In a perfect world, our gym clothes would regenerate themselves after a workout to go back to a laundry-fresh scent. But while that dream is still in the future -- if not far off -- then at least we can all walk away from workouts when we don't sweat quite as much without having to worry about doing the laundry. Right?
That depends, say the experts.
Rachel McQueen, a professor of textile science at the University of Alberta, focuses her research on clothing and odour, looking specifically at why some fabric types tend to pick up more odour than other fabrics.
"Odour is created on our bodies -- it's the bacteria metabolizing sweat from our underarms," McQueen explained to The Huffington Post Canada. "The odorous compounds could be transferred to the fabrics you wear, along with the bacteria."
A recent study conducted in her lab looked at shirts that were worn while working out and determining how badly they smelled afterwards. The results found that cotton shirts fared far better than polyester -- and this collaborates with McQueen's findings in general.
"Sometimes we might perceive odour to be quite high on some garments, but that doesn't mean bacteria is higher than on other garments," she said. It is, instead, all in the fabric's makeup.
So which fabrics work better for those who -- ahem -- would prefer not to run the wash cycle after every workout? See below -- but always remember, if there's a risk of infection, get those shorts and sports bras into the machine ASAP:
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"Cotton is an absorbent fibre and likely absorbs a lot of the odour molecules," says Rachel McQueen, a professor of textile science at the University of Alberta. "If the fabrics absorbs them, they're not being released into the environment and we can't smell them." Cotton shirts, therefore, may not need to be washed as often.
Polyester is not very absorbent and doesn't absorb moisture," says McQueen. "But it also doesn't absorb molecules." Grand finale answer? Wash polyester clothing every time you wear it.
Wool (Especially Merino)
"Merino wool is very good at masking odour -- you can wear wool garments for quite a long time without body odours developing in them," say McQueen. So while most workout garments aren't made with wool, you might want to consider that investment for socks that contain the material -- at least they'll reduce odour while you're wearing them.
"I haven't studied silk specifically, but it would be quite similar to Merino wool [at masking odours] -- it's a different fibre but similar in chemistry makeup," says McQueen. A few companies have started making exercise clothing with silk, particularly for long johns and yoga gear, so it could be worth hunting them down for less smelly clothes.
Using silver compounds in clothing, perhaps most famously in Lululemon's workout wear, has gained popularity thanks to its anti-fungal properties.
"It works on principle of lowering bacteria in the material - it has to be ionized. The ions interrupt the bacteria by reacting with proteins, but it's debatable how effective it can be."
Arguably the gym's favourite fabric, Spandex's lab-created nature could work counter to body odour.
"I haven't done anything specifically with this, but normally in a lot of garments, you don't have a huge amount of Spandex in them," explains McQueen. "I've heard anecdotally that some people seem to blame the elastic [for smells], which has to do with the chemical nature."