Gym Clothes Cleanliness

Luca Olivito, staff writer

Will Rising walks into the locker room and takes a second to open his lock. It’s a Wednesday so we all know the ritual within seconds. He pulls out his gym shirt and then a second shirt. The second shirt is his brothers old gym shirt a size youth medium shirt faded from years of usage. There is a sizable ketchup stain near the abdomen. The shirt hadn’t been washed the entire year. To add to that, a different person in our gym class wore the shirt each Wednesday. Although a tradition like this may seem harmless there may be hygiene and health problems that come along with not washing gym clothes. A majority of the gym students at South don’t wash their gym clothes on a regular basis. In a survey of 50 Wheaton Warrenville South students, 50% of students say that they wash their gym clothes every week.

In the same survey, 60% of students said they sweat a decent amount in gym. If you combine that with the fact that some students don’t wash their gym clothes regularly there are several health problems. Abbie Linhardt said, “It’s really bad for your skin if you don’t wash your clothes because of all of the built up sweat and bacteria making daily contact with your skin.”

Additionally, after a few weeks gym clothes have a tendency to get wet and begin to stick to the body of a gym student, this breeds harmful bacteria. In Readers Digest, Ivy Lee, a dermatologist based in Pasadena, California, and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at UCLA says,“Your skin naturally has good bacteria, yeast, and fungus living on it. But clothes that trap sweat against your skin create a ‘wonderful environment’ for [harmful] bacterial infections.” The most common type of bacterial infection that can develop on the skin are staph infections.

Another common issue one may experience if they don’t wash their gym clothes are skin rashes. These skin rashes are called cholinergic urticaria and Web MD says, “They’re caused by nerve fibers in your sweat glands. Your skin reacts to the heat and sweat when your body temperature goes up.” 

Only in the worst cases of someone not washing their clothes is there a possibility for rashes or bacterial infections. Nevertheless, the underlying entity that indicates a hygiene issue with not washing gym clothes is the smell in the locker room. 62% of Wheaton Warrenville South students, that took the survey, say that the locker room smells as a result of students not washing their gym clothes. It seems people are okay with smelling really bad in their gym clothes for a period. Nonetheless, Zak Shaughnessy states, “people wouldn’t want to sweat in their school clothes that everyone can smell all day.”

Interestingly enough, the smell and body odor from gym clothes can linger onto your regular clothes. According to Smithsonian Magazine, “Bacteria thrive in the cozy moist environment of your armpits. They convert sweat molecules to smaller compounds, leading to bad odors.” If one doesn’t eradicate the bacteria on their body with deodorant, there is no saying that that odor-inducing bacteria will go away when you change clothes. These hygiene and health problems of gym class could be prevented if gym clothes were washed but assuming that all students will wash their clothes is not feasible.

As for the problem of stinky locker rooms and the possibility for students to get rashes and infections from not washing their clothes, there is no clear cut solution. No one can force students to take the initiative to wash their gym clothes. Some may say that students that choose to not bring home their clothes should do so to their own personal detriment. Yet, if there were to be some sort of universal change in the habits of gym students there are a few ways that could happen. 44% of South students say that at some point or another the gym teachers have reminded the students in their gym class to bring home their clothes. If the gym teachers reminded students, more frequently, to wash their gym clothes they might do so. Another solution would be requiring students to use deodorant after gym. Like washing your clothes, deodorant and antiperspirants have been found to be very effective at controlling the amount of bacteria on your body. As stated by scientists in the Washington Post, “They found that the colony of microbes living under the arms of people who stopped using deodorant and antiperspirant increased dramatically the longer they went without products.”