Shower or washing machine for my sweats?
August 28, 2007 7:19 PM   Subscribe

When I shower after a workout, I simply strip my sweaty workout T-shirt, shorts, and socks in the shower and wash them there. I scrub them a bit with my body soap/bar soap. Is this good enough, or should I wash them with actual laundry detergent?

My fiancee is of the opinion that what I'm doing is gross and it doesn't clean the clothes enough. There does seem to be a slight musty smell once I dry the clothes this way, but it's not really that bad, and since I only wear these clothes during my workout, I don't see it as a problem. It just seems a waste to wash them in the machine every other day. So basically I want you all to prove my fiancee wrong! I know, I know, she's always right in all arguments, just do this for me and I'll take care of the spin.
posted by zardoz to Health & Fitness (37 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm with her. Gross.
Put 'em in the laundry. Invest in a couple more sets so you don't have to wash 'em every other day. No reason you can't wash them with other stuff.
posted by beagle at 7:21 PM on August 28, 2007

I think it sounds like a very efficient idea. The musty smell is probably from not drying quickly enough. Make sure they get plenty of airflow while drying (I'm assuming you're hanging them and drying them in the bathroom?). You could always ompromise with your girlfriend by giving them a thorough machine washing once a week or something.
posted by amyms at 7:26 PM on August 28, 2007

ompromise = compromise
posted by amyms at 7:27 PM on August 28, 2007

The only thing that determines when your clothes are clean enough is how clean you want them to be. They'd have to be really unclean before it became an actual hygiene issue as opposed to one that's ingrained in us for the most part by companies that would like to sell laundry detergent and machines.

A lot of things follow a similar idea when you think about it.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 7:28 PM on August 28, 2007

Best answer: Unless you are unbelievably sweaty, the shorts can probably last 2-3 workouts before they need to be washed. Undershirts, underwear, and socks are relatively inexpensive, and it saves a lot more resources if you have a weeks worth of them (or more!) and just throw them in the laundry machine. So that means the solution is buy one more pair of shorts, reuse each pair of shorts twice or thrice, and then throw whole lot in laundry machine Sunday or Monday with any other clothes lyin aboot.

You're wrong, because you're not cleaning your clothes well enough and it's disgusting.

She's wrong, because doing laundry ever day (or every other day) is a waste of water and energy and is quite silly.

Happy now?
posted by Deathalicious at 7:29 PM on August 28, 2007

Soap is soap. I have an image in my mind of 'the old days' (from movies) scrubbing clothes on a washing board with a bar of soap.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 7:32 PM on August 28, 2007

I used to do this with certain clothing items, when I was in college. If it air-dries evenly and quickly enough, I don't see the problem with doing this. Even if it doesn't, and has that musty smell, I still think this is harmless enough to qualify as not a big deal.
posted by Coatlicue at 7:34 PM on August 28, 2007

The people who don't launder their sweaty gym clothes--in hot water, with detergent--and dry them thoroughly after every use are the people whose aroma makes everybody else in the gym gag. Seriously, please launder your gym clothes.
posted by magicbus at 7:36 PM on August 28, 2007 [3 favorites]

I'd get a couple of sets, and just cycle them.

Otherwise, at least put them in with the rest of your laundry a couple of times a week. I guess this cleaning 'regime' is probably not too bad, but I wouldn't rely on it totally - make it just an 'in between'.

And totally - clean undies!
posted by sycophant at 7:37 PM on August 28, 2007

Response by poster: I should add more detail: I wear nylon shorts with "built-in" underwear, so to my mind that will clean the easiest. The T-shirt and socks are simple cotton.

It's summer, so yes I sweat a LOT, it's pouring off me when I get back. The idea of taking that stuff off and putting it in the laundry bag (which is cloth, btw) seems even more gross. I don't do laundry every day or even every other day, so it would just sit there in the bag, potentially getting smellier. Also, we have a tiny apartment and a smelly laundry bag could easily permeate the entire place. It just seems to make sense to take it in the shower and at least rinse it off.
posted by zardoz at 7:38 PM on August 28, 2007

That's really grody. Yes, you definitely need to wash them with real detergent. Frequent laundering is a fact of life for the active/athletic/sweaty.
posted by sneakin at 7:39 PM on August 28, 2007

what I'm doing is gross and it doesn't clean the clothes enough.

This is a compound sentence. It says

1. you are gross, with what you are doing
2. the clothes you are doing this to aren't clean enough

Whether or not the second part of this is true or not -- and I'm with TOCT, who cares as long as you're not getting a weird rash -- the first part, the "this is gross" part is not negated by the second part being true. In fact for the compound "this AND that" to be true, both parts need to be true. For you to negate it, both parts need to be false [well it's more complicated than that, but for harmony's sake let's stop here]

So, is what you are doing made less gross by the fac tthat the clothes may in fact be clean? No.

Is the woman you are planning to spend the rest of your life with trying to give you a clue that you are doing something outside her comfort zone? And you are doing what exactly?

This is a wonderful time to have a completely amazing compromise situation (less laundry, you're out of the shower with your socks and underwear) work out spendidly for all involved, enough so you can point to it years from now and say "see, we were meant to be together!" Don't blow it.
posted by jessamyn at 7:40 PM on August 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

A 'slight musty smell' when clothes are cool, clean and dry quickly escalates to an offensive stink when they're sweaty and wet. Where is this workout of which you speak? If it's in a gym, populated by people with working noses, I'm going to go with 'gross'. I don't see anything wrong with scrubbing your clothes in the shower if that's how you want to roll, but throw those stink traps in the dryer with a dryer sheet once in a while. And throw them in the regular laundry when another load's in there.
posted by iconomy at 7:43 PM on August 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think your fiancee is expressing her view of a stink she doesn't enjoy. Good thing to get these things clear and straight during an engagement.

Take a hint.
posted by Riverine at 7:45 PM on August 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

The only thing that determines when your clothes are clean enough is how clean you want them to be.

You don't have a fiancé, do you? The issue here isn't whether the clothes are "sufficiently clean." The issue is that you're grossing your significant other out. Are these clothes getting as clean as they would in the washing machine? Of course not. What possible metric of "clean enough" do you imagine would satisfy her?

Besides, you know what's really skeeving her out? The image of you shucking your nasty workout duds and mushing them around with your feet in the shower. Frankly, eww, she's right. Buy more workout clothes and do them with the regular wash.
posted by nanojath at 7:46 PM on August 28, 2007

Best answer: The effectiveness of any laundry process in removing body soil (sweat, skin slough, etc.) from fabric is a combination of agitation, water chemistry, temperature and time. Hand washing is generally at the low end of the scale on agitation, temperature and time as compared to machine washing, and your choice of a body wash product is pretty poor chemistry for removing soil from fabric. So, your method is probably only marginally more effective than simply rinsing your clothing in the shower.

But beyond merely removing body soil, modern laundry products and processes also generally try to treat the fabric by adding oxidizing agents to bleach whatever soils can't be removed (thus keeping whites whiter, and possibly disinfecting the fabric, if you used a "sodium hypochlorite" or "chlorine" type bleach), or adding optical brighteners (to improve the appearance of whites and colors in natural light), and/or adding various fabric softeners and perfumes that may eliminate static, and even prolong the life of fabrics by reducing pilling and fiber shear breakage. Here's a basic explanation of various laundry additives, beyond basic detergents, and what they do. Most laundry detergents also contain ingredients to deal with hard water and will substantially reduce the surface tension of water, much more than typical body soaps or washes, rendering the water "wetter" and further improving cleaning action. They'll also rinse cleaner in a smaller volume of water, and limit the amount of bio-available phosphate released into the grey water stream.

So, man up and do what your fiancee advises you to do. Good practice for your future, and your clothes will be cleaner, too. You may even avoid jock itch.
posted by paulsc at 7:51 PM on August 28, 2007 [2 favorites]

Best answer: It's great that you're washing your clothes right after wearing them during a workout. In my experience, sweaty clothes that sit around waiting to be washed tend to take on a permanently awful odor that no amount of washing can chase away for good. In this regard, you are doing the right thing.

I also don't think that your SO should take offense to your method of washing. The method you describe is exactly how my parents used to launder their clothes when they were in college. Granted, they went to school in China, but if it was good enough for them from day to day, then it should be fine for your workout clothes.

The musty smell you mention suggests to me that either, as someone else mentioned already, the drying process isn't good enough, or perhaps you aren't being diligent enough in scrubbing during the actual wash. You really have to rub not only the soap, but the actual clothes together, scrubbing the fabric against itself. Casual rubbing will not do the trick.
posted by roomwithaview at 7:54 PM on August 28, 2007

This is what I do: Wear fresh, laundered clothes for every workout (especially if at a gym; less important if running outside). After workout, hang them up to at least dry out the sweat before putting them in a laundry bag. This will stop the mildew sweat stink from permeating your apartment. It's true that a "slightly musty smell" when dry will escalate to a gaggy funk when you sweat again in them.
posted by Ollie at 8:07 PM on August 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

How are you drying your workout clothes after washing them in the shower? We have found that in the summer, especially when it's humid, cotton clothing does not dry well and develops a musty odor. The only solution we have found is to dry clothes at least partially in the dryer and then hang them to dry further. The dryer step is not necessary in the winter.

How often do you do laundry? Unless you do laundry every other day, throwing sweaty clothes in the hamper is not a good idea, either. I would probably rinse out the nylon shorts, since they dry quickly, but would hang the cotton stuff to dry before adding them to the laundry hamper, not necessarily washing or rinsing them out. Then wash them with the regular laundry.
posted by needled at 8:12 PM on August 28, 2007

Get yourself a bucket and a plunger - a clean plunger. While you are taking your shower pour a little bit of laundry detergent in the bucket with the clothes - agitate with the plunger for a minute - then rinse a couple of times to get the soap out. Make sure you hang them somewhere that has decent air flow or sun and you will avoid the musty smell.
posted by any major dude at 8:52 PM on August 28, 2007

If you're in a larger metro area, you might want to use the washing machine (or maybe re-wash on a very regular basis) to reduce your risk of any kind of skin infections. Community acquired staph is getting more common in some areas.
posted by ejaned8 at 9:37 PM on August 28, 2007

Priceless. Thank you for this question.
posted by mlis at 10:06 PM on August 28, 2007

Best answer: You can do this, but you're going about it the wrong way. What you wanna do is keep your work out clothes on in the shower. Throw out the soap and use liquid laundry detergent, and clean yourself through your clothing. Keep the plug in, and once the tub is mostly full, lie down and make like a washing machine with the flopping and the churning -- you might want to get a whirlpool bath attachment to make this easier, or just consider it part of your work out. Then wring the clothes out and throw em in the oven. All done!
posted by Scram at 12:32 AM on August 29, 2007 [8 favorites]

Heh, I must say I think inventive eccentric guy solutions like these are pretty funny.

It's a multi-faceted issue of course:
- does this clean your clothes? The answer is: not in the long run. Paulsc gives a good analysis of that. Alternating this way of rinsing with properly washing it in the washing machine would probably be ok provided these are polyester/nylon sports clothes. I'm under the impression that bacteria and dirt do not stick their fibres as much as they do to the porous fibres of f.i. cotton.
- is it socially appropriate? That's a very subjective, situational and complex issue. Personally I think that sports can be a guy thing and you're allowed to stink and it can be a break from having to control everything. That works best in the open air obviously but if you alternate rinsing and washing you'll still fit in with your mates just fine.
- how does this fit in a relationship? Chances are that one partner is more preoccupied with cooking up 'rules' about how things should be done in the house than the other. There's a continuum of how this can work out: on the one extreme the more preoccupied partner makes up lots of rules and the other one has to suspend all his own judgement and be criticized for not following some unwritten made up rules and generally be bossed around. On the other extreme the house is an incredible mess because one partner refuses to do anything. So where do you want to be on that scale?
posted by jouke at 1:06 AM on August 29, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses, everyone. Just to be clear, it's not an issue with the fiancee, though the way I worded it made people assume so. A friendly debate, if anything. We've got some genuine other issues we can grapple over instead, believe me.
posted by zardoz at 2:13 AM on August 29, 2007

I wanted to add that if your clothes are of the wicking variety, chances are they smell even if you wash them in the washing machine. This is a problem that is frequently discussed in the running forums I follow.

I sometimes wash my clothes the way you describe, and sometimes I throw them in the washing machine because I think they may get a little cleaner that way. I never got a rash, I don't work out with other people who may think I smell, so I really don't see the problem. I wash them with shampoo though. In fact, when I used to wear really nice t-shirts, the people in the store advised me to hand wash them with shampoo because laundry detergent was too strong.
posted by samurai charlotte at 2:40 AM on August 29, 2007

You should definitely wash the and change the t-shirts and things you work out in. Cumulative funk I think is the term for what you have now.
posted by doppleradar at 5:59 AM on August 29, 2007

The issue here is not 'do the clothes get clean.' The issue is, 'does this drive your girlfriend crazy.'

Inasmuch as the answer to the second question is YES, the answer to the first question doesn't matter. Your girlfriend hates this AND there's an easy solution that furthermore doesn't cause you any more work.

No-brainer buddy. Put the clothes in the washing machine.
posted by nax at 6:33 AM on August 29, 2007

I know you've already marked your best answers, but I just had to chime in: it's easier to write off a "slight musty smell" on yourself as no big deal because it's your must and you know where it came from, but to other people smelling it, it's just gross and nasty. Kind of like having one of your own hairs fall into your food (not really a big deal) versus finding some other random person's in it (eeeew). Also, any smell that's on your clothes gets amplified when your body heats up and sweats in them; so while your clothes may pass your sniff test before you put them on, you may well be smelling stronger when you're actually working out.

So, for the benefit of everyone else sharing your gym space or section of sidewalk, get a few extra sets of workout clothes and wash them properly. If you do laundry once a week and work out every day, that's 6 extra t-shirts and pairs of shorts, plus socks. If you hit up Target or somewhere, it can probably be done for well under $100. Very worth it.
posted by AV at 7:34 AM on August 29, 2007

If the reason you're doing this is to prevent your dirty gym clothes from stinking up your laundry hamper and your apartment, why not rinse them in the shower and then wash them with your regular laundry? That way, you get the major stink off immediately so that you can throw them in the hamper until laundry day, when you can wash them properly in a machine with detergent to get them really clean so that they're not "musty."

I agree with everyone who has said that what to you might seem "slightly musty" probably seems to (at least some of) your fellow gym goers like "totally rank guy who doesn't wash his clothes and makes things miserable for those of us with good senses of smell." Don't be that guy. Buy some more clothes and wear clean ones every time you work out.

Oh, and while you don't generally need to machine wash your gym shorts every day, you do need to thoroughly wash your gym underwear after each wearing, so if you're wearing shorts with built in underwear and not wearing anything underneath, do not re-wear them without washing in a washing machine.
posted by decathecting at 8:05 AM on August 29, 2007

My fiancee is of the opinion that what I'm doing is gross
Just to be clear, it's not an issue with the fiancee

If you fiancee thinks a behavior of yours is gross, and has gone so far as to tell you that in those words, it is generally suggested that it would benefit your relationship if you avoid the gross thing.

More specifically, women are rarely turned on by things they describe as gross. Your fiancee probably goes into the bathroom at night, brushes her teeth while smelling your gross clothes drying in there, and comes out to get into bed with you. Gross, musty-smell creating you. Even if she has never mentioned it while getting into bed, she's got those gross clothes on her mind, and probably still has the smell in her nose.
posted by yohko at 8:05 AM on August 29, 2007

Oh, and you can let the sweat dry before you stuff the clothes in the laundry bag. Maybe buy some quick dry clothes if you live somewhere that has this "humidity" thing that I hear about.
posted by yohko at 8:08 AM on August 29, 2007

personal anecdote:

backpacker here who often washes sweaty clothes while on the road. things like quick dry underwear (really thin, lightweight, small, nylon) are really easily washed in this way. laundry detergent does work better than body soap but body soap will work. anything bigger or made of something like cotton is a different story. body soap and hand agitation just doesn't cut it. when in a pinch, i've washed cotton clothes in the shower with body soap, but it definitely doesn't get all the sweat out. the clothes smell kind of okay after washing (a pleasant soap smell with a light hint of musk), but as soon as you start sweating in it again, it smells as if you had never washed it. and it smells worse than if it were fresh sweat. with a smallish plastic bucket and some laundry detergent i can get a cotton shirt clean enough in the shower that i can wear it one more time. but after that, boy do i have to wash it in a washing machine.

i'd like to add one more vote to "you probably smell really gross if you're regularly working out in the same clothes that never get a proper wash."

i do admire the idea, though. if you really would like to continue (and it does make some sense), get some kind of very thin, lightweight, nylon (or other plastic quick dry material) shirt from your local sporting store. actually, probably get two. you might be able to stretch it for two weeks with these two shirts if you get a bucket and some laundry detergent in your shower (the bucket also allows you to turn off the running water while you're agitating). then, every fortnight, you can throw these in with your regular laundry and get a fresh start. as for cotton socks, once is enough and you need to throw those in a washer every time you use them.
posted by mosessis at 10:12 AM on August 29, 2007

You can do this, but you're going about it the wrong way. What you wanna do is keep your work out clothes on in the shower. Throw out the soap and use liquid laundry detergent, and clean yourself through your clothing. Keep the plug in, and once the tub is mostly full, lie down and make like a washing machine with the flopping and the churning -- you might want to get a whirlpool bath attachment to make this easier, or just consider it part of your work out. Then wring the clothes out and throw em in the oven. All done!

Or, to think about this another way, you could do this!
posted by dyslexictraveler at 10:19 AM on August 29, 2007

Back when I went to Bikram yoga every day (90 minutes in 105 degree heat), after my shower, I'd throw the clothes in my bathroom sink with real detergent and wash them there. There was never this musty smell you describe. Maybe the trick was the real detergent.
posted by salvia at 3:45 PM on August 29, 2007

The environmental impact of buying 6 extra sets of sporting clothes to be able to wash them in a washing machine (which also means the'll last shorter) is huge. I am really surprised that so many people seem to be recommending this. The OP said that there is a slight smell, and you are telling him that this is somehow that bad that he should consider the people that may smell him for a few seconds on the sidewalk? That's just totally out of proportion. Sure, you should not wear clothes that really smell bad, not even to a gym, but if that were the case, he would not have said slight smell. Like I said: MANY runners have clothes that smell bad even after washing in a washing machine with laundry detergent. It seems like the people who using fabric softener (because of the nice smell it gives, of course) are worst off because the fabric softener damages the fabric of those special shirts.
(BTW: I do not notice any smell when I wash my nice shirts with shampoo either, but I do air dry them outside, that probably helps too).
posted by samurai charlotte at 2:23 AM on August 30, 2007

samurai charlotte, 7 sets of clothes should last 7 times as long, so there would not be any additional environmental impact. As to washing in the machine, I'm sure the OP is using enough additional water doing the washing in the shower that it would save water to use the machine.
posted by yohko at 12:28 PM on August 30, 2007

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