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It's so discouraging when you pull a pair of yoga pants out of the dryer and get a whiff of that unmistakable smell. You know the one, sort of sweaty and crotchy? Musty, maybe that's a nicer way to put it.
That lingering smell happens for a few reasons, all of which are easily addressed by making small adjustments to your laundering routine. These are those adjustments.
(It feels like that statement should be followed by a Law & Order-style clang, doesn't it?)
Turn the garments inside out before laundering
Sweat, the natural oils that your body produces, dead skin — all that stuff that builds up and contributes to the rank smell that develops on your workout clothes — lives in the interior of the garment, which is why turning your tops and bottoms inside out before washing is a good thing to do.
Use less detergent
That unmistakable smell. You know the one, sort of sweaty and crotchy?
It feels counterintuitive; after all, shouldn't more detergent = more clean? Alas, not so! The use of too much detergent can contribute to lingering odors because soap residue will remain on the clothes. That buildup of detergent will contribute to the development of bacteria, and that bacteria will contribute to your odor problem.
One of the problems is that detergent manufacturers make it really easy to use too much detergent. They have a vested interest in doing so! The more you use, the more you need to buy. Given that, it's a good idea to take a hard look at the fill lines on liquid detergent caps or powdered detergent scoops to make note of how much detergent to measure out for small, medium and large loads (marking those lines with a permanent marker or tape will make them much easier to see). If you use a concentrated detergent, it's especially important to be judicious when measuring. You could end up using, like, four times the amount of detergent you need. Yikes!
Add an odor eliminating product to your wash
When it comes to really bad smells, detergent alone may not be enough to entirely rid your clothes of them. Enter the laundry booster, which is a formal term for a variety of products that are sort of add-ons to the washing experience, ones that can help to brighten whites, remove stains, or eliminate odors. In this case, we're looking for the odor eliminators, of which there are a number of options.
When it comes to really bad smells, detergent alone may not be enough to entirely rid your clothes of them.
My favorite of all the choices out there is white vinegar. I like it because it's cheap, easy to find, and it works amazingly well. To use it, add a half to a full cup (depending on load size and the relative stinkiness of your gear) to the rinse cycle, which you can do by putting it into the dispenser for fabric softener at the start of the wash — the machine will dispense it at the right time.
There are options besides vinegar, however. Baking soda is one, Borax is another. A half cup of one or the other of those can be added at the beginning of the wash cycle along with your regular detergent. As a bonus, both will help to brighten whites, which can be a great thing on athletic socks that have gone gray, or white tops that have developed a bit of yellowing under the armpits.
If adding an extra product to your wash day routine sounds like a drag, a sports detergent is the thing for you. There are a ton of these products out there — Amazon returns 442 results in a search for "sports detergent" — so I'll name just a few: Tide Sport, WIN Detergent, and Sports Suds are all good choices.
Avoid the use of fabric softeners
Skip the fabric softener entirely.
Fabric softeners, both in their liquid and sheet form, will leave behind a coating that, on athleticwear, is no good. That coating will build up over time and turn into a sort of unpassable shield that keeps water and detergent from penetrating the fibers to do their dirt and odor eliminating thing. So! Skip the fabric softener entirely when it comes to cleaning your exercise togs, or at least cut way, way back on the dosage if you can't bring yourself to entirely quit the stuff.
Skip high heat drying
Using the highest heat setting on the dryer, or even the medium heat setting, isn't great for your gym gear in general. But when it comes to really rank-smelling items, it's a thing you absolutely want to avoid because it's going to, like, cook the smells in. Heat will amplify odors, as anyone who's lived in a city with less-than-stellar garbage collection services during the summertime can attest, so using the low- or no-heat dryer setting is optimal for drying athletic clothing. Better yet, air dry your gear — it will smell fresher, and last longer, because exposure to heat can shorten the lifespan of clothes by stressing the fibers.
And look, if worse comes to worse and your existing exercise wardrobe is beyond salvage, we've got you covered on that front too.