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How to Make Clothes Smell Good - Poly vs Cotton and other Tips

Do your work-out clothes smell kinda funky even after you've washed them? Mine do, and my husband's really do! He plays baseball for fun - in a league with a bunch of other guys. He's a pitcher, and after a long game on a hot summer day, well, let's just say you can smell him coming.

But what I couldn't figure out was why the smell would get worse after the game. And linger on his clothes even after a thorough washing. Take a look at your family's athletic wear. I bet most, if not all of it, is 100% polyester or a polyester blend. I did a little research and learned that polyester, which we love for its wicking and cooling properties, is the smelly culprit.

Polyester Does Smell Bad

Scientists are just now proving what we've known for years: Polyester clothing really does smell worse than cotton. They don't know why, exactly. What they have shown is that two things contribute to this effect:
  • Polyester fibers absorb oils and skin cells produced by our bodies.
  • Polyester fibers are loved by specific bacteria, called Micrococcus, which feed on these oils and skin cells and cause the odors that we do not love.
    Natural fibers, such as cotton and modal, are not as hospitable to the odorants produced when we are active and the type of bugs that produce these odors. While this test focused on polyester, it's possible that other synthetic fabrics, such as nylon, are similar. So what are we to do?

    Cotton Clothes Smell Good

    One solution is to avoid wearing polyester and polyester blends. Cotton and cotton-modal blends like the ones we use for our Lucky & Me girl underwear and boy underwear styles are naturally odor-resistant. And they are especially comfortable for children - who often prefer the soft feel of cotton and modal against their sensitive skin.

    Keep Clothing Smelling Fresh

    But sometimes we really need the wicking and cooling properties of synthetics like polyester and nylon. Clothing designed for dance class, or gymnastics, such as our Ella Dance Shorts and Madisyn Athletic Leggings, are made of performance fabrics. Here are some suggestions for keeping athletic clothing smelling fresh day in and day out.

    • Wash clothes after every work-out. Smells grow as bacteria feed on oils and particles, so the sooner you wash them, the better.
    • Turn clothes inside out for washing. Oils and particles tend to attach to the inside of garments so turning them inside out lets the water and detergent access the source of odors.
    • Use the right amount of detergent. Too much soap or detergent can build up on fabric and fibers, leading to an accumulation of dirt and particles
    • Never use fabric softeners. They can also cling to fibers and cause an additional build-up of odor-causing particles.
    • Avoid the dryer. Heat can bake in odors. Air dry synthetic clothes to avoid making the odor problem even worse.
    • Add a small amount of vinegary to the wash to help neutralize odors.

    If you follow these simple guidelines, your clothes will smell good and stay fresh work-out after work-out.


    By Liz Smith. Liz has worked across the globe for many of the world's best known apparel brands, including Justice, Chico's, Victoria's Secret, and Hanes. She has worked closely with dozens of factories in more than 20 countries to ensure that production is of the highest standard. Liz has managed all aspects of garment production, from design through fabric development to sewing and merchandising - so she knows what it takes to make high-quality apparel. Liz is thrilled to share her knowledge about clothes to help discerning customers choose the finest products.