We all have that polyester cycling jersey, Capilene base layer, or running shirt that still stinks no matter how many times it has been through the wash. Instead of throwing all your synthetic outdoor apparel into the recycling bin, there are a few ways to remove the offensive odor after it has become too much to bear.
So why do our synthetic clothes stink in the first place? Your apocrine glands are responsible for the smelly components of sweat, with bacteria that feed on the fatty secretions of these glands adding considerably to the odor problem. This oily sweat gets lodged in the synthetic fibers of your apparel, creating a virtual feast for bacteria, one that normal washing can not easily eradicate.
It is all well and good to know why your synthetic clothes stink but how can you rid them of the offensive odor? Getting the residual stink out of your base layer requires finding a way to break down those fatty deposits and kill the bacteria. In the name of science, I wore my 100% polyester Club Ride mountain biking shirt for 3-4 rides in a row before testing out the various washing methods below.
Nikwax BaseFresh: Touted as a deodorizing conditioner, the new BaseFresh from Nikwax allows base layers to be cleaned with your standard laundry using conventional detergents. Added to the rinse cycle through your fabric softener compartment, the solution refreshes your base layers by deodorizing, while supposedly helping to maintain freshness by preventing odor build up when in use.
I found that although some of the stink did indeed come out of my shirt, there was still a very detectable residual odor, now covered by the overpowering smell of the BaseFresh. Even if many people around the world regularly use perfume to mask body odor, I would much rather have my clothes completely clean.
Sport-Wash from Atsko: Regular detergent is the enemy of outdoor apparel as it leaves residues which sabotage the performance characteristics of the underlying fibers. A pure soap solution such as Sport-Wash rinses out completely, thoroughly cleaning your apparel without leaving behind any sort of residue to add to the oil and bacteria mess already stuck in your clothes. Sport-Wash supposedly works well to clean all types of outdoor apparel, from your waterproof breathable jacket to your down sleeping bag. Sport-Wash works well as a regular maintenance solution, but not always effective on stubborn odors.
Nature’s Miracle: Commonly used as a pet stain and odor remover (stick with me on this one), the solution can actually be used to remove stains and odors from clothing. Made up of nothing more than water, enzymes, and alcohol, Nature’s Miracle will break down the fatty deposits and bacteria stuck in your synthetic clothing fibers. Simply soak the offending areas before throwing in your regular wash. My polyester outdoor gear came out miraculously stink-free.
Baking soda: Much like you would for a bee sting, make a paste of baking soda and water to rub on the offending areas. Let sit for awhile before throwing it in your normal wash. You can also add a 1/2 cup of baking soda to the rinse cycle to remove general odors. The paste solution seems to work for mild stink as routine maintenance, but not on baked in odors.
Vinegar: You can add a small amount (1/2 cup-1cup) of vinegar to your wash load to help break down oils and kill bacteria. Use sparingly, as your clothes can come out smelling like vinegar which makes wearing them again a bit of a nightmare.
Salt: I was a little skeptical about this one at first but the science makes sense. Salt is a natural anti-bacterial so will kill those critters lurking in your synthetic apparel. Simply soak the offending item in a salted (few tablespoons) bath of water before throwing in the regular wash.
The salt bath was the home remedy winner for me. I soaked my Club Ride shirt overnight and after a regular wash the next morning, the stink was completely gone. If you live near the ocean, you could always just jump in the water after each workout.
What remedies have worked best for you to de-stink your synthetic outdoor apparel?