How to Remove Sweat Smells From Clothing

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Categories Doing Laundry
If your sweaty clothing still stinks after a wash, we can help.

Working out definitely has its benefits, but one major drawback is sweat! Unfortunately, sweat can stick to our clothing and even remain after garments are washed and dried.

Do you ever find your favorite gym shirt always smells? That’s totally normal. We’re here to teach you how to remove sweat smells from clothing so you can start each day with fresh clothes!

How to Remove Sweat Smells From Clothing

There are lots of methods to remove bad sweat odors. For example, lemon juice works really well. The high quantities of citric acid can tackle odors. Juice several lemons and mix with warm water. Let it cool before adding the sweaty clothes. Leave for 30 minutes. Rinse in cool water. Hang to dry.


What Causes Body Odor?

Body odor is something we all experience. However, it is pretty unpleasant. Body odor is caused by apocrine glands (1). Apocrine glands are located in your armpits, for example, and they release molecules (like proteins and lipids) that attract bacteria. These bacteria disrupt the shell of proteins and release odor.

Body odor isn’t something to be embarrassed about, but there are some things you can do to limit it. Try out an antiperspirant or a probiotic deodorant to help control the bad smells.

Why Body Odor Sticks to Clothes

You might think that if you wash your sweaty clothes, it’ll be enough to remove the bad stench. But unfortunately, it’s not always that easy. Body odor — or more specifically, body sebum — is sticky and nuzzles itself into fabrics, making it hard to remove (2).

Washing clothes in hot water can get rid of sebum, but most gym clothes are made from synthetics. These materials can’t always be washed in hot water, so the sebum isn’t always totally eradicated.

Although the garment’s material is part of the issue, what really makes it a problem is the way we wash clothes. If you wash your clothes at 90 degrees Fahrenheit, with a non-specialized detergent, in a regular cycle, you don’t kill bacteria. You just mix it up (3).

That’s why it’s important to know how to properly remove perspiration odor from clothes. Otherwise, it can haunt you.

Tricks to Get Sweat Smell out of Clothing

So, how should you go about getting sweat smells out of your clothing? We have seven different techniques to try. We’re sure that at least one of these will draw your attention. Plus, you’ll probably already have a lot of these materials in the house. You can get to work right away with removing those bad smells!

Pro Tip

Turn the item inside out and expose the underarm or sweat-stained areas. This will give you the best results.

Aspirin and Cream of Tartar

Aspirin and cream of tartar can help get out stinky sweat if your clothes smell. Cream of tartar is also known as potassium bitartrate. This chemical is acidic which makes it useful for neutralizing odors (4). And aspirin contains salicylic acid which is useful for removing sweat stains and odors (5).

  1. Mix three white, non-coated aspirin pills in a cup of warm water.
  2. Add a tablespoon of cream of tartar.
  3. Get a nail brush or old toothbrush. Scrub the solution into the sweaty area.
  4. Leave for at least 20 minutes.
  5. Wash and dry as normal.
  6. Repeat if the smell persists.

Lemon Juice

We love buying extra lemons every week! They are great for recipes, of course, but also cleaning because of the acidity of lemons can neutralize bad smells (6). To use lemon juice for getting rid of sweat smells, follow these instructions:

  1. Juice several lemons.
  2. Mix the juice with two liters of warm water.
  3. Let it cool for a while.
  4. Soak sweaty clothes in for at least 30 minutes.
  5. Rinse under cool water.
  6. Hang outside to dry.

Baking Soda

As if you needed another reason to buy a big bag of baking soda. But guess what? It also deodorizes — making it ideal for sweat stains. Baking soda brings acidic and odor molecules to a neutral state, helping to get rid of bad smells (7).

  1. Make a paste by mixing baking soda and warm water.
  2. Rub the paste on the sweaty areas of the garment.
  3. Leave for at least 15 minutes. You can even leave it overnight.
  4. Wash as normal.

Salt

Salt has been known to have strong antibacterial effects. It can kill the bacteria that might be causing your sweaty clothes to stink (8). Try this trick for removing perspiration smells in your clothes.

  1. Pour ½ cup of salt into a large bowl.
  2. Fill it half-full with warm water.
  3. Stir to dissolve the salt.
  4. Soak the affected areas of your sweaty clothes in the solution.
  5. Wash normally.

Vinegar

Distilled white vinegar is a great tool for deodorizing anything, including sweat smells, due to its corrosive agents (9). Follow these easy steps to get rid of smelly odors.

  1. Combine one cup of distilled white vinegar with half a gallon of cold water.
  2. Soak your affected clothes for 20 minutes.
  3. Wash as normal.

Something to Note

Distilled white vinegar doesn’t have the most pleasant smell. Thankfully, though, the scent doesn’t stick around after you’ve washed the clothes. However, adding a few drops of essential oil — like lemon or tea tree — can help!

Washing Soda

Washing soda, scientifically known as sodium carbonate, can be made from baking soda (10). So, it works in the same way in order to bring odors to a neutral state. If you only have washing soda — not baking soda — in the house, you can use it on your gym clothes!

Wear Personal Protection

Wear rubber gloves when working with washing soda because it is classed as an irritant (11).
  1. Sprinkle ¼ cup of washing soda onto the smelly areas of the clothing.
  2. Add water and work it in with your hands. This will create a paste texture.
  3. Leave for 30 minutes.
  4. Wash as normal.

Mouthwash

Did you know that you could use mouthwash on laundry day? It’s not a commonly known thing, but it does work. Mouthwash can kill bacteria and neutralize odors in your mouth, so it makes sense that it will do the same thing if your clothes smell (12).

  1. Pour a few capfuls on the sweaty areas of your clothes.
  2. Leave for 30 minutes.
  3. Launder as normal.

Always test on an inconspicuous area of the garment first to make sure it doesn’t leave a stain.

Tips to Get Stink out of Clothes

While these methods are wonderful, there are a few more tips we can share with you. These will help you tackle the sweat smells on your clothes to the best of your ability. We want to make it as easy as possible for you to get rid of these bad odors.

  • Wash your clothes immediately: After a workout at the gym, or a particularly sweaty day at work, it’s best to wash the clothes immediately. This stops the bacteria in its tracks so it doesn’t continue breeding on the clothes.
  • Use your freezer: If you can’t wash your clothes immediately, use your freezer. Freezing doesn’t kill the bacteria but it stops it from growing (13). So it’s definitely way better than leaving the sweaty clothes in your gym bag for a few days before you do the laundry.
  • Use natural laundry detergent: Regular laundry detergents contain synthetic fragrances. These actually tend to mask bad odors instead of removing them (14). When these scents fade, the smell is still there. Naturally scented laundry detergents, though, tend to use baking soda, which is ideal for removing odors.
  • Wash the clothes inside out: The sweat and oils will be on the inside of your clothes. If you wash them inside out, the detergent and water has a better chance of tackling the sweat directly.
  • Use the right amount of detergent: If you don’t use enough detergent, your clothes won’t get clean. If you use too much, the water becomes too thick and it’s harder for it to clean your clothes.
  • Add baking soda to the wash: We love adding baking soda to our extra dirty loads of laundry. It gets the clothes super clean. Just add ½ cup of baking soda to the dispenser or straight into the drum. Wash normally.
  • No fabric softener: While fabric softener can leave your clothes soft and smelling great, it’s made with synthetic fragrances. It’s likely to mask the odors instead of removing them. We recommend essential oils instead.
  • Keep your washing machine clean: This is something that’s easy to forget. But you should clean your washing machine once a month. Some machines have self-cleaning options. However, you can add two cups of distilled white vinegar to the dispenser and wash at the hottest temperature on a regular cycle to clean it.
  • Use a garment steamer: Garment steamers are great for killing bacteria and freshening up clothes. There are lots of great garment steamers on the market — try one.
  • Fresh air and sunlight: Mother Nature knows best! Sunlight and fresh air can help to freshen up fabrics (15).
  • Don’t hang out in your gym clothes: We’ve already mentioned that gym clothes love to cling to odor causing bacteria. While it’s tempting to go for a quick bite to eat after a workout, it’s best to shower and change your clothes first.

Don’t Sweat It

Bad odors can be super embarrassing, even though we all experience them. Make sure to follow our top tips for keeping bad smells out of your clothes. You’ll definitely have at least one of these items to hand. Plus, things like baking soda and lemon juice can come in handy throughout your laundry routine!

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About the Author

Beth McCallum

Beth McCallum is a 20-something freelance writer & book blogger with a degree in creative writing, journalism and English literature. Beth firmly believes that a tidy house is a tidy mind. She is always looking for new ways to sustainably clean and tidy her house, that's kind on the environment but effective in the house, too!
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