Just Ask Jack — Beating the Stink?

Phil sent in the following question:

Could you post an article or question on how to clean polyester bike jerseys? I use bright neon green jerseys from Performance and DeFeet unDshirts (however that’s spelled) and they’re starting to get, um, aromatic – despite regular washing.

Ah, synthetic fibers…the same wonder fibers that help channel sweat away from us while we ride are also notorious for retaining body odors. Under high magnification, you many notice that many of these fibers are hollow or shaped with a lot of surface area, leaving plenty of space for odor-causing bacteria to hide. A well-used jersey or other synthetic-based athletic garment can become pretty ripe, and normal washing sometimes isn’t enough.

So what can we do? While I’ve never had this problem with cycling jerseys, I have experienced it with synthetic backpacking layers (under layers and mid-weight warmth layers). Perhaps hiking far away from showers contributed to the accumulation of “funk”…but I discovered that a good airing out in a sunny location can do a lot to combat these odors.

I asked some of our fellow staff members here if they had particular techniques worth sharing: RL soaks his stinky clothes in a bucket full of water and dishwashing soap for an hour or two prior to the normal washing, and he has had good success with this. Noah offered two techniques. The first is soaking the clothes in a very hot water and baking soda solution (half a cup of baking soda) for 10 to 20 minutes, then a normal wash. Noah suggested not to rinse the baking soda out of the offending clothes prior to washing — extra contact time is probably a good thing. His other technique is normal washing but a trip into the dryer on high heat, preferably in a small load or by itself. I’m a bit skeptical of that method, as some synthetics do not survive well in a high-heat environment.

One thing not to do is to use fabric softener liquids or sheets to make the offending clothes smell better. The oils and perfumes in fabric softeners will clog the moisture-wicking pores of the garment, ruining the effectiveness of that performance fabric.

One other suggestion I got from one of my bike club friends was to “wear wool” — wool is naturally antibacterial and has a pretty amazing ability to ward off four odors, even when worn for a couple days straight without washing. I have a wool jersey and I can proudly say it never stinks…but then again it is more of a cool-weather garment. Wool and 95 degrees plus 80% or more humidity is not a good combination in my book.

There are a variety of specialty fabric washes on the market that claim to eliminate built-up odors, but I’ve never tried any of them. Some of the common brands are ReviveX and “Sink the Stink”.

Bicycling Magazine recently had an article about this very problem…there are a few other tips that may be of use in that article, too. Check it out by clicking here. While you’re over there, check out their featured article titled “Commit to Commute“. You might recognize a few names in there!

If anyone else has tried-and-true tips on beating the stink, we’d love to hear them. Just put them into the comment area below.

Have a cycling-related question? Just Ask Jack! Click on the link in the right-hand column to send me your questions.

About the author

Bicycle commuter since 1989, bicycle enthusiast for 30+ years. I am a Bookmobile/Books By Mail librarian at a large library system and the proud father of two wonderful boys.