Here’s why gym clothes smell so rank—and how to freshen them up

Popular Science | 1/28/2019 | Staff
MicaellaMicaella (Posted by) Level 3
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“Body odor itself is different on polyester,” says McQueen. “People know it when they smell it. It’s not your body odor, it’s your body odor on polyester. It’s a repulsive smell. And the reason for it is likely because of the selective way polyester will retain certain types of odorants.” The kinds of odorous compounds that love to hang on to polyester combine to become especially pungent.

Skin microbiome scientist Chris Callewaert—whose colleagues affectionately call him “Dr. Armpit”—has put this to the test in his lab. He and his research team at Ghent University in Belgium had people take an hour-long spin class wearing cotton, polyester, or mixed blend apparel. Then, by testing which species of bacteria clung to the fibers of which garment, they found that “synthetic fibers harbor more malodor-associated bacteria,” Callewaert says. “Cotton had more of the non-smelly bacteria. The difference in microbiome [on different fabrics] helps explain the vast difference in odors between synthetic and cotton fibers.”

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Why is it so hard to get rid of that gross workout smell?

A lot of the difficulty of cleaning sweaty clothes has to do with just how tightly the smelly compounds grab on to polyester, but a lot also has to do with the way we do laundry. Washing loads in cold water, a rising trend that is thought to save energy and better preserve clothes’ quality, isn’t great for getting B.O. molecules to let go of their new fiber friends. High-efficiency washers, too, have problems here, because they use less water—that makes it more difficult to pry stink compounds off of polyester or kill odor-causing bacteria.

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Plus, in another Dr. Armpit study, Callewaert found that washing clothes at 30 degrees Celsius (about 86 degrees Fahrenheit) with non-specialized detergent and on a regular wash cycle didn’t consistently kill or even remove the...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Popular Science
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