My brother and I have a joke thanks to a Russian yoga teacher who said at the beginning of class: “We sweat when we train, so as not to bleed in war.”
The combination of his delivery, perfect posture, and dimly lit studio made us laugh. His class made us sweat. Much.
According to Georgia McCorkill, a fashion professor at RMIT University, sweat marks are left behind by “a combination of salts in sweat and deodorant that people are wearing.” She says, “Sweat itself is a sterile thing, but when it mixes with bacteria on the skin, it produces the odors we associate with sweat.”
When not handled properly, sweat marks and odors can be persistent. Here are some tips on how to avoid them.
Wash your clothes promptly
Stains and odors occur when bacteria build up on fabric, so it is best to wash your clothing shortly after each use. As McCorkill says: “The longer you let your clothes sweat, the greater the bacterial growth.”
Ryan Mannix, a yoga teacher and former professional athlete, goes through “a lot of sports gear washes.” He recommends airing clothes on the side of laundry baskets “so they’re never sweaty at the bottom” and machine washing everything on a cold cycle with a liquid detergent before hanging to dry.
McCorkill notes that it’s important to balance quick washing with not over washing, which can be wasteful. She suggests wearing the same thing for several days in a row before washing it off. Many sports teams are made from synthetic fibers like polyester and elastane, so consider using a laundry bag to avoid microfiber contamination.
Sweat stains can be sneaky
McCorkill flags that are sometimes stained on special occasions, such as silk, are not immediately visible, so the garment is stored without dry cleaning or washing. If the fabric is particularly delicate, sweat can cause a reaction over time, resulting in an odor or stain that appears months later. A quick hand wash or leaving it at the dry cleaner can prevent this.
When possible, wearing a cotton T-shirt that can absorb underarm sweat and withstand more frequent washing can also help extend the life of collared shirts and silk blouses.
Clean the most sweaty areas
Byron Bay sportswear brand Nagnata founder Laura-May Gibbs recommends “cleaning stains immediately after exercising,” with a natural soap like coconut oil or eucalyptus.
McCorkill agrees that cleaning stains is a good idea because sweat stains may require more attention or higher temperatures than the recommended wash cycle for the rest of the garment. She suggests using “a laundry product designed to treat stains,” but being “careful not to scrub too hard fabrics that can snag or woolen fabrics that sit.”
Choose natural fibers and natural deodorants
Due to their distinctive properties, natural fibers like cotton, wool, and silk react differently to sweat than synthetic fibers like polyester and elastane.
McCorkill says polyester “has a complicated relationship with sweat because it absorbs oily sweat from under the arms,” which causes a long-term odor. She says that “everyone can think of a polyester top that they have washed and put back on and it still smells.”
This is partly because polyester has the same molecular makeup as plastic, so it doesn’t breathe. TO 2016 Norway Study found that even synthetic odor-controlling fabrics smell worse than natural fibers over time.
The way to avoid this is by choosing natural fibers such as cotton and wool that respond to body temperature and reduce sweating. Gibbs says that “the more natural the fiber, the less likely it is to produce an odor.” The same goes for your deodorant, he adds: “When you remove the aluminum from your antiperspirant, you are less likely to produce sweat marks.”
When all else fails
McCorkill suggests cutting out the stained armpits or the part of the fabric that causes the odor and replacing it with a new fabric patch. For polyester garments that have a persistent odor, the area could be replaced with a natural fiber, solving future problems.
If transforming a blouse into a sleeveless top or adding a cotton gusset under the armpits is beyond your sewing skills, a professional tailor can easily do so.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, both Mannix and Gibbs advocate leaving only sweat marks on gym equipment. Mannix admits with a laugh: “If there’s a stain, I usually leave it.”
Gibbs insists they should be worn with pride: “You worked hard for those sweat marks!” So hopefully now … you won’t bleed in war.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism