5 Things I’ve Learned–the Hard Way–about Caring for Running Clothes

Your neighbors might object, but line drying is the way to go for workout wear.

Sometimes it's a toss-up what I value more in a running outfit: that it looks cute...or that it smells good. To help us all meet both those aims, follow these experience-counts tips.

1. Don't dry them (the stench!). Don't dry them (the shrinkage!). When I lived in San Francisco, I had a clothesline off my back deck, making it a, ahem, breeze to hang my laundry out to dry. Along with vamps, sunlight also kills odor-causing bacteria (see #2). 

2. Wash soon after use. The stinky-stanky-stunk of synthetic athletic apparel is caused by the microscopic poop of bacteria that feast on the dirt and sweat. Proving, like a soiled diaper, small packages pack a potent punch, invisible excrement lingers. Typically, I'm loathe to wash stuff after just one wearing, but I've learned my lesson. Nothing makes a new high-tech tee wreak faster than wearing it, letting it air-dry, then re-wearing it again before washing. By then, the stink is set for life.

3. Toss in some OxiClean along with the detergent. It keeps colors brighter (and, thus, cuter!), removes blood-and-crud stains, and helps fight odor. (Yes, obviously, the quest for stink-free workout wear is my own Holy Grail!) Oh, and as tempting as it is to wash stuff in hottest H2O possible, just let detergent dissolve in warm water, then switch washer to cold.

4. Beware the thingy in the center of top-loading washing machine: It has snagged, stretched, and devoured many a sports bra strap. After my favorite black sports bra got hopelessly tangled around that obstacle because the strap lasso'ed it when I dropped it in the machine, I now carefully place my bras into the washer. Same goes for running tanks.

5. Check pockets--yours and your kids--before tossing. Despite a ban on it in our house, a wad of bubble gum was lurking in one of my kiddo's pockets. I'm still picking fragments of it off of one of my beloved running skirts.

How do you keep your running duds from smelling and looking cruddy?

Some folks tell me I resemble Martha--in appearance, not homemaking!

20 responses to “5 Things I’ve Learned–the Hard Way–about Caring for Running Clothes

  1. My new solution for removing the stench from running clothes is to add about a half cup of Listerine to the wash cycle. (The yellow, not the blue or green- those will stain your clothes) It actually works really well, I guess because it kills the bacteria. One of the girls I run with taught me this trick and I’m so glad she did! I just switched from a top loader to a front loader and havent used the listerine since, but I think I’ll try soaking them in a listerine solution for an hour or so and then I’ll throw them in the wash.
    I’ve always put my running clothes in the dryer- no longer! SO glad to get that tip! Duh!

  2. I’ve tried the new Tide Sport, and it works at least as well as the other sport detergents. It’s also much cheaper and easier to find! Of course, we try to do all our workout clothes in one load, so by the time they are washed, they’ve been stinking for days. The Tide Sport does help, but I threw vinegar in with the last load and that seemed to make a difference too. I don’t know if I have the stamina to wash workout gear more than we already are! The hang drying kills me (I’m lazy). I usually make the husband hang it.

  3. I’d take any advice- I work out early morning, then head directly to work for the day. My clothes sit in my car and ferment allllll day…and evening until I get home, kids picked up, supper on the table, bathes and kids beds, well you know the drill. What can I do to make help prevent the never ending stank?! I have thought about rinsing before leaving the gym, but still would have wet clothes in my hot car all day. After washing many of my running clothes do still have that lovely aroma. Any ideas for this stinky momma?

  4. I’m close to obsessive when it comes to getting rid of the stink on my stuff, specially because I’m a super-sweater. After running/working out at the gym I always rinse everything (tops & bottoms) in the shower or the sink. That rinses off some of the sweat and I wrap it in a towel for the drive home, never in a plastic bag. Then at home I spray Oxyclean on the stuff and let it pre-soak for a couple of hours. I love Oxy and I just tried Win as well, they work great. I hate Tide with fabreeze in it, it did not take the original stink away and it just masked it with fabreeze. Bad combination. I don’t like vinegar for tech fabrics, it doesn’t rinse out well. I haven’t tried baking soda yet, I have a front loader and don’t do powders, but I’m going to give it a try, you never know. I wash with warm water but never-ever put tech clothing in the dryer, I’m a strict hang-to-dry kind of girl. Yes I know, maybe a it is bit tedious, but with 3 kids and tight on $, it’s cheaper than buying new stuff all the time. Besides, I like taking care of the stuff I have 🙂

  5. Hubby and I both run and he is AWFULLY sweaty– so in my house I do “lights’, “darks” and “running” every day. I am using the new Tide Sport with Febreze and it leaves a pleasant scent. Some of his particular yukky things I presoak in it and follow up with a wash in it. My favorite thing to do with stinky clothes though, is throw them out and just buy new 🙂

  6. Arm & Hammer makes a detergent additive called Super Washing Soda or Super Washing Detergent. You just add it to your regular detergent (it’s powder). It’s okay in HE machines too. It gets the smell out better than $$ Frebreeze detergent. The powder is only about $3 or so/box.

  7. Ah yes, the stank. I live in FL and running in this heat and humdidty really makes you sweat. A lot. I’ve tried all sorts of things trying to get it out; Pro-wash, which I bought several packages of as I’d heard it worked great, really doesn’t. Oxyclean don’t do it for me either. So maybe I’ll give the baking soda a try, or even the vinegar, though I’m not sure what would be worse, stank or vinegar!

  8. I re-wear my shorts/tights… I guess maybe b/c I don’t sweat quite as much on the bottom, they don’t get stinky? Plus even though they’re synthetic, they’re not quite the same material as running/workout shirts, so I think they just don’t get stinky in the same way. I have tried to re-wear shirts in the past, though, and totally agree about them getting stinky – although I’ve been lucky and haven’t had any I couldn’t get the stink out of with washing. As far as drying goes, we have a clothesline, but often can’t use it b/c of the weather – I don’t dry most of my shirts, running or otherwise, and just hang them on hangers and hang them up on my shower rod to dry. So much easier than an indoor drying rack, and then when they are done it’s easy to just put them away in my closet. Of course, this doesn’t work for sweater-type materials or other things that will stretch if hung on a hanger when wet, but it works for most of my things.

  9. Febreze for those “air and wear” days. I don’t have enough clothes to be washing every time. Sounds like an excuse to go shopping.

  10. I just wash the stuff as soon as I can, usually I do a load of workout clothes every other day. But the baking soda in the wash sounds like a good idea too! I tried vinegar once and couldn’t get the stink out for another 4 washes, so I’m pretty gun-shy of that one. Oxy-clean sounds like a good solution too. Have you tried the new Tide Sport? I haven’t seen it yet, but haven’t been down that aisle in the store in the past few weeks either.

    1. I’ve heard/seen ads for Tide Sport. I’ll have to give it a whirl.

      I should also mention: I wrote about WIN detergent in RLAM. A .2 “commercial.” I’ve heard from some readers they thought it was a spoof, but it’s a real detergent. It works pretty darn well.

  11. I always add about 1/4 cup of baking soda to my load of workout clothes. It takes care of the odor perfectly!

  12. The surest way to remove any sort of stink from clothes… adding an eighth-cup of vinegar to the rinse cycle. I had success getting rid of the perma “old sweat” stink from synthetic workout clothes and the persistent “old rope” stink in the wet towels left in my boys’ backpacks by using vinegar.

  13. Since I didn’t have this handy-dandy guide when I first started…my “I-had-to-learn-the-hard-way” tip for those of us who also liked to “air and wear” (before we found out not to) and can’t afford to toss out the stinky results—soak everything in baking soda water for an hour or so. Just like shampoo, rinse and repeat (at least once, but if you have a hound-dog nose maybe twice). After that, make sure you follow the “wear it/wash it immediately/line dry” advice above for (almost) stench-free running.


    1. Thanks for the tip, Dana. I’d never heard of soaking garments in baking soda and water. Makes sense. I’ll have to give it a try.

      I took my own advice today: Wore a new running skirt. My normal inclination would have been to “air and wear” (LOVE that phrase!), but I tossed it down laundry chute instead.

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