I buy new clothes and wear them for 2-3 months. I wash them several times during this period. The clothes don't smell fresh anymore, even after washing.

The smell is like sweat or ammonia or something else. The most unpleasant smell comes from polyester clothes which I use for running, which is why I think the smell is due to sweat.

I noticed that if I dry them quickly after washing the smell is not as bad, but if the clothes stay wet for a longer time they smell much worse.

I have tried changing the detergent but the smell only changes and does not go away.

Any ideas to remove the smell?

  • Is the water hard in your building and do you use fabric softner?
    – jCisco
    Commented Nov 2, 2015 at 21:05
  • Water is not hard, and I don't use fabric softener as it is not recommended for sport clothes made of breathable technical fabric
    – vladiz
    Commented Nov 2, 2015 at 22:15

5 Answers 5


Chances are it's due to bacteria on your clothes.

While that sounds awful, keep in mind that all clothes will have various microbes living on them when you've worn them.

Some bacteria are worse than others as far as generating smells go. If the problem persists, then your laundry routine isn't killing them.


Ways to kill the germs.

  1. Use bleach. - Bleach is great for killing germs. Unfortunately, it can also ruin clothes and irritate skin.

  2. Use a biological detergent. - Essentially the same science as using bleach.

  3. Use a higher temperature wash. - There's a push for using lower temperature washes. While much kinder for the planet, unfortunately they kill far fewer germs. Also, your clothes might not appreciate the higher temperature washes.

  4. Lastly my favourite, use an antibacterial spray. - Literally Dettol, or the much cheaper supermarket alternatives. Just spray onto the parts that smell (both inside and outside).

Personally, I've used the last technique many times in the past. It sometimes takes a couple of tries for a permanent result, but always works.

In any case, once the bacteria have been killed, the problem is fixed - you can wear the clothes as many times as you like afterwards.

  • 1
    I tried washing at higher temperature (50 C) although the washing instructions say to wash them at 40C and for some of them at 30C. Then I dried the clothes fast with a fan blowing air at them, because I can't hang them outside.The clothes were not damaged and the smell was really reduced. Maybe higher temperature will shorten their life.
    – vladiz
    Commented Nov 2, 2015 at 22:26
  • +1 for point nr 4. I usally have the same issue as OP and spraying directly on affected areas usually kills the smell Commented Mar 9, 2020 at 9:22

Overall, I would try to wash your athletic clothes quickly, and not let them sit in the washing machine for a while. Other options:

  • You could try upgrading your athletic clothes to a better fabric, and/or try to use a cotton/poly-blend, since cotton will breath more.

  • I would not recommend putting athletic clothes in the dryer, especially if they have some type of elastic, because the heat can degrade the elastic over time. I would wash them, then let them drip dry.

  • Make sure you remove your clothes from the washing machine promptly. Leaving them to sit in the machine can lead to bad smells.

  • You can also try pre-washing, or hand-washing, your clothes and include some type of oxygenated detergent or baking-soda as an additive to your regular detergent.

  • Next time I will try first hand-washing with backing soda and then put them in the washing machine.
    – vladiz
    Commented Nov 2, 2015 at 22:29

Not drying wet clothes fast enough can cause a bad smell in them and it's hard to get it away. I would suggest re-wash them and put them in a dryer to dry them off thoroughly.

If your clothes can't dry fast enough, there's nothing you can do during the process of washing will actually get rid of the smell. I like to hand wash my clothes and air dry them, therefore I encounter the same problem sometimes when the weather is bad and humid for a couple days straight.

Here are my solutions:

  • If you don't have access to a dryer, I would suggest getting a portable dehumidifier for your room to help your clothes dry faster.
  • Winter's coming, if the place you live has furnace or heating vent, I would suggest hanging your clothes on a drying rack or something similar close to a heating source. That would help it dry a lot faster.
  • If you live in a place with nice weather and a lot of sunny days, I would suggest taking it outside and hang it in your yard in the sun. This will dry it faster and at the same time kill all the bacteria. If you live in an apartment and not very convenient to take your clothes outside, you can put it closer to your window where sun comes in to have a similar effect.
  • If your residence as central air that is cooling, that is a dehumidifier, any Air conditioning in this mode will be sucking the water from the air. This is promote faster drying.
    – jCisco
    Commented Nov 2, 2015 at 21:06
  • Good point! Agree. Commented Nov 3, 2015 at 13:15

If you use antiperspirant, components are formulated to repel the action of liquids. As it turns out, so does polyester material.

That's not what you want.

In addition, the bacteria that flourish on a sweaty polyester T-shirt are different from those that grow on cotton, researchers at the University of Ghent in Belgium found.

Polyester makes a happy home for Micrococcus bacteria, while Staphylococcus, a common armpit denizen, was found on both poly and cotton. Guess which one smells worse?

From NPR.org:

Polyester workout wear is light, comfortable and dries quickly. But it's notorious for getting rank and staying that way. Internet message boards are awash with advice on how to de-stink gym clothes, but the perennial nature of the questions suggests that none of the answers — vinegar, baking soda, avoiding fabric softeners, rinsing your clothes in the shower — works 100 percent of the time.

Sorry, but natural cotton might be a better material to wear for fresher smelling clothing than manmade polyesters.

Good luck.


I've found that the best way to stop my sweaty clothes from smelling is to dry them asap RIGHT AFTER WEARING them (before washing them). I think that the bacteria likes wet clothes in the laundry basket.

Also, polyester clothes simply stink more. I've come to believe this is a downside of manufactured fibers.

BTW, I do a LOT of hiking and running and this is what works for me

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