Fitness Coach

Why are my sweat-wicking fabrics so mortifyingly stinky?     Photo: Nancy Hixson

Q:

Why Do My Technical Workout Clothes Stink?

All of my non-cotton workout clothes reek after I workout. What the heck? Are there any technical workout clothes that won’t hang onto my B.O. for eternity?

A:With new technologies coming out every year that promise to simultaneously enhance moisture-wicking properties and decrease stink, there is hope. Pearl Izumi's materials manager, Carol Little, explains the basics behind the B.O.

“Wool and cotton typically don’t smell as bad as polyester because odor doesn’t get trapped inside of the yarn,” she says. Little likens natural fabrics to a sponge—they’ll absorb sweat and the odor-causing bacteria that feeds on it, but they’re easy to wring out.

Not so with synthetic fibers like polyester, the current favorite among sports clothing manufacturers. “The odor gets into the plastic and it’s hard to get it out,” she says.  So companies like Little’s have been adding special treatments to their polyester to get it to smell better while you wear it, then release any wonky scents in the wash.

Adding silver to polyester fibers is one popular stink-combating option. “Silver attaches to the bacteria at the molecular level to help remove it from the material so it’s not trapped inside the fiber,” Little says.

Pearl Izumi, The North Face, GoLite and other outdoor clothing brands make some of their products with a type of polyester that contains molecules of volcanic ash. Besides enhancing a garment’s moisture-wicking ability, it’s also tough on stink. “It’s called Minerale, and its embedded into the yarn fiber and has a pore size about the same as an odor molecule,” says Little.  “It traps the odor molecule so when the fabric is washed in warm water, it releases the odor molecules from the fiber.”

Just don’t reach for fabric softeners to mask those odors, she warns. “They cover up the fibers and inhibit their moisture-wicking properties.” Instead, be sure to wash your synthetic workout clothes with Tide or a hardy sports detergent after every training session to rid them of any unruly stench.

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