Does your gym bag reek? You’re not alone, but it also doesn’t have to be this way. With proper care, you can keep your workout gear stink-free. Just do yourself a favor and start taking care of everything before it starts to smell. (But even if you’ve already let things get bad, we have tips for you.)
Rinse your gym clothes as soon as you take them off
A lot of gym clothes these days are made of synthetic fabrics, because they provide stretch or sweat-wicking features to keep us comfortable. The downside is that bacteria can cling to synthetic fibers in a way that makes them nearly impossible to wash off. So it’s important that we don’t let those germ colonies grow in the first place.
The bacteria I’m talking about are the ones that digest your sweat and skin oils. I know, gross. But that means it’s not the sweat itself that causes stinking, but rather the bacteria that multiply while your sweaty shirt is sitting in the laundry basket.
Nip this problem in the bud by rinsing the sweat out of synthetics as soon as you take them off. I do this in the shower, squeezing out each garment and hanging it to dry. A set of extra shower curtain hooks will give you a place to hang them, especially if you install a second rod just for hang-drying clothes. If you shower at the gym, squeeze those garments out and roll them up in your towel until you get home.
Cotton clothes don’t have this problem, by the way. If you wear cotton socks or t-shirts, they can be chucked into the laundry whenever and however you like.
What to do if things have already gotten bad: You may not be able to completely remove the stink, but you’ll have the best luck with detergents that contain enzymes or that bill themselves as being good for “sport” or “performance” fabrics. I’ve had good experiences with Hex.
Air out shoes, knee sleeves, and other items that can’t be easily washed
What about things that can’t be quickly rinsed and dried, like your shoes and the gym bag itself? Or, worse, your neoprene knee sleeves?
These items stink up most easily when they stay damp and warm. If you wanted to make a gym bag smell as much as possible, I would tell you to lock it in the trunk of your car and forget about it until the next gym day. So if that’s your habit already, stop it. You need to air those suckers out.
If your bag has a mesh compartment for sweaty gear, make use of it. And if you can tie objects to the outsides of the bag—hanging your shoes by their laces, for example—that will help, too. But ultimately what you really want to do is open up the bag as soon as you get home. I always make sure that if my knee sleeves are deep inside the bag, I bring them up to the top to make sure they can get some air. And my shoes are in a mesh compartment, but if I have an extra minute, I’ll open up that compartment and loosen up the shoes so they get as much air flow as possible.
What to do if it’s already gotten bad: Most of the things in your gym bag can be washed, but check manufacturer’s instructions for the best methods. For example, SBD says to hand wash knee sleeves with soap or a wetsuit detergent, but not to put them in the washing machine or dry them with heat.
Avoid spraying things down with vinegar (I’ve never found this to be effective), rubbing alcohol (degrades some materials, so check with the manufacturer), or vodka (unnecessarily expensive, just buy rubbing alcohol and then see above about why you might not want to use rubbing alcohol).
Another effective fix, but weather-dependent, is to hang or lay out your items in the sunshine and fresh air for a few hours. Sunlight will kill some bacteria, and a good airing-out never hurts.
Rinse your shaker cup as soon as you finish your shake
Finally, we come to the bane of many a gym bro’s existence, the stinky shaker cup. If you leave residue from your shake in there—especially a milk-based one, like a shake made with whey powder—it can go rancid, and the smells can seep into the plastic where they may never really go away.
To prevent this, rinse your shaker cup immediately after you drink the shake. Don’t tell yourself you’ll do it when you get home, because we all know you won’t. You don’t have to fully wash it at this point, just rinse it out in the bathroom sink. Or do what I do, and chug your shake at home, over the sink, and wash the cup while it’s still in your hand.
What to do if it’s already gotten bad: Your hail-Mary hope is to wash it really well. Use soap and hot water. Soak it for a bit if you like. Scrub all the little nooks and crannies (like where the spout meets its cap) to make sure no residue is left. Air it out to dry for a few days; you can even try the sunlight trick above. But if that doesn’t work, buy a new shaker cup, and treat this one right.
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