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How to Get Sweat Smell Out of Clothes

You expect a whiff of smelly air when you open up your gym bag, but what if that smell lingers in your workout clothes even after you run them through the wash? Sweat often leaves unpleasant stains and smells in your clothes. Fortunately, you can learn how to get sweat smell out of your clothes in a few simple steps!

The most popular way to get the sweat smell out of clothes is to soak the clothes in white vinegar and water or baking soda and water. Other treatments to remove the smelly anaerobic bacteria include air-drying in sunlight and scrubbing with washing soda. Heavy-duty activewear detergents can also remove body odor smell from most clothes.

In this article, you will find out what causes the sweaty smell in your clothes. You will discover nine simple methods for removing the sweat smell from your clothes. Finally, you will find tips on how to get the smell out of your stinky clothes instantly and naturally.

How to Get Sweat Smell Out of Clothes

Why Do My Shirts Smell Sour When I Sweat?

Sweat can make your shirt smell sour when it carries certain types of bacteria into the fabric of your clothes. The sweat does not smell bad, but it combines with bacteria on your skin that can create that sour, stinky smell in your clothing.

Body odor comes from the type of sweat glands in hairy parts of your body, such as your armpits. These glands, called apocrine glands, release a different kind of sweat with a slightly milky appearance. Unlike the clear sweat released from most of your skin, this kind of sweat contains fats and proteins.

Ready for a bit of science? A certain type of bacteria called Staphylococcus hominis commonly lives on human skin in places like the armpits. When the milky sweat from your apocrine glands escapes your skin, it meets those bacteria.

The enzymes in the bacteria break down the proteins and fat into something called thioalcohol. The thioalcohol then dissolves into the air, creating a foul smell.

Activities like working out or running that cause you to sweat a lot can lead to BO. You can shower and remove the smell from yourself pretty quickly, but unfortunately, the bacteria and sweat molecules often soak into the fibers of your clothes.

Simply throwing them in the washing machine often does not remove the odor completely. Very hot water kills bacteria, but you can’t wash most modern synthetic fabrics in hot water without damaging the cloth. This presents a bit of a Catch-22!

It is important to note that this type of sweat and bacteria combination, commonly referred to as BO, can occur for other reasons besides working out. Hormonal changes or new medication can also cause your body to react by sweating much more than usual.

And sweat is not the only possible cause for the sour smell in your clothes, either. Mildew created by leaving clothing in the wash too long or putting away slightly damp garments can also have a sour stench.

That said, the most common cause of bad odors in your clothing is a combination of sweat and bacteria from the human body.

As one final important note, different kinds of fabric react to the bacteria and thioalcohol differently. You can easily wash the offending agents out of natural fabrics like cotton. But synthetic fabrics like polyester absorb the oils from the body and do not let go of them easily, which can mean that getting stubborn smells out of polyester takes more work.

How to Get Sweat Smell Out of Clothes: 9 Methods

How to Remove Sweat Smell from Clothes

You can get a sweat smell out of your clothes by soaking them in vinegar, Murphy’s Oil Soap, or baking soda. You can scrub the sweat-stained areas with washing soda, dissolved aspirin, or a meat tenderizer! You can even treat the clothes in your washing machine by adding lemon juice or skip the washing altogether by giving the garment a long exposure to sunlight outside.

1. Vinegar

VinegarThe most popular way to remove the sweat smell from clothes is to soak them in a vinegar and water solution. This method works well because distilled vinegar has a powerful acidity that can kill over 90% of the bacteria that makes your clothes stinky.

You can find lots of suggestions online recommending that you add white vinegar to your washing machine. This is a great way to keep your regular clothes smelling fresh but to treat sweaty clothes. You should set up a vinegar soak.

  1. Partially fill a clean bucket or sink with two gallons of cold water. Measure in two cups of distilled white vinegar.
  2. Vinegar fumes will not harm you, but you can always open a window if the smell bothers you! Alternatively, add a drop or two of essential oil to the mix to make the smell more pleasant.
  3. Lower a stinky garment into the water and swish it around to ensure it gets soaked all through.
  4. Let the clothing soak for 20 to 30 minutes, then carefully transfer it to your washing machine.
  5. Launder it as usual and then hang it up to air dry.

2. Mouthwash

MouthwashSince you use mouthwash to kill smelly bacteria that can cause bad breath, it makes sense that you can also use this handy product to kill the bacteria making your clothes smell like sweat!

The only caveat with this method is that some brands of mouthwash could potentially stain your clothing. So make sure you test this out by rubbing a drop of the mouthwash onto a hidden area of the clothing and letting it sit for ten minutes before rinsing it away. If you see any discoloration after rinsing the fabric, do not use that kind of mouthwash to clean your clothes.

  1. Turn the smelly garment inside and find the stinky section (usually the armpits or crotch).
  2. Arrange the inside-out garment in a bathtub or sink.
  3. Pour a generous measure of mouthwash onto these sections. Make sure you soak the fabric thoroughly.
  4. Let this sit for 20 minutes.
  5. Rinse out the mouthwash under cool running water.
  6. Give the clothes a quick whiff to see if they smell better.
  7. Finish up by washing the garments as usual in your washing machine.

3. Baking Soda

Baking sodaBaking soda absorbs smells well, which is why your grandma may keep an open box sitting in her refrigerator or at the bottom of the kitchen trashcan. You can also use a baking soda paste to treat smelly sections of your clothes, like the armpits. This old trick does work because baking soda can bring some kinds of molecules that cause odors into a neutral state where they no longer smell.

On its own, this method provides only a temporary solution, though. You will want to follow it up by washing the clothing in a strong detergent to make sure you have killed the bacteria and not simply “silenced” the smell for a little while.

  1. As soon as you get home from the gym or a run, pour a generous handful of baking soda into a disposable cup. Add enough water to stir the baking soda into a thick paste.
  2. Use your finger or a clean sponge to smear that paste into the sweaty parts of your clothing, like the armpits.
  3. Let this sit until the paste dries, or overnight.
  4. Finally, launder the clothes using a strong detergent. You do not need to scrape away the dried baking soda paste before putting the clothes in the washer, as the powder will not harm the machine.

4. Aspirin/Cream of Tartar

Aspirin and cream of tartar may seem like a weird combo of the medicine cabinet and kitchen cupboards, but this acidic combo can knock out the smelly bacteria in your clothes! Aspirin treats the sweat stains in your clothes, and the cream of tartar has a high acidity that can eat at the enzymes causing your clothes to smell.

  1. Fill a disposable cup half full of warm water, and drop in three uncoated white aspirins.
  2. Measure in one tablespoon of cream of tartar and stir till the pills and powder have dissolved.
  3. Next, dip a clean toothbrush into the solution, and use this to scrub the stained areas of your clothing.
  4. Let the damp clothing rest for 20 minutes.
  5. Wash the garments in your washing machine. If possible, use an activewear detergent for the best success.
  6. If you have the space, hang your clothes outside to air dry after this.

5. Washing Soda

Washing soda can neutralize odors in sweaty clothes. Many kinds of laundry detergent contain this ingredient, which is technically a chemical called sodium carbonate. You often see it called soda ash as well.

Washing soda has stronger and more abrasive properties than baking soda, which gives it more power to remove oils from fabric.

You should wear a mask and gloves while working with this ingredient. It is usually only harmful in large quantities, but there is no reason to risk it!

  1. Measure half a cup of washing soda into a disposable cup or bowl. Use a plastic spoon to stir in enough water to form a gritty paste. (Make sure you discard the disposable dishes later, so no one uses them with food!).
  2. Wearing gloves, smear this paste into the bad-smelling areas of your clothes. Make sure you work the paste into the fabric.
  3. Let this sit for half an hour.
  4. Rinse out the paste under running water, and then wash the garment to make sure no more soda ash remains in the fabric before you wear the garment again.

6. Washing Machine

One easy way to freshen up sweat-smelling clothes in the washing machine is to add fresh lemon juice. Much like vinegar, the acidity in lemon juice can kill bacteria and brighten white clothes. Plus, your clothes will have a bright lemony scent afterward!

  1. Squeeze two lemons through a mesh sieve to remove the seeds and pulp. You should have roughly ½ of fresh juice.
  2. Set your washing machine to its normal settings and add the regular amount of detergent along with your clothes. If possible, wash only the sweaty clothes. This gives the clothes more room to move around and get cleaned and avoids spreading bacteria to other garments.
  3. Add the lemon juice to the basin along with the clothes.
  4. Run the washing machine cycle, and then give the clothes a sniff test once it ends!

Another important method to try is to clean your washing machine. Over time, bacteria can build up in some styles of washing machines, leading to stinky clothes that never get fully clean! Your washing machine owner’s manual should tell you how to clean the machine to prevent this from happening.

7. Murphy’s Oil Soap

Murphy 70481465315 OIL SOAP Wood Cleaner, Original, Concentrated Formula, Floor Cleaner, Multi-Use , Finished Surface Cleaner, 128 Fluid Ounce (US05480A)Even though it has existed since 1910, this cleaning product remains extremely popular today for everything from scrubbing floors to removing bad smells from clothes! In chemical terms, this cleaning product includes chemicals like Sodium Tallate and Trisodium MGDA, which can descale stains and help water and oils mix, allowing the water to remove particles like bacteria.
  1. Spread out the garment in a clean bathtub. Pour water onto the smelly sections of the garment, making the fabric damp.
  2. Next, add a dab of Murphy’s Oil Soap directly to the garment. You don’t need a lot, just a drop or two for each section of the clothing.
  3. Use a clean sponge or toothbrush to scrub up a lather.
  4. Let the soap lather sit on the clothing for 20 minutes.
  5. Finally, rinse out the soap and then wash the garment as usual.

8. Meat Tenderizer

It sounds crazy, but the meat tenderizer you keep on hand to make the perfect steak can also take the sweaty smell out of your clothes!

How does this work? Meat tenderizers contain a chemical called Bromelain, which breaks down the proteins in meat, making it more digestible. It can also break down the enzymes and proteins that bacteria feed on in your sweat, removing any chance for the bacteria to spread and continue to smell.

  1. Soak your shirt in a bucket of cool water and then spread it out on a clean bath towel or the floor of a clean tub.
  2. Shake a generous amount of meat tenderizer onto the stinkiest sections of the shirt, or apply the powder liberally all over.
  3. Use a brush to scrub the powder into the wet fabric.
  4. Let the garment sit for twenty minutes.
  5. Finally, rinse the powder and run the garment through a normal wash cycle.

9. Without Washing

You can get the sweat smell out of clothes without washing them by freezing them or placing them in direct sunlight for an extended time.

If you have a big freezer handy, you can seal up the smelly garment inside a Ziploc bag and place it in the freezer overnight. Temperatures below 32℉ will kill the bacteria that create body odor.

A more accessible alternative for most people is to spread the smelly garments in bright sunlight for several hours. The UV rays in sunlight will scorch the bacteria, killing them and giving your clothes a fresh outdoor aroma.

How to Remove Sweat Smell from Clothes Instantly

There is no perfect way to instantly get sweat smell out of clothes, but you can get the smell out completely and quickly by using the vinegar method described earlier in this section!

Treating your smelly clothes with Murphy’s Oil Soap, Mouthwash, or Meat Tenderizer works just about as quickly. The catch is that you need to wash the garment after any of these treatments. After all, you don’t want to walk around smelling like a freshly cooked steak or a newly mopped floor!

How to Get Sweat Smell Out of Clothes Naturally

You can get a sweat smell out of your clothes naturally in many ways, including using vinegar, airing in sunlight, or scrubbing with baking soda. Adding lemon juice to your washing machine can also freshen clothes and kill the bacteria causing the bad smell.

That said, using a laundry detergent specifically tailored to fight the bacteria that feed on sweat is one of the best ways to prevent sweat smell from building up in your clothes.

Best Sportswear Detergent

WIN Activewear Detergent - Active Fresh 32 ounce Bottle - Sports Detergent Odor Remover for Sweaty Apparel - Running, Cycling, Football, HockeyThe best sportswear detergents can clean synthetic, technical fabrics and remove the acidic sweat and hungry bacteria from the plastic fibers. These newer cleaning products typically cost more and come in smaller jugs than your average laundry detergent, so you may want to save them just for laundering your sweaty sports clothing.

The main reason your clothes still smell sweaty after you wash them is that you used the wrong kind of detergent. Regular laundry detergents work great on clothes containing natural fibers like cotton because the soap interacts with water to clean them. But many synthetic fabrics can repel water, meaning that they need a different kind of soap to get properly cleaned.

This means you may want to invest in sport laundry detergents to keep your athletic uniforms or workout gear smelling fresh.

WIN Activewear Detergent promises to handle sweat and bacteria without ruining the elasticity of your stretchy workout clothes. This product can strip those sneaky body oils from the synthetic fabric in your workout gear, taking any smelly odors along with the oils! This popular product uses recycled plastic bottles and is never tested on animals. Nathan Power Wash Detergent also specifically targets high-performance athletic fabrics like moisture-wicking polyester. It uses a neutral pH formula to remove oils and stains that build up inside the plastic fibers of synthetic fabrics. You can even wash tough garments like knee pads or sports gloves using this powerful product!

Why Do My Clothes Still Smell of Sweat After Washing?

Clothes Smell of Sweat After Washing

The most common reason your clothes still smell of sweat after washing is that normal laundry detergent does not pry body oils and bacteria out of synthetic fabrics. The average detergent only can clean dirt and other elements out of natural fabrics like cotton.

Why are synthetic fabrics so different? Most athletic clothes today have a special design within the fibers of the fabric that allows the material to quickly wick moisture off your skin as you sweat. The wetness travels from your skin to the outside of the fabric, where it evaporates into the air, leaving you feeling cooler and dryer as you run or lift weights.

The trouble is that this wicking process leaves behind body oils and bacteria inside the cloth. Regular detergents can’t get at it, as it lodges inside the plastic fibers of the synthetic material.

You can fix this issue on an individual garment using the nine handy methods described in this article. But you can also take steps to avoid letting your clothes get so smelly in the first place!

  • Don’t stuff your sweaty clothes into your gym bag for days after a workout or even toss them into the hamper. Instead, wash them right away. Bacteria can multiply exponentially when you leave the wet fabric sitting in a dark place.
  • Make sure you turn your clothes inside out before washing them. The part of the fabric that touched your skin will have collected the most bacteria, so it makes sense to expose this to the friction and soap in the water!
  • Don’t settle for the regular detergent you normally use. Athletic or high-activity detergents have a special design that will clean any clothes made out of synthetic fabric more efficiently.
  • Run a load with just a handful of sweaty clothes at a time. This gives the clothes more room to spin through the water and get properly clean.
  • If you can, skip the dryer and take your clothes outside to air dry in the sunlight. Bacteria react to sunlight much like an old-fashioned vampire–it can’t withstand those fatal rays!


You can get the sweat smell out of your clothes using common household products like vinegar, lemon juice, or baking soda. You can also kill the bacteria that causes the bad smell in your clothes using less common products like mouthwash, soda ash, and meat tenderizer. If you do not want to wash the clothing, you can also set t outside in the sun or freeze it overnight to kill the bacteria.

The best way to prevent bad odors from building up in your activewear is to wash it immediately after use with a strong sports laundry detergent. You should never let sweaty clothes sit in a dark place, as this allows the bacteria to multiply and put out even more of an odor!