Get the Smell of Rotting Death Out of Your Gym Clothes

Couple Walking to Gym
SolStock / Getty Images

Laundry can be tricky business. On the surface it seems pretty easy, but most people don’t know how to get rid of pesky stains or how detergents and hard rinse cycles can affect clothes. We asked Eduardo Herrara of Slate NYC dry cleaners, a fully integrated laundry and dry cleaning service used by establishments like Bergdorf Goodman and SoHo House New York, to help us. With 25 years of experience, he had plenty of advice to offer about how to clean everything from gym clothes to date clothes to keeping your bedding fresh for any potential ladies.

Gym clothes and bags

After a hardcore workout the last thing you want to do is deal with laundry. Unfortunately, leaving your rotten gym clothes in a pile on the bathroom floor for a week will definitely make the situation worse. Herrera says, “Most gym clothes are made of fibers that repel waters, such as Spandex or Lycra. In order to wash these garments properly, water has to penetrate the clothing fibers.” Other water repellants include detergent, skin oils, and fabric softener. In order to combat this process Herrera suggests pre-treating all gym items: 1) Dilute 1oz of laundry detergent in a half gallon of warm water. 2) Squeeze an entire lemon’s worth of juice into the solution. The citric acid helps break up oils from the skin, especially useful for those foul-smelling gym socks. 3) Gently scrub the armpits, neckline, the bottom of your gym bag, and any other odorous areas with the solution and a brush before washing. Herrera warns, “It is very important to check washing machine capacity and fill it to three quarters of the total for heavily soiled items like gym clothes.” Use warm water on a regular cycle then, during the rinse cycle, add 2oz of white vinegar. Vinegar is great for killing bacteria. Tumble dry at a low temperature. If you can still smell sweat, repeat the process a few times until the garments and bags smell funk-free. A great way to prevent bacteria build-up is to spray down your gym bag with vinegar between washes. Note: Limit soap to half of the amount used for regular clothes, and ditch the fabric softener. Increasing soap only works to increase water viscosity, which will stop the water from penetrating and, ultimately, cleaning the clothes.

Office/date clothes

To maintain dressier garments, make sure to read labels and know what materials comprise them. “Don’t wash any cashmere, wool, rayon, or silk materials. Some labels recommend hand washing, but, please, don’t do it,” Herrera pleads. Instead, find a reasonably priced, environmentally friendly dry cleaner to take care of these items. 1) For machine-washable clothes, pre-treating is again the best option: dilute 2oz of dishwasher detergent—yes, dishwasher detergent—in a half gallon of warm water. These detergents are best at breaking up odor-causing oils. To combat gross armpit stains and oily rings around your collar, pre-treat as soon as possible. Scrub the affected areas before washing. 2) Wash using a normal cycle at capacity. If you insist on fabric softener, make sure to use half the recommended amount during the rinse cycle. Machine tumble dry at a medium temperature, or hang dry if recommended on the label. 3) Don’t forget to iron. “Ironing is very important in making the garment look good,” Herrera states. You can apply Niagara Professional Finish Spray Starch on linens and cottons to give a polished look, and iron over low or medium heat. If the garment is cotton, it can stand a higher heat.


General cotton bedding like sheets, blankets, and pillowcases often yellow after washing. Herrera says, “Washing these items in bleach causes oxidation. In order to better launder whites, pre-treat these sheets as soon as they are off the bed. 1) Dilute 1oz of dishwasher detergent in a half gallon of warm water, and scrub the entire bedding area. 2) Wash on a regular cycle, adding only 1oz of bleach per 20lbs of bedding weight. 3) Add 2oz of acetic acid to the rinse cycle. You can find acetic acid online at industrial or chemical suppliers, or simply use white vinegar. Herrera cautions that the yellowing may not come out during the first try. “You may have to repeat this cycle to get rid of the effects of oxidation entirely.” Machine tumble dry on low, and add dryer sheets to eliminate odors of bleach, acetic acid, or vinegar.

For access to exclusive gear videos, celebrity interviews, and more, subscribe on YouTube!