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gym clothes


What's That Smell?

by Geoff Rand

Several months ago I caught a nasty whiff of something foul before the WOD at the Box.  It sort of smelled like a wet dishrag left inside a plastic bag in a dark cabinet for a month.  I changed positions to get away from it and it followed me.  I quickly determined the source was my polyester moisture wicking shirt.  I apologize to anyone who came in contact with me that day.

After the WOD I rushed home and changed.  I checked several other clean, recently laundered polyester shirts and they had a similar odor.  I started to gather up all my Under Armour and similar shirts to throw them into a bonfire, but I quickly realized this would amount to nearly every undershirt and workout shirt I own.

I wear Under Armour every day.  For anyone who wears body armor, you know what a lifesaver wicking shirts can be.  They aren’t perfect, but they're 100 times better than cotton shirts.  I wasn’t about to ditch my UA shirts, so I had to figure out the source of the problem.

Pinterest, of all places, yielded the answer.  Hey, there’s some good stuff on there.  Don’t judge.  I also found 62 plans for furniture I could make using recycled pallets, at least 29 Paleo pancake recipes, and a way to lose 22 pounds in 2 weeks with some sort of lemon diet.

Apparently, the fatty oil secretions in our sweat get trapped easily in synthetic fabrics, and bacteria feast on it.  Their waste is the odor we smell.  Normal washing methods and detergents have a tough time getting the oil and bacteria out.

If you suspect the WOD is following you home from the Box, here’s what you need to do.

First, to be completely sure you get rid of the odors, you need to start with your washing machine.  Buy commercially made washing machine cleaner tablets like those made by OxyClean or Affresh and follow the manufacturer's directions to disinfect your machine.  I found the Affresh tablets worked well.

You can also use a homemade mixture of ¼ cup baking soda and ¼ cup water, putting that mixture in the dispensing cup and 2 cups of white vinegar into the drum.  You then run the cycle on high heat.  You may need an additional rinse cycle to get the vinegar smell out.  Alternatively, you can fill the dispenser with bleach and run the cycle as described.  Whatever your method, clean your washing machine once a month.  Safety tip:  Never mix bleach and vinegar unless your goal is to make chlorine gas.

The reason your washing machine may stink, especially if it is a high efficiency front load machine, is that it is designed to run using less water than conventional machines and is made to use special high efficiency detergents where you are also using less soap than you would with a normal machine.  The problem starts when we use the wrong soap or use too much soap.  Since there is less water in the machine, the extra detergent doesn’t rinse thoroughly and this leaves a residue inside that becomes a breeding ground for bacteria, only made worse when you are washing sweaty synthetics in it.  Not leaving the door open to dry the inside also feeds into the musty smell.  Hard water can also contribute to odors forming. 

With the washing machine clean, you can now wash your clothes.  There are several detergents on the market made specifically to combat odors in synthetic fabrics.  Sport Wash, Hex, Win, and Sport Suds are a few.  I tried Sport Wash and liked that it didn’t really have a detergent smell, just a fresh, clean scent.  Per Pinterest’s suggestion, I teamed it up with a scoop of Twenty Mule Team Borax, a detergent booster, to really hammer the odors.  I ordered the Sport Wash and Borax from Amazon.  I know I've seen Hex and a few other sports clothes detergents at Wegmans.  Hex also has a gear wash and gear spray where reviewers state it gets the odors out of protective lacrosse and hockey gear, which I know can develop some really bad smells.  It might be something to check out for items that don't normally go in the wash.

It is also recommended that you don’t use fabric softener or dryer sheets with synthetic fabrics because the softener decreases the effectiveness of the wicking material and can help hold bacteria in.

Another method to kill odors is to hang your synthetics on a clothesline to dry in direct sunlight.  The sun apparently kills the bacteria as well.  I don’t know too many people who still have clotheslines outside, and who really has time for this?  But, it’s an option.  Other recommendations are to not leave sweaty clothes balled up prior to wash and to immediately wash your synthetics when you take them off.  

It’s been about 6 months since I first cleaned the washing machine and tackled the shirt odor.  I’m happy to report that even though I’ve slipped on cleaning the washing machine each month (I actually haven’t cleaned it since the first cleaning), the Sport Wash + Twenty Mule Team Borax is still keeping everything smelling fresh and clean.  I had actually read that the Borax keeps you from having to keep using the washing machine cleaner tablets, and I believe this to be true.

Maybe I’m late to this party, but I never knew you had to clean a washing machine or treat various fabrics differently from one another.  Mind. Blown.

Now that my shirts are again clean and fresh I’ll have time to catch up on cat memes, choose one of 20 Paleo breakfasts that doesn't include eggs, or figure out what Disney character I am.