How to Get Rid of a Bad Smell in Your Home Gym

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Do you know what unwashed monkey butt smells like? I do. Well, at least I think I do. I would imagine it smells exactly like the odor that was emanating from my garage gym one hot June afternoon. I really wanted to work out, but I just couldn’t handle the smell that had seemed to crop up from nowhere! I didn’t know where it was coming from, but I had to fix it. I wanted to train. But I also didn’t want to throw up while I was doing it. Yeah, the smell in my gym was that bad!

Gas Mask for Gym Odor

After much cleaning and investigation, I eventually found the culprit, or should I say, culprits. That ordeal, and I don’t feel like I’m exaggerating by calling it an ordeal, taught me a lot about what it takes to keep my little garage gym smelling good.

It’s about more than cleaning

I thought I had done this. Really, I did. I’m not a dirty guy. I clean my house once a week. I dust. I vacuum. I even clean the bathrooms against my will. Why, then, did my training space smell so incredibly bad that fateful June day? What I found will hopefully help your gym from ever getting to that level of smell. And what I learned along the way has kept my gym smelling fresh and inviting ever since.

Obviously, the best way to handle any problem is to prevent it from happening in the first place. If we can keep odor from happening, we don’t need to deal with eliminating it. Once we do that, we can take a few steps to keep odor at bay and at the same time make our gym a pleasant place to be.

Simple tips to a fresh smelling gym

Don’t keep your dirty gym clothes in your gym

This might seem obvious, but it wasn’t to me at first. I’m lazy. I thought that the best place to put a hamper for my gym clothes would be in the gym. And that worked great when it was cold outside. Once my gym heated up in the summer months, not so much. So put your dirty workout clothes with the rest of your dirty clothes. Don’t store them in your gym.

Always wear clean clothes

This is actually something I learned while still working out at a commercial gym. The guys that I saw there regularly would wear the same clothes for several days in a row. They’d put them on, work out, sweat them through, and then hang them in a locker to dry only to wear them again the next time they worked out.

I’m not here to judge. But what I will say is that the odor that developed on their clothing rubbed off on everything! Every bench they lay on and every pad they rubbed against ended up smelling awful.

So, we all have those days when we skipped doing laundry and now don’t have anything clean to wear. Do your gym a favor and find something. Don’t reuse old clothes a second time!

Clear the room of things that might smell bad

Speaking of keeping stinky things in your gym that shouldn’t be there, take a look around the room. What else is in there that could end up smelling?

I’ve got a buddy who has a pretty nice set up in his basement. That’s also where the family keeps the litter box for the cat. Not the ideal combination. Not exactly the healthiest either!

In my case, my gym is in my garage. Being that I live in a townhouse, I’m required to keep my garbage cans inside. That means they are in my garage, there’s no other place to keep them. And that, my friend, was one of the major sources of the smell I had to deal with that hot June day.

Be cautious of used equipment

I’ve mentioned elsewhere on GymCrafter the story of the used bench I bought. I didn’t realize it until it got hot, but that bench ended up smelling like it was upholstered with dead hobo. It was unreturnable and unusable. One of the things I always do now, before buying a piece of used gear, is smell it. I know, weird. But needed! Want more tips on buying used gym equipment you won’t have to throw out? Check out my article here.

Clean regularly

Cleaning small

The simple rules are to wipe down your equipment after every use and to clean the whole space weekly. It doesn’t need to be a long involved process, but it does need to be done!

Want the most complete run down on cleaning your gym on the web? See my article “The Definitive Guide to Cleaning Your Home Gym”.

Don’t need a full guide to this simple topic? Keep something close at hand to wipe things down with. It could be disposable gym wipes, a bottle of Simple Green (non toxic and ph neutral) and some paper towels, or a bottle of diluted vinegar and a microfibre towel. Any of those will do as long as they get used after every workout.

Once a week, do a full clean. Dust, vacuum, and wipe down everything thoroughly. It will not only help keep odor at bay, but will keep your gym inviting and pleasant to use. No one wants to train and fight dust bunnies or allergies at the same time!

Ventilate your gym

Air quality in your gym is of paramount importance. It can directly impact your health, negatively effect your workouts, and make your gym smell bad. It’s a really important topic that not enough people take the time to address. If you have any level of suspect air quality in your gym, please check out my full guide to home gym air quality. It will walk you through step by step how to address any air quality or safety issues that might be present in your home work out space.

Rule number one, if you can, is to always keep the windows open. In my garage gym, I keep the door raised about 1-2 feet on most days I work out. Allow fresh air into your space as much as possible.

Also, don’t close off air vents! I see this a lot. People don’t want to climate control their unfinished basement or other unused area of their home where their gym is located, so they close all the vents. Find a way to at least open them periodically. Unmoving, musty air is a major source of gym odor.

Check for Mold

I deal with this in the air quality article I just mentioned, but I think it deserves its own bullet point here. Toxic mold is a problem for many people who don’t even know they have it. If your gym smells more like your grandparent’s basement than a place you want to train, please get things checked.

Look under your carpet or flooring. Check the walls. Be diligent. This is important for more reasons than just smelling fresh. Your family’s health could literally be at stake.

Dehumidify the air

If you have good air circulation, a great second step you can take to prevent odors is to use a dehumidifier. Obviously this depends on the climate you live in, but for people that live in an area that gets humid, a dehumidifier is a must. It can help prevent mold. It can help you breath better. It’s an inexpensive item that will pay dividends including odor prevention.

It’s a simple fact that damp areas retain odor more than dry areas. You can see my recommendation for my favorite dehumidifier in my air quality article.

Purify the air

Blue Air air purifier

A good quality air purifier is a tremendously good line of defense against odors in your gym. This isn’t exactly a cheap purchase, but it is one you’ll be happy you made. I’m fortunate in that we sell these where I work for my day job. I’ve seen many models come and go. I see what lasts and what breaks. And I see what customers keep and what they return.

For my money, there is no better option than a Blue Air air purifier. You would be hard pressed to find anything but a glowing review. In my gym, I use a Blue Air 211+ and love it. Add one to your gym today and you can have cleaner, more breathable air in a day or two. In my opinion, this is a must have piece of gear for literally EVERY home gym!

Order the Blue Air 211+ on Amazon today

Freshen the air

This is usually people’s first go to solution when any room in their house smells. The problem is that masking the odor is rarely a long term fix. The first plan of attack should always be to eliminate the source. That’s what the first tips were all about. Prevent the odor to begin with.

That said, there will still be some stink to deal with. It’s a fact of life in a room where we go to intentionally sweat buckets.

What I don’t recommend is candles, air fresheners, incense, or other similar products. Not only can those things be riddled with chemicals, but they don’t really get rid of the odor. They just smell stronger and mask it. For that reason, my choice is to use products that absorb the actual smell in the first place.

I’ve found three that work:

  • Baking Soda. Yep, you know that stuff you put in your refrigerator to absorb odors? Well, it works in other places too. Remember my stinky garbage cans? One big part of that solution was baking soda. Keeping a box or two open in your gym will work wonders. Especially if you’ve gone to the trouble of reducing the things that cause odor in the first place.
  • Fresh Wave. This is another product that’s sold in the store I work at. Upon hearing customer after customer rave about it and come back to buy more, I was sold. And with good reason. You simply buy a tub or two of this stuff and leave it out in your gym. It really works great! This two pack you can get on Amazon is what I used in my gym until I found this next recommendation.
  • Moso Natural Charcoal Air Freshening Bag. Charcoal is known to be great at reducing odors. Apparently, bamboo charcoal is the best type to use. That’s what’s in these Moso freshening bags. This is the product that finally fixed my garbage can odor issue I mentioned earlier. There are now two of these hanging in my garage near the garbage cans. The smell both inside and outside the cans is completely gone! I cannot recommend these enough! Seriously, these are like magic eraser for stink. They are awesome.

Buy the Moso Freshing Bags Here on Amazon

Moso charcoal
The Moso bags right over my garbage can.

Call in the pros

If you find yourself with odors you simply can’t remove. The last resort is to call in the pros. They will have equipment and supplies that you simply don’t have access to. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for help. These folks make their living cleaning up after fires and floods. If they can remove the smell caused by those things, they can spruce up your gym in no time. A quick Google search should show you who is available in your area.

No more monkey butt

And that, dear reader, is that! After removing my old workout clothes, moving my hamper, cleaning those trash cans, turning on my air purifier (yeah, it has to be turned on to do any good, insert face palm here), and getting a couple of Moso bages, my gym is in tip top shape.

If you are fighting odor of your own, I hope these tips have helped. And I sincerely hope your gym never gets to unwashed monkey butt status either!

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Tim Steward has been training at home since he got his first weight set from Sears in junior high. Over 30 years later, Tim has helped thousands of people build home and garage gyms that they love and use regularly. When Tim is not training or writing about home gyms, you can find him at the dog park with his two Australian cattle dogs, Anny and Beans.