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Why Do My Clothes Stink?

Why Do My Clothes Stink?

by Sarah Thomas

Things get backlogged in my house, especially anything related to laundry or sock matching. My laundry room is a place where things can get lost for days, months, maybe even years. More times than I would like to admit, I have lifted the washer lid and been assaulted by the super funk of a forgotten load of wash.

I keep a gallon of white vinegar next to my laundry detergent for the times I need to deodorize a load. You definitely don’t want to put that load in the dryer, because there is no hiding that sin once your body heats up your t-shirt, no matter how strongly fragranced the dryer sheet.

Luckily, a cup of vinegar and a fresh wash will generally offer the absolution you need, and you can move on with your next load guilt-free.

But what about the funk hanging on to your clothes even when your laundry efforts are more diligent? Have you ever worn a shirt that you absolutely knew was clean, but it smelled like B.O. as soon as you were far enough away from home you couldn’t go back to change? You’re not alone.

So do you need a different laundry detergent? Hotter water? Was the load too full? Why are your clothes hanging on to the past?

The truth is, your clothes can hold onto body odors of yesterday. And some clothes happen to be more prone to this than others, whether it is because they make you sweat more or because they encourage bacterial growth.

Thankfully, if you are frustrated that your clothes are contributing to some unpleasant smells in your life, there are some things you can do!

Treat Clothing With An Enzyme Spray

First, consider using a laundry enzyme pretreat spray or soak to break down odors that are embedded in your clothes so they don’t return in what the laundry world refers to as a “rebloom” effect.

Waxes and oils from fabric softeners, dryer sheets, laundry scent boosters, antiperspirants, and many deodorants melt into fabric and become one with the fibers of your clothes. Waxes and oils then team up with strong fragrances, B.O., and odor causing bacteria to form the kind of long term commitment with your clothes that some of us can only dream about.

This is a relationship you should not feel bad about breaking up. Enzyme treatments break down the odors, waxes, and oils, instead of just covering them up. Using an enzyme pretreat spray or soak on a regular basis will help give clothes a fresh start every time you wear them.

Choose Clothing Made From Natural Fibers

Synthetic fibers hold onto body odor, waxes, and oils like a bad grudge.

This doesn’t mean you have to run out and buy an all-new wardrobe. But as you add new pieces, consider adding more clothing made from natural fibers

The most common natural fabrics for clothes are wool, cotton, linen, bamboo, and hemp. Natural fabrics are made from short fibers that are spun together to create long strands, which are then woven into cloth.

Benefits of Natural Fiber Clothing

Any woman who has ever worn spandex shapewear on a summer day knows the special kind of crazy that non-breathable fabrics can cause. Meanwhile, natural fibers allow airflow and circulation, and they don’t trap heat.

While natural fibers do absorb odors because they are porous, they also release odors when washed. Think of how your own hair absorbs strong odors like campfire smoke that easily washes out when you shower.

Natural fibers are, well, natural. They came from the earth and will break down and return to the earth. Synthetics made from petrochemicals can sit in a landfill for many years, as well as create microplastic pollution during production and laundering.

Skin Flora-Friendly
Since natural fibers don’t trap heat and moisture, sweat is absorbed into your clothing rather than trapped on your skin. Wearing natural clothing can help to keep your skin flora in balance, especially in the areas where odor-causing bacteria thrive, like your armpits and groin.

Shout Out to Merino Sheep, The Super Fiber Producers

One natural fiber that has received a lot of attention for its ability to guard against odor is Merino wool.

Merino wool comes from Merino sheep, primarily raised in Australia and New Zealand. The wool fibers from Merino sheep are extremely fine and smooth, so the resulting fabric is soft and lightweight, not itchy or irritating like regular wool can be for many.

The natural crimp in Merino wool fiber makes it:

  • Breathable. Airflow is a person’s best friend when sweating.

  • Moisture-wicking. Your sweat is able to evaporate into the air instead of being trapped in the fabric.

  • Thermoregulating. It keeps you cool when it’s hot and warm when it’s cold.

All of the above contribute to Merino wool’s odor-resistant quality.

Some think lanolin is also helpful in controlling odor. Lanolin is the natural oil produced by sheep that gives wool its waterproof quality, and it can inhibit the growth of bacteria, mold, and mildew.

On top of that, Merino wool’s natural crimp also makes it wrinkle-resistant!

From sports bras, socks, underwear, and t-shirts perfect for layering, Merino wool clothing is becoming a more popular alternative to synthetic active and travel wear.

Fun fact: the founder of one Merino wool clothing company actually wore a shirt for 100 days straight without laundering or ironing to test its limit and nobody could tell. Now they have dozens of customers who have taken the same challenge with positive results.

It is a bit on the pricey side, but Merino wool clothing companies have proven that, because of Merino wool’s odor-fighting qualities, you can get a lot more wear out of clothes before they need washing. And that’s worth something, right?

And if Merino wool isn’t your style or in your budget, you can still prevent odor from getting trapped in your clothes by using a deodorant like Lume Whole Body Deodorant.

But What About Stretchy Pants?

Natural fibers are great for so many reasons. But we are pretty reliant on stretchy synthetics in this day and age of athletic gear and athleisure wear.

Synthetic fibers are made entirely of chemicals and include polyester, nylon, lycra, and spandex. (Hey, did you know spandex is an anagram of the word expands?)

Clothing made from synthetic fibers are generally not breathable, and they trap heat and sweat. Workout clothes do wick moisture away from the body and, because the fibers cannot absorb moisture, they quickly evaporate. That’s what makes quick-dry shirts seem like a great option when you’ve got some sweaty activities planned.

However, the fibers– which are made from petroleum-based plastics– will absorb the oil in our sweat. While the water in our sweat evaporates away, the oils and odor-causing bacteria melt right into the synthetic fibers, where they hold strong and even thrive.

Antimicrobial Synthetic Textiles

Companies that make synthetic textiles use antimicrobial agents in the clothing to help minimize the stink their clothes cause. This means chemicals like triclosan and triclocarban or nanosilver particles are added to fabrics to inhibit odor.

Activewear that has been treated with chemicals or nanosilver particles are usually marked at least on the hangtag as having antimicrobial properties.

It is impossible to know how much of these antimicrobial agents stay within the clothes, how much they release onto our skin as we sweat it out, and how much gets washed out when laundered.

So whether or not the antimicrobial properties provide benefit over a long period of time, or if they are really safe on our skin or the environment as they become a part of our water system, are questions that are largely unanswered.

You Decide What’s Right For You

We each have to decide for ourselves if wearing clothes treated to inhibit odor is worth the potential risks to ourselves and the environment.

Most of us probably aren’t willing to give up our stretchy pants– they're just too comfortable. But you may want to consider letting workout clothes air out before throwing them in the hamper, and use an enzyme spray regularly to prevent odor buildup.

Start Right With Lume Deodorant

Of course, the best way to stay odor free is to start with the right deodorant. Lume is the best at controlling odor because it prevents odor causing bacteria from consuming sweat and other bodily fluids, so bacteria don’t ever have a chance to create odor.

Lume Deodorant will wash cleanly out of clothes and won’t become permanently embedded with the fibers of your clothes.

Lume Deodorant Wipes also make a great addition to Lume Deodorant because they're such an easy way to get skin loving and clothing safe protection from odor when you're on the go. Powered by Mandelic Acid, like our deodorant, Lume Wipes are clinically proven to control odor for 24 hours, so they are no ordinary wipe.

Lume makes it easier to wear the type of clothing you prefer, even on your most active days.

Lume lets you smell like you, and your clothes smell like clothes. Try it!

Did you Lume today?

Sarah Thomas


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