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Sweaty athletes stink less in cotton t-shirt

Athletes who train hard but want to minimise the impact of their smelly sweat on their surroundings could consider exchanging their synthetic t-shirts for cotton shirts. Belgian microbiologists at Ghent University discovered this.

The researchers got 26 people aged 20-56 to sweat buckets during an intensive spinning session. An hour before the punishment the participants were given a clean t-shirt. Some were given a cotton shirt and others were given a polyester shirt.

At the end of the session the researchers put the shirts in a bag and took them to a panel of trained sweat sniffers, who evaluated the odour the shirts were emitting.

The participants reported that polyester shirts stuck less to their body after the workout. That's a positive point, but the panel members who evaluated the sweaty smell of the shirts were noticeably less positive about the polyester shirts. They smelt significantly worse after the fitness training session than the cotton shirts.

Sweaty athletes stink less in cotton t-shirt

The researchers found more Micrococci [in the figure below: Micrococcus luteus] in the polyester shirts. That's a class of bacteria that, together with Corynebacterium spp, causes the sweaty odour. In the polyester shirts used in the study, however, the researchers did not find large amounts of the latter bacteria.

Sweaty athletes stink less in cotton t-shirt

The findings are interesting for innovative manufacturers of sports apparel and washing detergents, the researchers write. "With the current knowledge, the textile industry can design adjusted clothing fabrics that promote a non-odor-causing microbiome. This research opens perspectives toward better and functionalized sports clothing, which emit less malodor after use."

"Antimicrobial agents may be added to washing machine powders specifically against the odor-causing microbiota, rather than using broad-spectrum antimicrobials."

"The enhancement of the nonodor-causing bacteria and the inhibition of the odor-causing bacteria, which are enriched on certain textiles, could greatly improve the quality of the fabrics."

Appl Environ Microbiol. 2014 Nov;80(21):6611-9.

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