Whiffy washing? Here’s how to get sweat smells out of clothes

Amazing household hacks to get your clothes smelling fresh again - including how to clean your gym kit

Woman smelling clean washing

by Becky Fuller |
Published on

A quick wash can be a lifesaver if you’re short on time or looking to use less energy, but when it comes to getting sweat smells out of clothes, a bit more effort is needed. Over time, odour can build up in our clothing – particularly if it’s worn for exercise, and clothing may also become stained. A lovely white t-shirt with yellowing sweat patches under the arms is unsightly to say the least. But what can be done? Is there a foolproof way to remove sweat smells and stains from our favourite garments? We’ve got all the answers you need from the experts.

How to get sweat smells out of your clothes

Jess Farinha is the founder of London House Cleaners. She says that when it comes to removing smells, a simple household staple is your friend. “Baking soda is gentle on fabrics and works really well at neutralising odours. Pre-treat clothes with a paste of baking soda and water for around 15-30 minutes.”

Nicola Rodriguez is an interior designer, cleaning influencer, and founder of Essex House Dolly. She agrees with the power of baking soda: “To make the paste, simply stir together one tablespoon of water with two tablespoons of baking soda until it forms a thick, spreadable consistency. Rub this paste onto the stain using your fingers or an old toothbrush, and as it dries, it will help draw out the pigments and mess from the fabric.”

From there, wash your clothes as normal, paying attention to any special instructions on the care label. It's also worth making sure you know how to clean your washing machine, to maintain freshness.

Woman's hands holding a clean pink t-shirt
©Getty Images / Kinga Krzeminska

Can I remove underarm odour from clothes without washing?

In an ideal world, we’d notice our clothes were a bit whiffy with plenty of time to wash and dry them. But life happens, and sometimes you need a quick fix so you can grab and go. Of course, you can try and mask the smell of sweat with a heavy spray of perfume, deodorant or a fabric freshener spray, such as Fabulosa Spray and Wear.

But if your clothes are also stained with sweat, Rodriguez has another household hack that will not only neutralise the odour but lift the stain as well: “Soak a cloth with some white vinegar. While you are blotting the garment, you'll notice the stain transferring to the cloth. You'll need to use a clean part of the damp cloth to avoid putting the stain back onto the garment.”

How to remove sweat smells from gym clothes

Gym clothing needs more care and attention than regular cotton-based clothing. They're designed to wick sweat away from the body, so we stay dry while exercising. This is great, but it does mean they hold the smell and need regular cleaning.

As well as soaking in baking soda, Farinha recommends the following cleaning process for gym clothes:

  • Use the right detergent – “Not all detergents are meant for gym clothes. Opt for those that are specialised in cleaning gym and performance fabrics without tearing them apart.” You could try Ecozone Pro-Active Sports Wash from Amazon.

  • Avoid fabric softener - “As much as it may surprise you, do not soak your gym clothes in fabric softener, as they may coat the fibers, thus trapping the odors inside.”

  • Wash in cold water - “Hot water is also responsible for actually setting stains deeper into the fabric. So, it’s recommended to wash your clothes in cold water, as it helps keep the fabric intact.”

  • Dry naturally - “Dry your clothes in natural air, especially those with stretchy and synthetic fabrics. If you really need to use the dryer, use it in the lowest heat setting because high heat can break down the elasticity and moisture-wicking properties of the clothes.” (Our guide to the best retractable clothes lines can help with this)

It's also worth learning how to wash trainers in a washing machine, for top-to-toe cleanliness.

T-shirt with underarm sweat patches
©Getty Images / SrdjanPav

How can I get sweat stains out of clothes?

Neutralising the odour of sweat is one thing, but the stains left behind may still require treatment. You might try a hotter wash, or washing twice, or using a stain removing spray, but Rodriguez has a brilliant, cost-effective way to get stains out of your clothes and yes, it’s another household item.

“Removing sweat from clothes can be a very tedious job, but it doesn’t have to be,” she says. “Using harsh chemicals such as bleach not only can damage your garments with colour change but also ruin them too. I learnt this the hard way many moons ago when I put neat bleach on denim and the results were terrible!

The simplest method to remove stains is to soak your stained clothes overnight in a bowl of hot water and a Milton tablet.”

Yes, that’s right, those sterilising tablets that we all used for our baby’s bottles back in the day, work wonders for removing sweat stains too. You can pick Milton tablets up in a pack of 56 on Amazon, which should last you a while.

“Milton Laundry Tablets are bleach free, suitable for all fabrics (and washable nappies) plus they are also suitable for delicate items. Using mineral based ingredients these tablets can be used on whites and coloured clothes. They’re gentle, and can be used on all types of fabric, even silk and wool.

To get your whites white (and to get rid of stains) soak your clothes in Milton sterilising fluid before a wash and voila sparkling whites and stain free clothes.”

So, there you have it, household hacks to easily remove sweat smells, stains and keep your gym kit in top condition. Now, where did we put that baking soda....

Becky Fuller is a senior digital writer for Yours.co.uk. She is also a fully qualified personal trainer and strength coach, specialising in fitness and wellbeing for over 50s. Prior to joining Yours, Becky was a fitness writer for Saga, and a freelance entertainment and theatre journalist. Becky is passionate about helping people to move well and discover the many benefits of strength training.

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