What’s That Smell?

Tips on an odour-free workout

By Robert Beauchamps

Unless you've been genetically engineered to excrete eucalyptus from your pores, your workout gear—from your headband down to your shoes—is going to stink. A lot. If people give you a wide berth at the gym, don't sweat it.

Let's start at the bottom. Shoes are a hotbed for bacteria. From old popcorn to rank cheese, the range of reek is vast. Add a tablespoon of baking soda to a coffee filter and tie it off like a mini satchel with an elastic and place one in each shoe. No mess. No more malodorous Merells.

We live in a golden age of high-tech, synthetic fabrics that wick away sweat, breathe, and quick-dry. These days, athletic gear can do just about everything except those 20 extra push-ups. Trouble is, the same technology that makes for high-performance gear is the same reason they tank in the washing machine. For one, they’re designed to repel water. This prevents your shorts, shirts and socks from getting a thorough cleansing.

Start with less detergent. It sounds counterintuitive, but because of wicking action of the fabrics, soaps clog any pores in the material. Pick a biodegradable detergent that’s fragrance-free. Add a cup of baking soda for a boost of clean.

Turning clothes inside out before laundering might help prevent brightly coloured items from fading because of direct exposure to detergent and hot water. It will also reduce the chance of buttons, zippers or other items on the clothing snagging on or rubbing and wearing down fabrics.

Just like detergent, fabric softener can build up on the fabric’s surface. Use a cup of white vinegar in the fabric softener compartment of your machine or add a cup during the rinse cycle. Don’t add vinegar if you’ve used baking soda since they’ll cancel each other out.

Air-dry any wet clothes before tossing in the hamper. That shirt that’s lying crumpled in the corner of a dark closet is becoming a science experiment in odour-breeding bacteria. If the stink sticks, soak everything in a clean sink filled with one cup of vinegar per four cups of water. Soak for 30 minutes or more.

Do not put anything in the dryer. The heat of the machine will compromise the high-tech fabrics and some say it will set the stench. Hang everything in the sun, if possible. Still smelly? Some experts suggest stuffing clothes in the freezer. Hey, it’s worth a shot. Cold kills bacteria, too.

Now that your clothes are clean, smelling like daisies, why oh why, dear reader with a gym membership, do you toss said garments in a gross backpack? Be honest. You haven’t washed that thing since Jane Fonda was making workout videos. Fill a spray bottle with four parts water to one part vinegar. Spray the entire bag, inside and out. Let sit for an hour. Then take another spray bottle filled with four parts water and your favourite essential oil. Repeat, if necessary. This works on all kinds of gym bags and backpacks.


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