Ron Marinucci November Column

Ron Marinucci November Column

Provided by Ron Marinucci

“Oooh, Oooh that smell! Can’t you smell that smell?” Was Lynyrd Skynyrd singing about runners or, rather, their running clothes?

Runners must admit that sometimes we don’t smell very good. We get all hot and sweaty. After a nice long run or hard workout, though, with a good cool down, shower, and new clothes, we’re as good as new—sometimes.

Now, our running clothes, especially our shirts and tops, are a different story. Try as we might, sometimes those tee-shirts, singlets, shorts, and other sweats are nearly impossible to deodorize.

Oh, we pop them in the laundry, wash them up bright and clean, and fold and store them in a dresser or wherever. Then we pick our favorites, put them on, and head out on the town.

After a couple of hours of nothing more strenuous than watching a ballgame, eating a hot dog, or just engaging in light conversation, others with us begin to subtly sniff the air. You do, too, looking for the “schweaty,” smelly monster who entered the room.

Then it dawns on you. There is no monster. It’s YOU! Or, more correctly, it’s your tee-shirt. The rest of the evening is spent with your arms folded across your body, vowing that this embarrassment will never happen again, that you’ll get those odors out of your favorite shirt once and for all.

Many runners share some degree of this. Shoes are often culprits, too. In the summer, the closest my shoes are allowed to come into the house is the garage, right there with the fertilizers, paint brushes, lawnmower, shovels, and rakes. Being in the garage, particularly with the doors closed, with the two or three pairs of shoes I rotate is a life-threatening experience. If rank shoes are a big problem for you, you might try getting some of those charcoal deodorizing pellets from a pet store. I don’t put

them directly in my shoes. They, the pellets and the shoes, can be put together in a large plastic bag which is then closed. Overnight seems fine.

So we’ve established that runners have this pollution problem, especially with our shirts. What can we do about it? Short of buying new running clothes every week, how can we fix this without calling in the EPA?

I’ve conducted some informal research (well, just different ways of laundering) on the problem. I have tried some, but not all, of the suggestions. Here are the results, albeit mostly unscientific and mixed.

First, some bad news: you might not be able to get your running tee-shirts smelling like a spring freshet. Sorry, but as I said, I have met with only moderate success, at best, trying to use some of these tips. I hope they might work better for others.

Always test colored fabrics in inconspicuous places before applying pastes or other deodorizing solutions. You don’t want to ruin your pretty shirts.

We run in clothes made from different fabrics, ranging from good old cotton to the latest synthetics and technical materials. My experience is that, except for chlorine bleach and some fabric softeners, detergents and similar cleaning solutions might work on any of the materials. But, again to be safe, try a test run first.

Some runners suggest that the high-tech materials pose more of a challenge than cotton. I have not found that to necessarily be true, but it might be so. Ironically, the qualities that make these fabrics so desirable also make odors so difficult to remove. Made to repel water (that is, sweat), not absorb it, the technical wear works against the effectiveness of water and detergent in the washing machine. And

detergent, fabric softeners, and even body oils also make it more difficult for the laundry water and detergent to penetrate the fibers.

There are several things to try before laundering. When done with a workout, immediately remove your clothes, but in private, of course. Some runners suggest haningg them separately to dry before putting them in the laundry basket or hamper. Others rinse or soak them in plain water. One runner at insists that he jumps in the shower after a run, with his clothes on, washing them with him, using shampoo and soap. The clothes then “usually” smell all right. Some others at claim to do this, too. No, I’ve never tried this and don’t plan to try it.

Many insist that old-fashioned, time-tested natural additives work best to remove odors. These include white vinegar and baking soda. Baking soda is the preference at White vinegar, especially, seems to be a favorite pre-soaking treatment, the runner-up “natural method” at It is highly recommended at to “do the trick,” that is, removing odors. How long to soak the running clothes varies, from half an hour to even overnight. Then wash them as usual.

Washing the smelly garments as soon as possible after running is recommended. It seems to make sense, but unless we want to do five or six or seven very small loads each week, this isn’t really a reasonable option.

There are all sorts of washing tips. “Don’t use too much detergent,” which seems counter-intuitive. But as noted above, “too much” can inhibit the water and detergent from working as effectively as we’d like. Some suggest to use “the hottest water possible,” while others claim they do all of their laundry in cold water (to save energy and costs) and get the same results.

As far as white vinegar and baking soda are concerned, they (separately, not together) can be added right to the wash cycle with detergent. And remember from your high school chemistry class,

never mix bleach and vinegar or ammonia; they create a toxic gas! Some wash the clothes in a cycle of their own with only vinegar or baking soda, then do a regular cycle with detergent added. Others add vinegar to the rinse. And, it is noted, you won’t walk around smelling like a Greek salad; the vinegar odor comes out in the drying phase, whether machine- or sun-dried. Several comments at insist that a second rinse cycle works wonders.

There are other tips, too, that can be found at the Web sites of popular detergents. Some echo the vinegar and baking soda treatments. Others tout more of their own products, such as Tide Plus Febreeze Sport and Borax.

I have only tried one of the laundry additives and I didn’t note much, if any difference. Additives/specialty detergents such as Nathan Sport-Wash and Win Green are rated at Other suggestions at some Web sites include Odoban and Biokleen, as well as something called Rockin’ Green Funk Rock which was created “to take the funky smell that can build up in cloth diapers.” Now that’s a “funky smell.” Are “cloth diapers” still made?

I don’t know if these are natural additives, but some suggestions include adding “cheap” toothpaste or even mouthwash to the wash cycle. I even saw squeezing in the juice of a whole lemon. Is eucalyptus oil considered natural? If so, well even if not, it has been suggested.

After the wash, there are several tips about drying. First, if machine drying, don’t dry on high heat; use the coolest setting. Second, some insist that air drying is best, that sunlight is a natural deodorizer and takes care of the problem. Maybe for some…… A suggestion comes from Change your diet! One contributor claimed when she “switched from a high-carbohydrate diet to a low-carb, adequate protein diet, odor problems disappeared.” Runners, low-carb? I don’t think that will work, but nice try.

In the end, I suppose the only sure solution to the sweaty odors in your favorite running tee-shirts is not to run in them. Just wear them on your social outings. If that’s not a possibility, you have to show them off or they are good luck, try one of more of these remedies for deodorizing your tee-shirts. But for me, from what I tried, after a half dozen or so runs the shirts are not salvageable.

Come to think of it, I might just call the EPA.