Clothes designed to soak up sweat could also trap odors

Posted at 10:57 PM, Aug 09, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-10 00:40:10-04

You've probably done it - hung out in your gym clothes after a good workout. And if you ever notice an odor during your cool down, don't blame the intensity of the exercise because it's likely your clothes. Experts say activewear is designed to soak up your sweat, which can have some smelly consequences.

Sweat can stay in clothing, giving odor-causing bacteria something to feed on. Microbiologist and University of Arizona professor Charles Gerba says this is especially true for the synthetic fabrics used in most gym clothes.

"Certain types of bacteria like that type of clothing, and those tend to be the bacteria that produce odors," said Gerba. Another issue is that most athletic wear contains "extra wicking" which is designed to pull perspiration from your skin and hold it in the fabric.

Dr. Gerba says that's why it's important to wash your workout clothes separately and often. "Bacteria over time tend to adapt to the washing 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 use a bleach or bleach substitute.

Local triathlete Katrina Kohal says keeping her gear fresh and clean is at the top of her priority list. "I say it's never a good workout unless I sweat through my clothing!" Kohal works out seven days per week so the sweaty laundry piles up fast. She says 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." 

Numbers show she's not alone. Financial advisory firm Morgan Stanley says sports apparel and footwear sales are nearing $16 billion a year globally. And it appears companies that make appliances are noticing the trend. A growing number of washing machines on the market claim they are designed to combat bacteria in gym clothes.

Even if you don't have a specialty washer, Dr. Gerba says using detergents designed for athletic gear is a good idea. "I think it's worth buying special detergents for gym wear if they're available, particularly if you're using polyester type clothing."

If you think the armpits of your gym gear is where most of the bacteria and germs live, you're wrong. Dr. Gerba says that's actually the least germy area because most people use anti-microbial deodorant. The germiest area tends to be from your belly button to your hips because that's where your hands are touching most of the day.