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I’m a Cleaning Editor Who Runs Marathons—Here’s My Laundry Routine for Smelly Workout Clothes

Follow these steps and you'll never have to deal with clothes reeking of B.O. again.

<p>Freer Law/Getty Images</p>

Freer Law/Getty Images

As a home editor, I’ve written a lot about laundry, and this has been a huge advantage for me because I also run quite a bit, which means I’m always washing funky clothes. I’ve completed about 50 races—five of which were marathons and 15 were half-marathons. I’m often running for hours at a time, and this usually results in some pretty stinky workout gear. (Like, my nostril hairs have practically been singed by my own putrid body odor... Turns out, humans can get really smelly!)

However, I’ve managed to dial in and optimize my laundry routine to beat the dreaded permafunk and “rebloom.” (Rebloom is when your clothes smell fine out of the wash, but then odors re-emerge after you put them on.) So if you feel like your clothes are doomed to smell in perpetuity, there’s hope! Even if you’re not into fitness (perhaps you have an active job or you’re just a sweaty human), you’ll likely have success with the method I’ve nailed down. It might require an extra product or two, and a few (easy!) additional steps, but I promise you’ll be able to conquer B.O. and have the freshest-smelling clothes with these tips.

Related: Sign Up Today for the REAL SIMPLE Women’s Half Marathon—Here’s Everything to Know

Hang Sweaty Clothes to Dry Before They Go In the Hamper

This is perhaps the most important rule, and it was the biggest game-changer for me: I always hang my sweaty workout clothes to dry before throwing them in the hamper—tossing them in the hamper straight away means they’ll just be a marinating, soaking mess of germs and bacteria until laundry day. And in my experience, this practically sets in the bad odor, making it more stubborn and harder to get rid of. You can hang them on a towel bar in your bathroom, or buy a drying rack, which is what I did.

Spray Stain Remover on the Funkiest Spots

Zachary Pozniak (the laundry genius behind @jeeves_ny) once gave me this advice over the phone, and I found it actually works: If you want to make sure you really target the scent, try spraying stain remover over the funkiest parts (e.g. armpit areas) as soon as you strip your clothes off, so while they’re still wet but before you hang them to dry. I like Puracy’s Stain Remover.

Use this Triumvirate of Laundry Products

When laundry day comes, the types and quality of products you use is very important. I’ve nailed down three essentials I consider my “magic formula.”

High-Quality Detergent with Enzymes

This is the product you absolutely need, of course. A high-quality laundry detergent with enzymes is ideal because those enzymes are excellent at eliminating body funk. (Enzymatic cleaners in general are great for tackling proteins in organic matter like blood and sweat, and that’s why it’s often recommended for cleaning pet pee!)

I use Tide Hygienic Clean Heavy Duty 10X Free Liquid Laundry Detergent, and I prefer liquid because I can control the amount of detergent I put in. You want to use just enough to get the job done but not too much that it’s difficult to rinse out. Read packaging for dosing instructions but for my load sizes, I’ve found I only need to fill the cap to the first bar.

Oxygen-Based Powder

Oxygen-based powders, or oxygen bleach, are clutch for pummeling bad odors. Truly! I use OxiClean’s Versatile Stain Remover Free because I’ve found it dissolves well, plus it’s unscented. For this product to be effective, as with any oxygen-based cleaner, you do need to wash your clothes in warm to hot water—which technically isn’t ideal for the lifespan of your athletic gear (excessive heat over time isn’t good for the elastic materials)—but I’ve found that washing on warm in my machine does the job without essentially boiling my clothes into tatters.

Acidic Rinse

Downy Rinse and Refresh has become a non-negotiable for my laundry routine. I like to think of it as extra insurance—it really kicks any lingering odors out the door. You might be thinking, ‘Downy? Isn’t that fabric softener? Isn’t that bad for your workout clothes?’ Rinse and Refresh is not fabric softener. In fact, it’s the complete opposite. It’s a rinse aid and it functions similar to vinegar (so it’s fantastic at breaking down build-up), except it’s more acidic—and more effective—than vinegar. You really don’t need a ton of it either—I just fill up my little fabric softener slot with the stuff. And it smells amazing. Admittedly, it’s potent in the bottle, but it dissipates and fades into the loveliest, most sophisticated fragrance.

I’ve tried a few of the scents, and my favorite is Cool Cotton and Fresh Lavender. (Now you know why my other products are unscented—I don’t want anything to compete with the Rinse and Refresh!) And if you’re not a scent-head, there is a fragrance-free option.

Squeeze in an Extra Rinse Cycle

Just to be safe, I’ll often do an extra rinse cycle (on cold) to make sure I get rid of potential product residue. You don’t want product build-up, especially on workout clothes, because it’ll mess with the sweat-absorption technology, and it encourages rebloom.

Wash Shoes in the Machine

On super hot days, I will sweat profusely all over my running shoes… and it smells atrocious. Here’s what I do to de-funk shoes: After pouring in the detergent, I throw in some of my trusty OxiClean powder to the machine drum, then I load it with dirty towels, and finally toss in my sneakers. (Laces and inserts go in two separate mess bags.) I wash on warm and do an extra rinse cycle on cold. Then, I air dry the shoes, inserts, and laces.

Soak Smelly Hats

Yes, I wash my running hats in the machine, but I always air dry them to make sure they don’t lose their shape. Every once in a while, usually over the summer, a pungent odor will permeate the brim of my cap—and only my cap for some reason—and not even my foolproof laundry routine can knock the stench out. To combat this, I’ll soak the hat for a few hours in hot water and OxiClean before I do my laundry. (Another hot tip: If you run with clean hair, your hat will smell less. Just saying!)

Load Up on Mesh Bags

I’m a big fan of mesh laundry bags! I have a bunch hanging on S-hooks I purchased to link onto my laundry rack, so they’re always accessible. I drop socks, hats if I’m worried about the velcro sticking onto a shirt, and even hair ties—yes, those get funky too and I wash them religiously! But also, placing socks in laundry bags makes life a thousand times easier—it’s way easier to find and pair them up. Just try not to pack too much into one bag or things won’t get washed properly, and they won’t dry thoroughly either. It’ll just be a dense, wet clump.

Related: 8 Ways to Make Your Laundry Smell Better

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