How to Rid Your Gear of Funky Smells
Your adventure buddies and significant other will thank you
Spring. Flowers are blooming, snow turns to the elusive corn skiers covet, and mountain biking is back. It’s also the stinkiest time of year, thanks to the mix of mildew-producing rain and how much you sweat while getting after it in the warmer, humid weather. After working as a raft guide for more than a decade and dirtbagging out of my truck for a few years, I consider myself an expert at keeping gear stink-free. (OK, maybe just smelling not quite as bad.) Sweat’s a powerful foe, but here are some tips to help you fight the funk.
Get on It Early
Stink begets stink. The best way to mitigate gear odor is not to let it get too stinky in the first place. Drying out socks and undies during random downtime or dabbing your shirt with some Dr. Bronner’s Organic Liquid Soap ($18) will make a huge difference in the level of funk you’re contending with at the end of a trip.
Buy Synthetics with Odor-Fighting Treatment
Synthetics like polyester are notorious for holding onto funk with a death grip. (My friends and I used to call all synthetics “polypoopalene.”) Today, thankfully, pretty much every piece of premium synthetic apparel has some type of odor-fighting treatment. My personal favorite is Polygiene, which uses a silver-salt liquid to fight odors. It works so well that I wore a Polygiene-infused shirt for eight days straight without washing while training for an ultra.
Cook It in the Sun
UV light is remarkably effective at killing bacteria. Most stinky gear situations can be made better with a day hanging on a line in full sun. For instance, I had a pair of Astral Brewers ($110) that didn’t leave the roof box of my car for the entire 2015 spring kayaking season. My wife wouldn’t let them in the house. But three 100-plus degree days of baking in the sun made them indoor-worthy again. Dry your sweaty base layers outside when the weather is nice instead of using the machine—it’s easier on your gear.
Make Friends with Wool
Wool mitigates odor by absorbing stank-causing microbes and not allowing them to grow. But don’t think of it as a silver bullet. Every textile, no matter how magical, has a breaking point. A pair of merino wool socks, like the Darn Tough Hiker Micro Crew Cushion ($18), will be good for a solid week before they start to reek.
Wash It Right Away
Make running an immediate load of laundry part of your unpacking routine. It takes discipline, especially when you get home late, but even one extra night stuck at the bottom of your pack might be the difference between a new lease on life and retiring your favorite shirt.
Use De-Stink-Specific Detergents
I left a wet Outdoor Research synthetic shirt in the roof box on my car for more than two months last summer. (I tend to do that with a lot of gear.) When I cracked open the box, the smell emanating from it was horrifying. But I was able to bring the shirt back to life by drying it in the sun, washing it with Nikwax Basewash ($10), and then leaving it out for another cycle under the sun. I’ve been using Basewash for more than a year now, and it’s head and shoulders above normal detergents when it comes to removing odors from synthetic clothing—not to mention it leaves apparel with a pleasant, better-than-BO smell.