Your synthetic running gear might never smell again.
Your synthetic running gear might never smell again. (Photo: Dan Holz)

Never Wash Your Workout Clothes Again! Really.

A new detergent called DeFUNKit promises to scrub stinky bacteria from synthetic workout apparel. We put the stuff to the test during a week of skiing, running, and traveling—and found we smelled as good on day seven as we did on day one.

Your synthetic running gear might never smell again.

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A special wash that keeps your workout clothes from stinking even if you wear them for a full week sounds like a bad late-night television scam. Turns out it’s not.

DeFUNKit, a company started by material scientists and chemists from the University of Oregon, makes such a product—and it really works. We tested the stuff—skiing and running in the same kit for seven days straight—and found that we smelled significantly better than normal. (More on that later.)

Marketed as an anti-stink agent for frequent travelers or people who sweat a lot (athletes), DeFUNKit was developed to reduce the environmental impact of the notoriously eco-unfriendly clothing industry. The scientists wanted to devise a way for people to do less laundry, saving water and increasing clothing’s lifespan. “The number one thing you can do to decrease the environmental impact [of the industry] is to not make as much new stuff, and you can do that by keeping your stuff from wearing out and having to be replaced,” says Gilad Gozlan, vice president of sales for Dune Sciences, which partnered with University of Oregon to commercialize the researchers’ work.

Synthetic materials are the main target. Unlike wool, which is naturally odor resistant, synthetics tend to stink right away. (They are, however, great at moisture management.) That’s because it’s much easier for an odor-causing bacteria called micrococci to cling to synthetic fibers than to wool. Fresh sweat doesn't smell, but micrococci break down your sweat's fatty acids, and that process stinks. You can wash your smelly gear, but most off-the-shelf detergents have a tough time dislodging all the bacteria. 

DeFUNKit’s secret sauce is in its superdetergent with enzymes that allows it to break down odor-causing bacteria. It then bonds special deodorizing molecules directly to the surface of the fabric that keep the bacteria from coming back. (Pending EPA approval, it’s possible that Dune will create a silver nanoparticle wash that’ll make fabrics antimicrobial, like Polygeine. The current odor-control wash is not antimicrobial—it just keeps microbes from attaching.) 

After using the system, according to DeFUNKit researchers, the clothes should be good to wear for a full week, and the deodorizing molecules will last through 20 washes. “I can go on a 1.5-hour run in 85-degree weather, then come home and hang up my workout clothes in the back of my closet—or put them in a Ziploc—and you wouldn’t know I wore them,” Gozlan says.

All of which sounds like a lot of too-good-to-be-true marketing speak. So I tested the stuff myself—and came away impressed. 

For my own test, I washed a load of workout clothes and a towel with DeFUNKit before a weeklong ski trip with my parents and in-laws. I live in a humid beach town where towels stink after one use, so I went for a run before heading to the mountains. I left the running clothes in a heap on my bathroom sink and tossed my wet towel on a hook. Then I skied in the same sports bra, compression socks, and yoga pants for the entire week. I also went for a five-mile run on the seventh day, just for kicks. 

The result: only my husband had the cajones to smell my feet, but when he did, he smelled nothing. I smelled my own feet: nothing. Used workout wear usually gets packed in a garbage bag for travel, but I put the yoga pants right back in with all my other clothes. The ultimate test was to sniff the stuff I left simmering in my home bathroom. The towel: no smell. Sports bra, running shorts: they actually smelled nice. When I stuck my face in my running shirt, I detected a hint of BO in the armpits, though the husband said he smelled nothing. 

Of course, I haven’t washed anything again since I treated it, so only time will tell how long this magic coating lasts. And at $20 per treatment, the stuff isn’t cheap. However, if you run, ski, bike, or just work out in synthetic clothes and don’t like to stink, DeFUNKit is a serious improvement over other detergents.

Lead Photo: Dan Holz