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Getting the Stink Out of Running Clothes: A Review of 4 Laundry Products

written by Erin Larson

Everyone talks about how the tween and teenage periods (basically from 11 to 18) can be a trying time for parents due to the puberty-triggered wild mood swings of their progeny. But, because it’s so thoroughly discussed, I felt ready to tackle the unpredictability of my two tweenagers. And, so far, we are riding the wave fairly smoothly. However, one side effect of all these bodily changes that doesn’t get enough press, and thus for which I was woefully unprepared, is the smell! Yowza! Pheromones must be going through a trial run at this phase, because man, the human race should have died out a long time ago if attraction to the opposite sex is based on THAT smell! The feet, the armpits, the extra body hair, the constant sweating…ICK!!!

So, where am I going with all of this? Laundry. We are a very active family: Pete and I both run; I hike a lot and practice yoga; and the kids are all involved in sports (and are going through puberty…see above). We have a lot of tech-wicking athletic apparel, which, I’m sure any runner knows, gets pretty funky smelling even after washing. The odors emanating from our laundry basket were so awful, that I would routinely have to rewash whole loads due to the horrible, residual stench. But even that didn’t work. Nothing was getting rid of the smell! Knowing I could not go on like this for another decade (my littlest is only 7), I made it my mission to find a detergent that works. I tested four detergents and/or detergent additives and have shared my opinions on them below. Hope it helps!

Product 1: FEBREZE IN-WASH ODOR ELIMINATOR

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Febreze In-wash Odor Eliminator was the first thing I tried, and with fairly good results. You add this product to the detergent well along with your regular detergent, adjusting the amount depending on how stinky your clothes are. I assure you; I always used the maximum amount!

Pros: It did the trick maybe 85% of the time and didn’t leave an overly perfumey smell on the clothes.

Cons: There were still some clothes that had a lingering odor, at least some of the time. Also, unless I ordered it on-line (which, I didn’t like doing because of the impacts of shipping large, heavy things…my own issues, I admit), I had to buy it at Wal-Mart. I really, really dislike Wal-Mart, so every time I went, I would buy the store’s whole supply. I felt kind of silly with eight bottles of Odor Eliminator at check out! Plus, it’s not cheap ($8.84/50oz at Wal-Mart), especially since you have to buy it in addition to your regular detergent.

Overall Rating: B

Product 2:  IN-WASH SCENT BOOSTERS

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In-Wash Scent Boosters are added directly to the washing drum with your laundry, again in the amount you deem necessary. There are numerous products like this on the market now, with each major brand having its own version in a variety of scents. I tried Downy UnStopables Fresh Scent.

Pros: These products are readily available at all major big box stores and supermarkets. And, if you like strong, flowery smelling laundry, this is the product for you. It definitely masked the nasty smells.

Cons: My biggest dislike about this product is the strong, artificial smell it left on my clothes. I’m kind of a toxic chemical freak, who believes that if you can smell your clothes from half way across the room, there are probably some synthetic, not-necessarily-good-for-you particles free floating in your environment**. Again, I may have some irrational issues with this kind of thing, so if this doesn’t bother you, go for it!

Downy Unstopables is available for purchase at Amazon.com.

**Meyer’s has an environmentally friendly version of this product that I have not had a chance to try yet.

Overall Rating: C

Product 3: WIN: HIGH PERFORMANCE SPORTS DETERGENT

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WIN and WIN GREEN High Performance Sports Detergents are used in place of your regular detergent.

Pros: It really did the trick. I used this product exclusively on our laundry until the bottles ran out, and it left even our stinkiest clothes smelling normal, without any obnoxious, over-powering flowery smell. I also really like that it came in a Fragrance & Dye-Free version.

Cons: You can only buy it on-line and it’s not cheap. On Amazon, it’s $10.95/ 32 ounces, which works out to about 34 cents an ounce. If you compare this to a major brand like Tide, where you pay around 11 cents an ounce at WalMart, it’s pretty pricey, especially if you have a large family that creates a lot of laundry.

Another down side, though it may seem silly, is the cap. There are two caps on the bottle, a white one that keeps it closed, and a bigger, colored one for dispensing the liquid. Most detergent bottles have a dispensing cap system (a lip and well on both the cap and the bottle) that is designed to catch any remaining residual liquid back into the bottle with very little mess. Not so with this product. The cap is just a cap, slightly bigger than the neck of the bottle, so that when you go to put the cap back on after pouring the detergent into your machine, the remaining liquid pours out all over your hand and the bottle. For some reason, this really bugged me.

WIN Sports Detergent is available at Amazon.com.

Overall Rating: A-

Product 4: SWEATX SPORT

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SweatX Sport was my favorite of the four products tested. Like the WIN above, this product replaces your regular detergent.

Pros: SweatX really got the smells out and left a fresher scent than the WIN without being artificial or overbearing. I started using this product in the summer, when we not only had to deal with sweaty clothes, but constantly damp ones due to continual use of our in ground pool. Kids, for some reason, are incapable of hanging wet clothes to dry, thus by the time I found suits and towels, they had been festering in damp heaps for who knows how long. The SweatX detergent was even good at tackling the resulting nasty mildewy smells in these loads.

Cons: The real drawback to this product is the price! It was, by far, the most expensive of the four. I bought mine at Dick’s Sporting Goods for $22.99 for a 45 oz. bottle. Yikes! That’s over 50 cents an ounce. You can get it slightly cheaper at Amazon, but not much.

And, regarding the cap (clearly an issue for me), it wasn’t bad. It doesn’t have a well like most major brands, but at least there isn’t a double cap system that makes no sense. Plus, the liquid in this product is much thinner than the WIN, so it pours back into the bottle a lot easier if any detergent is left over.

One last con, there is no dye/fragrance free version that I am aware of.

Overall Rating: A-

So, there you have it. Admittedly, I only tried four products, but feel I got a good sense of what was out there: products added with your detergent, products added directly in with the clothes, and detergent replacements. Unfortunately, the products that cost the most were the ones that did the best job. This is one area, however, at least for my family, where I feel like the money is worth it. I needed to rewash whole loads of clothes with my regular detergent, which wasted money, energy, and time. While I feel I need to use the odor-eliminating products on every load, you could make the bottles last longer if you only use it on select loads, like sweaty sports clothes.

A side note on liquid fabric softener:  I read somewhere that liquid fabric softener retains odors on clothes, especially synthetic wicking fabrics. This seemed counter-intuitive to me, since my fabric softener has a really nice lavender scent, but I decided to test run a few loads without it.  I have noticed the laundry odor is not as strong since I’ve stopped using it, even if I don’t use any special odor-eliminating products.

wool dryer balls

As an alternative to ward off static, I’ve started using wool dryer balls, which seems to do the trick. And, as an added bonus, you can add your favorite essential oils directly to the balls to further improve your laundry’s potential! The balls are re-useable, all-natural and chemical-free…win-win-win!  You can find them at Amazon.com.

 

If there are any effective odor-eliminating products I’ve missed, or you have any other suggestions for improving laundry odors, please leave a comment. Thanks!

About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a recovering academic who currently works as an exercise physiologist, running coach, and writer. He's also a father of three and a fanatical runner with a bit of a shoe obsession. In addition to writing and editing this site, he is co-author of the book Tread Lightly, and writes a personal blog called The Blogologist. Follow Pete on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and via email.

Comments

  1. Good old fashioned white distilled vinegar. Use your regular laundry soap, put the vinegar in fabric softener spot and wash like normal. Vinegar is a fantastic oder remover and also great at softening. Dirt cheap and environmentally friendly. WIN! (I use it in all my laundry, not just the running stuff).

  2. Jorge Rosa says:

    I simply add a teaspoon of baking soda before the rinse cycle. Easy, cheap, and it just works.

  3. I use vinegar instead of liquid fabric softener in my laundry and I don’t have a problem with stink. To be fair, it’s just me and I’m pretty good about not letting it sit around too long before laundering! I just fill the dispenser with regular white vinegar and add a few drops of essential oils. I like grapefruit and clove. They give my clothes a hint of smell but not chemical nasty smell. Vinegar is definitely cheap enough that I can use it freely. It also keeps clothes from getting crunchy if you hang them to dry.

  4. Actually, the best way prevent stink from setting in is to not put any moisture wicking clothing in the dryer. The heat, even on low, locks the stink in. If the clothing gets wrinkled as you air dry it place it in the dryer on low heat for a few minutes (that won’t effect the smell) after the article is fully dried. Air drying clothing won’t take any previous stinks out but it will prevent it in new clothes.


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