Welcome to summer! More specifically, Summer in Texas. It’s hot. It’s humid. It’s downright miserable some days. With heat indexes reaching 110, it’s not hard to imagine the amount of sweat being produced in the Lone Star State. ::bleh:: Now add exercise, sports leagues, outdoor activities and it becomes a breeding ground for smelly clothes and gear. One of my goals this summer was to figure out how NOT to throw away my favorite pair of yoga pants, volleyball kneepads or gym bag due to lingering odors. What I discovered is that, like Bill Nye The Science Guy says, “It’s Science!” I learned about fabrics and their functions. I learned about sweat. I learned that not all odor treatments are created equal. Let’s dive in!

I started my journey with trying to understand just what makes certain items smell more than others. Why do my somewhat-new yoga pants smell more than my favorite 90’s band t-shirt? (Gavin Rossdale for life!) For this answer I dove into the world of textiles. The dictionary defines textiles as a type of cloth or woven fabric. My yoga pants, gym bag and volleyball kneepads are one textile, while my concert shirt is a different type. Athletic fabrics are typically a blend of polymer fibers, which are designed to pull sweat away from your body and evaporate from the material quickly. However, the only thing that evaporates out of the material is the H2O component of sweat. The rest of what makes up sweat, salts and urea, is left behind. Ick! How clean do you think your stuff is now?

Cotton is the opposite. Cotton is a natural fiber that has a hollow core called a lumen that draws in H2O through its tiny tubes like a straw. It’s called capillary action. And that’s the structure of cotton, now for the chemistry behind all of this.

- Bill Nye, The Science Guy

– Bill Nye, The Science Guy

Cotton fibers are 99 percent cellulose, which is a long chain of connected glucose molecules with a slightly negative charge. If you were paying attention in high school chemistry class, you’d remember that H2O has a positive charge. (Don’t worry, here is the bonus point question!) What happens when you get a negative charge near a positive charge? BOOM! Attraction! Water stays attached to the cotton fiber, weighing down your t-shirt and taking forever to dry. Ugh! Did you know that cotton can absorb up to 27 times its weight of water! That’s a lot of sweat to be weighing you down.

cotton fiber

The structure of cotton fiber.

So now that we know the absorption properties of different fabrics, what causes the smell? That question comes down to sweat. Sweat is composed “of 99 percent water and small bits of carbs, salt, protein and urea” provided by glands. Sweat itself does not smell. The odor comes from bacteria breaking down secretions from the apocrine glands which provide the salts, protein and urea. Bacteria feeds on the secretions in sweat and creates a by-product which is the cause of the smell or what is called body odor.

So I wonder – if I can’t stop from sweating (Thank you, biology!) and I can’t prevent my clothing and gear from absorbing sweat, what can I do? I can remove the feeding bacteria from the materials. Hello, laundry day! But not so fast…

I know you’ve wandered up and down the laundry aisle again and again sniffing “mountain breeze”, “island getaway” or even “fresh linen” and thinking “hmm, I’d prefer fresh linen over b.o. any day!” But you might be only adding to the odor problem if you are trying to tackle your stinky athletic apparel and gear with a common detergent or treatment. The majority of popular laundry detergents and fabric sprays only remove or mask the odor on a natural fiber, like cotton or linen.

But when it comes to polymer-based fabrics or materials you need a formula that will penetrate the fiber to release the salts, urea and carbs. This will remove the bacteria buffet and the odor with it! Specially formulated sports detergents break down the chemical bond in the fiber, allowing it to enter the fiber, attach to the nasty gunk, and exit the fiber with the stinky stuff; leaving behind a fresh, clean poly fiber to take on your next sweat sesh!

An extreme magnification of white individual fabric threads being penetrated by green bacteria on an isolated background

An extreme magnification of fabric threads releasing bacteria

I came across a great stink stopper at my local running store. How convenient! 2Toms® StinkFree Shoe & Gear Spray™ tackles my gym bag, kneepads, yoga mat and more. 2Toms® StinkFree® Sports Detergent is perfect for that load of athletic wear. My yoga pants have never been fresher and I even use it for my bath towels and bed linens. (Bet you didn’t know those were wicking too!) What’s better, is that StinkFree® is exactly that! It frees my sportswear and gear of stink, not masking it with “tropical getaway” fragrance. The only smell that I will be sporting this summer is the smell of awesome! Trust me, it smells better than last weeks’ hot yoga class.

Check out 2Toms® StinkFree® line here.

Learn more about fabrics and “the science behind stink” at the links below.

http://www.outdoors.org/articles/amc-outdoors/why-does-cotton-absorb-so-much-water/

https://www.sweathelp.org/home/understanding-hyperhidrosis.html

http://www.antiperspirantsinfo.com/en/all-about-sweat/why-does-sweat-smell.aspx