The smelliest place in the gym is the towel bin.Most people think this funk happens because their towel is wet, but it’s actually the bacteria living on their towels that causes that smell.
“The bacteria living on your towel feed off of sweat and dead skin cells that get left behind when you use your sweaty workout towel,” says Dr. Philip M. Tierno Jr., clinical professor of microbiology and pathology at NYU Langone Medical Center, adding that some of these proteins are responsible for body odor and can be found in “sweat glands, under arms, groin and feet.”
We asked Tierno how to keep our towels from stinking up the locker room — and he had a lot to say about the subject! Here are tips for keeping your towel fresh:
Don’t use fabric softener or dryer sheets
Tierno says fabric softener coats fabrics with oil and will prevent them from drying quickly, which means they’re more likely to collect bacteria and stink. “You want a towel that’s going to dry quickly,” he says.
Get the right kind of towel
The first step to keeping your gym towel in Australia fresh is picking the right one in the first place. When shopping for a gym towel, consider these factors:
Absorbency: The most important factor when choosing a gym towel is how well it absorbs water and sweat. Look for towels that are labeled “super absorbent” or “high absorbency” to make sure they will do their job well.
Size: Towels come in many different sizes — small ones to dry your face with during yoga, medium-sized ones to wipe away sweat on machines and larger ones that wrap around your body after a shower. Choose one that meets your needs at the gym.
In fact, a 2012 study published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology found that dirty towels are actually loaded with bacteria. Researchers swabbed kitchen towels used by families for one month and found that 49 percent had bacterial colonies and about 14 percent were contaminated with E. coli. (Ew.) But far from being dangerous, most of these microbes are actually harmless and help keep your gut balanced and healthy.
You have a few options
The first is to wash your towel after each use. This is ideal, but not always feasible if you don’t have access to a washing machine after each workout or if you’re traveling.
If you can’t get your smelly towel in the wash right away, the second-best option is to hang it up to dry as soon as possible (either at home or at the gym).Third, you can bring a second towel with you so that you can clean off in between sets and then dry yourself with a fresh towel when you’re done.Fourth, you can keep your gym bag away from your sweaty clothes by using a separate ziplock bag for wet, stinky clothes or simply leaving those items outside of your gym bag until they’ve dried.
Finally, there’s no shame in using disposable towels. Wet wipes come in handy for wiping down equipment too and are super cheap on Amazon.