Synthetic Workout Gear Smells Worse Than Cotton Gear

IN A FINDING that will not surprise this writer’s wife, synthetic exercise gear smelled worse than cotton gear a day after both had been worn during a sweaty workout, according to research published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

Belgian researchers had 26 people do a hard hour-long spin bike workout. The shirts the exercisers wore were then incubated for 28 hours. Afterward, the researchers analysed what bacteria were present on the shirts, and what the researchers called “a trained odour panel” assessed the shirts’ relative mephitis.

“The polyester T-shirts smelled significantly less pleasant and more intense, as compared to the cotton T-shirts,” is how the researchers summarised the panel’s conclusions.

One of the researchers, Chris Callewaert of Ghent University, said that one bacteria, micrococci, largely explained the difference.

“They are known for their enzymatic potential to transform long-chain fatty acids, hormones, and amino acids into smaller—volatile—compounds, which have a typical malodor,” Callewaert said in a press release accompanying the research’s publication. The researchers found that, during the 28 hours of incubation, micrococci were able to grow much better on the synthetic than cotton workout shirts.

Callewaert said that freshly secreted sweat has little odour. It’s only when micrococci and other bacteria set to work on breaking down sweat’s long-chain fatty acids that the characteristic runner’s stink emerges.

In the unlikely scenario you don’t want to wash apparel after just one run, one way to reduce post-workout stink is to rinse sweat out before bacteria can convert perspiration into PU. This study suggests that wearing cotton gear will lessen the chance of your house smelling like a locker room; merino wool is also known for resisting odour intrusion.

Here are some other tips for reducing the odour of your running clothes.


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