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It's summer again and my watch bands start to stink after a few days wearing them. I have many of them, but I am at a loss in terms of coming up with a good process for properly deep-cleaning them.

I am talking about nylon watch bands. I use an Apple Watch and I use the Sport Loop bands that I have, and I also use NATO straps. I believe that both are constructed of nylon fabric. For the NATO straps I use a lighter to burn a hole in the middle under where the watch would sit, so that the sensors on the watch can function normally. Some preparation is needed to make the surface smooth after making the hole like this. But it works great.

So anyway, in terms of cleaning watch bands, I have tried:

  • Washing them under running water in the sink with hand soap (this is highly ineffective)
  • Putting in the washing machine with clothes and laundry detergent (ineffective)
  • Putting in the top rack of the dishwasher with dishes and dish detergent (Finish Powerball) (This is not bad)
  • Ultrasonic cleaner with water (seems to work)
  • Ultrasonic cleaner with water plus laundry detergent (could be overkill?)

The ultrasonic cleaner are the most recent attempts since I recently got it, more or less specifically for this purpose. And I do feel like they come out smelling very fresh, something only the dishwasher could achieve previously, but after one day I can already detect major stink on this, which is hugely disappointing. But, I dunno, it's been super hot lately. Maybe there's not much that I can do.

Anybody have ideas? What do you do? What do most people do?

In terms of what I can think of so far for ideas to try next...

  • Active drying with a hairdryer once done cleaning. The concept is to prevent bacteria from settling in while it is damp as it dries
  • Use super hot water and add more or find more appropriate detergent in ultrasonic cleaner. Maybe run it for 30 min instead of 8 minutes (the max setting on the unit)
  • Get a more powerful ultrasonic cleaner
  • Apply some sort of antibacterial product or treatment (??? is this a thing? Would it be safe agains the skin?)? Oxyclean??
  • Some kind of UV light machine? No I don't think this would work except on white or clear ones, and also it probably will degrade the fibers.
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    Out of curiosity, what kind of environment are you using those watch bands? Is it mostly during exercise, and is that exercise particularly intense? Becoming a 'major stink' after a single day sounds excessive. I'm wondering if there's an underlying problem that could be addressed.
    – MiG
    Jul 21, 2022 at 8:29
  • Do you have (or have you ever had) a similar problem with any other garment or is this the only time and the only case? Tell us a little about 'some preparation is needed to make the surface smooth.'
    – Stan
    Jul 21, 2022 at 15:44
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    Hi user38485, Welcome to Lifehacks. Having worked with asepsis, clean rooms, operating rooms, and with technology you have mentioned or alluded to; I have a strong feeling your issue is not with 'proper' cleaning. There are many other things in our environment more affected with contaminants (organic and inorganic) than only your watchband. Shirt cuffs and neckbands, underwear, jewelry and other personal accessories such as glasses come to mind. You have not mentioned anything else similarly affected. Were all the straps from one/the original OEM/ supplier?
    – Stan
    Jul 21, 2022 at 19:53
  • No I have two Apple straps that came with the watches themselves. All these nylon straps have the same issue. This summer since I had not found a satisfactory solution to the issue I had been wearing silicone straps, which were fine for a few months but after constant repeated wearing my wrist now has rashes, they're not painful, but I took it as a sign to try to switch back to the nylon ones again which have more even contact with skin.
    – Steven Lu
    Sep 13, 2022 at 20:53

2 Answers 2

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You may have an olfactory sensitivity to either one or more of the components used in the manufacture or created by your modification technique for exposing the back of the Apple watch.

If you cannot detect the odour before wearing the strap after cleaning it, the combination of your body oils or cologne combine to produce the irritant.

Continuing what your doing usually produces the same result unless you break the pattern by changing the materials or the behaviour.

Ask yourself if the make, material, or cleaning materials can be substituted. At first blush, it appears that the fabric bands are the issue.

Try wearing another similar (spare) band somewhere else on your body (around your ankle under your sock, say) next to your skin to see if your reaction is the same to both. Treat both the same otherwise. Do they both react to produce the same offensive odour? Yes? Discard the strap. No, they're different? You're doing something to one differently. It could be your hand soap/sanitizer used during the day.

There are plastics that acquire an odour as they age (deteriorate) that cannot be deodorized by surface treatment no matter how aggressive. Lifehacks has many similar questions.

Unless you work at an organic lab with stuff like bio-hazards, it's quite unlikely that your isolated, very specific problem is due to improper cleaning or bacterial contamination.

Lifehack: Some find success with a strong-smelling stuff to overpower the offensive odour with a more agreeable one. You may have some success with an aromatic oil that you find agreeable. It, too, will change as it reacts with your body chemistry.

Good luck

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  • Thanks for all the tips. I'll revisit and post with eventual results (if I can remember I wrote this in the first place, that is!
    – Steven Lu
    Jul 22, 2022 at 2:19
  • Yeah it's really bizarre. i tried again, I guess this consistently happens after two days. First day is fine. After two days, in the summer, the sweat just gets stale so quickly. It's just very strange because even with clothes I don't really experience it like this. I never wear clothes longer than a single day however. In the winter when there is no sweat I don't have to clean the band for weeks and weeks (eventually need to). I'm hopeful that a regular cleaning every other day or every day with ethanol (vodka) added to water in the ultrasonic unit will do the trick. It will have to.
    – Steven Lu
    Sep 13, 2022 at 20:57
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I'd suggest adding some kind of alcohol (ethanol, by choice, either denatured or high-proof liquor) to the ultrasonic cleaner. This will both aid in deodorizing and kill any bacteria that might be hanging onto the material of the band.

Another option, since the bands are removable, is to try to find a metal band to replace each nylon one. I prefer metal bands for my watches; they're (in my experience) more secure, can be had with quick-on, quick-off clasps, some varieties have finer adjustment for length (better than "too loose or too tight" with common straps with a buckle), and they clean up more easily.

One potential issue is that many of these are stainless steel, and some stainless alloys contain nickel; some people have a skin sensitivity to nickel. If you know you have this sensitivity ("allergy"), you might need to shop more carefully or look for a gold plated band.

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  • Thanks I'm going to try with some vodka added to the ultrasonic cleaner, good idea. Also the metal strap idea is a good one for sure. I just try to avoid those to avoid scratching up my macbook but i have worn metal watches before without this being an issue. I don't actually have metal watchbands for my apple watches so maybe it's time I changed that.
    – Steven Lu
    Sep 13, 2022 at 20:54

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