Earth laundry detergent eco-strip.
Does hot water kill odor-causing bacteria?
It can, but not all clothing holds up to hot water wash cycles. In fact, most synthetics (like the technical materials athleticwear is often made of) should be laundered at warm or cool temperatures. Always refer to the garment care label.