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You’re Probably Not Cleaning These 5 Gym Bag Items Often Enough…

Last Update: September 28, 2022

Being able to wring out your shirt after a class or run is usually a badge of honor—clearly, you worked hard. And a little ripeness post-workout is perfectly excusable. But when your gym stuff smells before you even break a sweat? Not a good thing.

You’re not the only one who’s ever whipped out a pair of clean yoga pants only to notice a lingering, not-so-subtle stanky odor. Adding more detergent to the next laundry load is not the answer. Surprisingly, that can clog the fibers of the material and make the stench worse. Of course, it’s probably not just your clothes that could use a deep clean post-workout. The yoga mat, the reusable water bottle, and the sweat-proof earbuds—it’s enough to make a germophobe cry.

And if your inclination is to douse everything in bleach—kill all the germs, right now!—that’s not gonna help you in the long run. During a workout, when you’re sweating boatloads, breathing heavily, and sometimes lying facedown on your mat, do you really want to roll around in nasty chemical cleaners? Nope. Here’s how you can safely and effectively clean all of your grossest gym gear, the all-natural way.

Yoga mat

When: Clean after every use; let dry before rolling up
What: Any part of the mat you’ve touched or sweat on
With: DIY antibacterial cleaning spray or a multi-surface cleaner

Yoga mats can get nasty, fast. The delightful combo of sweat and bare feet can leave them pretty dirty—even if you can’t see stains. Use a cleaner that’s safe for synthetics, as many mats are made with polyurethane or vinyl. This easy DIY mat spray dries quickly and kills germs fast, and its pleasant smell will bring some light to your practice. (Note: It also works great on other gym equipment like free weights and fitness trackers.)

Lemon-Mint Mat Cleaner

Yield: 16 ounces
Active Time: 2 minutes
Total Time: 2 minutes


5 ounces distilled water
5 ounces distilled white vinegar
5 ounces rubbing alcohol
6 drops lemon essential oil
4 drops peppermint essential oil


Combine all ingredients in a spray bottle and shake to combine. Store for up to one month in the fridge.

Water bottle

When: Rinse after every use; deep clean once a week and after filling with anything but water
What: Inside of the bottle, the top or cap, and the straw or mouthpiece
With: A scrub brush and exfoliant cleaner

The socially conscious (and well-hydrated) love to tote reusable bottles around everywhere they go. Unfortunately, even metal containers can grow mold and mildew—and that’s the last thing anyone would want to sip on. Grab these two ingredients from your pantry and a narrow-necked scrub brush, and you’ll be good to go.

Water Bottle Cleaner

Yield: Enough for one bottle
Active Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 12 hours


8 to 16 ounces white vinegar
2 tablespoons baking soda


Fill water bottle with white vinegar. Allow to sit overnight. In the morning, pour out until only ¼ cup vinegar remains in bottle.

Dilute vinegar by adding a few tablespoons of water, and then add baking soda. Using a brush, thoroughly scrub the inside of the bottle, sloughing off any lingering mold. Rinse well and dry before using.

Stinky shoes

When: Between wears
What: The inside of the shoe
With: Bamboo charcoal shoe deodorizers

Smelly sneakers happen—feet have more than 250,000 sweat glands, after all—but you shouldn’t be able to catch a whiff of yours from across the room. Try these unscented deodorizers instead of suffering through the stink. All you do is slip them into your workout shoes while you’re not wearing them to do the trick. The bamboo charcoal should maintain its odor-absorbing power for up to a year, and it’s completely safe and nontoxic.


When: Once a week
What: The earbud and silicone cover; the ear covering
With: Castile soap and water

Dirty earbuds can transmit bacteria and even cause ear infections because they trap sweat and earwax (gross). Give yours a quick wipe down once a week, or before sharing with a friend. Lightly dampen a microfiber towel with a little castile soap and water and wipe the headphones down. If they come with silicone covers, remove those and rinse under water with a little soap. Allow to fully dry before you reattach.

Workout clothes

When: After each wear
What: Athletic clothes made with synthetics
With: Borax, hydrogen peroxide, white vinegar, or a sports wash

Do NOT toss that $100 pair of yoga pants just because they have a little stank. Those luxury sweats can be saved! Athletic wear is typically made with synthetic materials that are meant to wick sweat away from the body and dry quickly—but unfortunately, these fibers sometimes trap bacteria and funky smells. Here’s how you can save your clothes from the trashcan:

  1. Let them to dry fully before tossing them in the hamper. Hang up sweaty clothes after a workout so they dry completely instead of balling them up and throwing them into the laundry. If they stay damp for days or weeks, they’re more likely to smell and can even grow mildew.
  2. Skip the fabric softener and ease up on the detergent. Both can clog the “pores” of the fabric, and encourage smells to linger.
  3. Use an anti-stink agent. Add 2 ounces of white vinegar, the juice of one lemon, or ½ cup of borax to your laundry. All of the above brighten whites and colors in addition to removing odors.
  4. Or try a “sport” wash. Use a sweat-specific detergent to banish smells from your favorite workout garments and sports bras.

Your cleaning products should keep you as healthy as your workouts do, right? By sticking to the green options above, you’ll know you’re getting maximum cleaning power (and stink-fighting!) with minimal chemical exposure.

Photo credit: Riley Joseph via Stocksy

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Michelle Pellizzon

Certified health coach and endorphin enthusiast, Michelle is an expert in healthy living and eating. When she's not writing you can find her running trails, reading about nutrition, and eating lots of guacamole.

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