Top tips on getting gym clothes clean

The smelly consequences of a healthy workout
Posted at 7:05 PM, Sep 20, 2016

Working up a sweat is a big part of a healthy workout, but experts say active wear is designed to soak up your sweat which can come with some smelly consequences.

Katrina Kohal views her workout clothes as more than just fashionable comfort.

"I say it's never a good workout unless I sweat through my clothing," Kohal said.

Since she works out seven days a week, the sweaty laundry piles up.

"Odors in my clothing is definitely something that's a concern to me," Kohal said.

And experts say the concern is a valid one. Sweat can stay in clothing, feeding odor-causing bacteria.

Microbiologist Charles Gerba said this is especially true for the synthetic fabric used in most gym clothing. 

"The issue is with polyester, certain types of bacteria like that type of clothing, and those tend to be the bacteria that produce odors," Gerba said.

Another issue is that most athletic wear contains "extra wicking" which is designed to pull perspiration from the skin.

"Basically you have fibers that come together, and actually suck up bodily fluids like sweat," Gerba said.

Gerba explained it's important to wash workout clothes separately and often.

"Bacteria over time tend to adapt to the washing and routine you have- so it gets harder to get rid of-that's why it's really important to use hot water when you can, and to use a bleach or bleach substitute," he said.

According to financial advisory firm Morgan Stanley, sports apparel and footwear sales are nearing $16 billion a year globally. With that trend, it's no wonder a growing number of washers are on the market designed to combat bacteria in gym clothes.

Products like the Whirlpool "Smart" top load washer and dryer are among them. They connect to an app, which features specialty cycles including athletic clothes.

The LG "Sidekick" allows users to run two separate loads at once, and is specifically designed for custom-care loads. Samsung just launched a new high efficiency washer called the "Addwash" with powerfoam technology, which optimizes detergent performance.

Even without a specialty washer, Gerba said it's a good idea to give specialty detergent a try.

"I think it's worth buying special detergents for gym-wear if they're available, particularly if you're using polyester type of clothing," Gerba said.

Kohal said keeping her clothes bacteria-free is just as important as putting her time in at the gym.

"Getting it clean, getting it ready for my next workout is what I'm trying to do," she said.

Contrary to what some may think, Gerba said the least germ-ridden part of clothing is under the armpits. That's because most people use anti-microbial deodorant.

The germiest area tends to be from the belly button to the hips, since that's where people's hands are touching most of the day.

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