No sweat! How to avoid yellow stains and lingering odors on clothes

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Here are some ways to keep sweat from ruining your clothes, whether it’s gym gear that smells even after washing or unexpected stains that appear weeks later.

My brother and me have a joke thanks a Russian yoga teacher, who said at the start of class that “We sweat when training, so we don’t bleed at war.”

We laughed at her perfect delivery, awed her posture, and softly lit studio. We were able to sweat during her class. It was a lot.

Georgia McCorkill is a fashion lecturer at RMIT University. She says sweat marks are caused by “a combination salts in sweat and the deodorant people use”. According to McCorkill, sweat is a pure substance, but it reacts with bacteria on the skin and creates the unpleasant odours that we associate with sweat.

If not treated properly, sweat marks or odours can become stubborn. Here are some tips to help you avoid them.

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Wash your clothes immediately

Fabric bacteria can cause stains and odours. It is best to wash your clothes immediately after you wear them. McCorkill says, “The more sweat you leave on clothing, the more bacteria growth.”

Ryan Mannix is a former professional athlete and yoga teacher. He has “a lot” of athletic gear washes. Ryan recommends hanging clothes out on the sides of laundry baskets so they don’t get too sweaty. He also suggests machine washing all clothing on a cold cycle using a liquid detergent and drying it out.

McCorkill points to the importance of balancing prompt washing and not over-laundering, which can lead to wasteful laundering. She suggests that you wear the same item a few times a week before washing it.

Sneaky sweat stains are possible

McCorkill warns that stains can sometimes be visible on special occasion wear like silk. You don’t notice it and the garment is left without dry-cleaning. The fabric might react to sweat over time. This can lead to a stain or odour that may appear months later. This can be prevented by a quick hand wash or a drop-off at the drycleaner’s.

A cotton undershirt can help prolong the life of silk blouses and collared shirts.

Cleanse the areas that are most sweaty

Laura-May Gibbs is the founder of Nagnata athleisurewear brand in Byron Bay. She recommends that you “do a spot cleaning right after your exercise”, using a natural soap like coconut oil or eucalyptus.

McCorkill agrees that spot cleaning is a good idea, as sweat stains may require more attention or higher temperatures to clean than the recommended cycle for washing the garment. McCorkill suggests spot-treating with a laundry product that is designed for spot treatment, but cautions against rubbing too hard on woolen fabrics or fabrics that may feel snaggy.

Natural deodorants and fibres are best

Because of their unique properties, natural fibres like silk, cotton, and wool react differently to sweat than synthetic fibers like polyester and elastane.

McCorkill states that polyester has a “complicated relationship with sweat” because it absorbs oily sweat under the arms, which can cause long-term odour. McCorkill says that everyone can remember a polyester top that they have worn and washed again, and it still smells.

Polyester has the same molecular structure as plastic so it doesn’t breathe. A study by Norway in 2016 found that synthetic fabrics with odour control smell worse than natural fibers over time.

This can be avoided by using natural fibres like wool and cotton that are able to regulate body temperature and decrease sweating. Gibbs states that the more natural the fiber, the less likely it is to create an odour. She also suggests that your deodorant should be natural. “When you remove the aluminium from your antiperspirant, it is less likely that you will produce sweat marks.”

If all else fails

McCorkill suggests removing stained armpits or the part of the fabric that is causing the odour and replacing it with fresh fabric. If you have persistent odours from polyester garments, it is possible to replace the area with a natural fiber, which will solve future problems.

A professional tailor can easily transform a blouse from a sleeveless to a sleeveless top, or add a cotton underarm gauze.

Unsurprisingly, Mannix as well as Gibbs advocate leaving sweat marks on equipment for exercise. Mannix laughs and says, “If there is a stain on my gym gear, I usually leave it.”

Gibbs insists they should be worn proudly: “You worked hard to get those sweat marks!”

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