I firmly believe that wicking exercise fabric is one of the greatest inventions of our time. I’m old enough to remember what wet, sweaty and cold cotton feels like against the skin and I hope to never, ever have to experience that again! But at the same time a lot of folks are understandably confused by how these kinds of athletic garments should be laundered. The labels say to wash workout clothes in cold water on the delicate cycle, yet that often leads to the garments taking on a funky odor that seems impossible to get rid of.
Sweat is a breeding ground for bacteria, which is what causes those nasty odors. Yet the care label expects you to treat your sweaty, bacteria-infested running shirts as you would a delicate silk blouse that hardly gets any wear. No wonder these issues are so common!
The basic laundry cleaning formula consists of four simple components: time + temperature + mechanical action + chemical action (detergent). So if you follow the label and reduce time and mechanical action (delicate cycle) as well as temperature (cold wash), you are left with detergent as the most important factor in this equation.
Do you Need a Special Detergent for Workout Clothes?
Need is probably a strong word, but if you want to get the most out of your pricey athletic wear I’d recommend using a special detergent. An ideal detergent for workout clothes is strong enough to get rid of any smells even at lower water temperatures, but gentle enough to keep your athletic wear going strong for a long time with no fading or pilling.
What you absolutely do need to do is always wash your athletic clothes separately, err on the side of cooler water and never, ever use fabric softener.
Workout Laundry Detergent Options – Powders
My go-to for detergent for workout clothes has been Charlie’s Soap or Nellie’s Laundry Soda. Those are both unscented powders, and in my water they are absolutely fantastic at getting tough odors out. I actually often use one of them as a pre-wash with my regular loads to ensure that any possible funky odors are removed.
I’ve also tried the loved by many Sport Suds, but as much as I wanted to like it I unfortunately did not get great results. In order for clothes to be completely stink-free I had to use well over the recommended amount, and that became cost prohibitive real quick.
WORKOUT Laundry DETERGENT OPTIONS – Liquids
After a couple of months of using powders, I really wanted to try out some liquids. I was pretty happy with the performance of the powders, but I did want to see if any of the specialized liquids could give even better results.
I bought these three “natural” detergents and have been testing them out over the past couple of months:
I’m using “natural” in a broad sense here – the ingredients list of HEX and Molly’s differ quite a bit, yet HEX does claim to be eco-friendly.
PSA: You can find Molly’s All Sport and Biokleen Sports Laundry Liquid on Vitacost. Right now the prices are lower than Amazon and if you have never purchased from Vitacost before you can follow this link to sign up and get an extra $10 off your first order of $30+!
HEX Performance Advanced Fresh Scent Review
Let me get one thing out of the way: this is probably the strongest smelling detergent I’ve ever used, and unless you are 110% sure you will love the lingering smell do yourself a favor and buy the Free&Clear version. The scent reminds me of artificial green apple, which isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when I think “Fresh Scent”. Or “eco-friendly”, for that matter!
I was really excited to try this one. I like the company’s messaging, how science-based they are (check out this patent too!) and love how responsive they are to reviews and on social media. HEX also comes in pretty unique soft foil packaging with a spout and measuring cup. But the scent… Oh the scent. I was only able to use this on a load of workout clothes once. The resulting leftover scent was so strong that I had to rewash that load – it lingered even several weeks after laundering! I’ve since been using a bit of HEX as a prewash for my regular laundry, and the scent of HEX persists even when followed by a main wash with regular detergent.
That being said, I will definitely repurchase the Free&Clear version once I run out of Fresh Scent. Based on how it has been performing as a prewash, HEX is great at tackling odors, much better than my regular detergent alone.
You use 1 oz per regular load, which is about three brief “squirts”. This detergent can get quite sudsy in softer water, but I haven’t had any issues in our medium hard water. It’s a clear liquid, free of dyes and optical brighteners. HEX detergents do contain enzymes and antimicrobial ingredients. The HEX lineup also includes a quat-based booster, that is used in place of fabric softener – I’ve just started testing that one and will have to do a full review once I get enough experience with it.
Molly’s Suds All Sport Liquid Review
Just like with Sport Suds, I have not had much luck with the highly rated Molly’s Suds powder. It left a precipitate in my water, and I did not feel comfortable using that in my washer (more on that in this post). But I was nonetheless curious to try out the All Sport liquid that Molly’s Suds released not too long ago.
Unfortunately, I did not have much luck with this liquid either. It was sudsy, it left behind a faint sweet scent that just did not smell clean to me, but most importantly it did not get smells out at the recommended dosage. I didn’t try increasing the dosage because that would have caused a suds-o-rama. This workout detergent was also the most expensive of the three, and I definitely will not be repurchasing once I run out.
The All Sport is a slightly yellow liquid that has a faint citrus and vanilla smell out of the bottle. Dosage is also 1 oz for a regular load, and things get quite messy if you attempt to use the bottle cap for measuring the amount of detergent… Unlike the Molly’s Suds powder this does have enzymes, but doesn’t have any synthetic additives.
Biokleen Sports Laundry Liquid Review
I had crazy suds with the regular, non-enzyme Biokleen Laundry Liquid, so the Biokleen Sports detergent was the last one of the three that I bought. I kept hesitating whether I needed it – it only comes in a fairly large 64 oz jug, and I didn’t want to be stuck with that much leftover detergent if I didn’t like it.
But in the end I actually really like the Biokleen! It smells very nice in the bottle – an herbal eucalyptus scent that HEX should take into consideration (who wants to smell of fake apple??), but doesn’t leave any scent behind. It’s definitely the least expensive of the bunch – according to the label you only need 1/2 oz for an HE load, at which rate you will get 128 (!) loads to the bottle. I personally use a little more, about 2/3 oz – 1 full oz gets too sudsy and 1/2 doesn’t feel like quite enough.
I’ve been using the Biokleen since November as my primary laundry detergent for workout clothes, and it hasn’t failed me once. Clothes come out smelling clean, and all odors are gone. The magic ingredient in Biokleen is an enzyme that’s supposed to tackle perspiration odors, and from what I can tell it really does do what it’s supposed to. It’s also a clear liquid with no added optical brighteners, but as mentioned earlier it does contain enzymes. That being said, I have found it to not work very well on stains. So if you have any dirt/grass/blood on your clothes you want to make sure to pre-treat or add a booster like Dropps 4-in-1 booster pacs which have an ingredient in them (TAED) that activates oxygen bleach at lower wash temperatures as well as additional enzymes.
Best Detergent for Workout Clothes Summary
If you’re looking for a specialized liquid laundry detergent for workout clothes, my two favorites would be HEX Performance Advanced Free&Clear and Biokleen Sports Laundry Liquid. Both do a great job of keeping your exercise clothes stink-free, and both are reasonably priced. You get quite a few more loads with Biokleen, but HEX takes up much less space in your laundry room. As someone who has a bit of a laundry detergent problem I say that’s a great thing!
Do I prefer a liquid to a powder detergent for workout clothes? I think so. I feel that the specialty liquids are gentler on fabric than the powders I had been using, although that could all be in my head. I also like that these detergents are specially formulated for workout clothes. Athletic wear can get pricey, and I like feeling that I’m taking the best possible care of it.
And to clarify, I have not tested any of these detergents on everyday soils – they were used only for exercise clothes. The types of soiling they are made to tackle is pretty limited: sweat, body odor and detergent residue. Due to that they make a great prewash, but I don’t think they’d have the stain fighting power to tackle regular soils.
ALL OF THE LISTED LAUNDRY DETERGENTS WERE PURCHASED BY ME FOR PERSONAL USE. THIS BLOG POST CONTAINS AFFILIATE LINKS THAT WILL GIVE ME A SMALL COMMISSION ON ANY PURCHASES MADE THROUGH THE LINKS.