Almost exactly three years ago I took a meeting with Drew Westervelt, the founder of HEX Performance laundry detergent, to discuss his sport-specific cleaner and why it was that my athletic apparel was never going to be as grime-free as the rest of my wardrobe. At the time I didn’t understand why one might want to sort their clothing by both lights and darks as well as by detergent type, but the perpetual scent plaguing my workout clothing drawer was more than enough to color me intrigued. I gave it a shot, and 36 months later, I’m ready to confess: I use HEX for about 95 percent of my dirty laundry (outside of cashmere knits and super-delicate undergarments). And I don’t think I’ll be switching back to regular old Downy or Tide any time soon.
It turns out that that not entirely unpleasant, but not exactly fresh aroma that seemed perpetually stuck on my favorite leggings and sports bras was due to lingering bacteria that regular detergent couldn’t fully deal with. This is largely due to the fact that the technology involved in developing athletic materials—those sweat-wicking, fast-drying, car headlight-reflecting pieces we hold so dear—has been advancing at a rapid clip while the science behind laundry detergent is (or was) basically stuck in one place. And while those old faithful detergent formulas work wonders on cotton, wool, linen and other natural fibers, they were never designed to work on plastic, which is essentially what the synthetic fibers that make up your go-to running shorts are made of.
That’s what sets HEX apart. It not only pulls bacteria and sweat out of tight-knit performance fabrics, it also protects your bike shorts from losing their elasticity or sweat-wicking abilities after they’ve been through the wash. Basically, HEX gets way in there for a super-deep clean and then sets up a protective barrier to prevent your clothing from outside damaging factors. And while that’s fantastic for sportswear specifically, it’s also pretty great for my other clothing too. Who doesn’t want jeans that last longer and T-shirts that won’t fade or lose their vibrancy over time?
Over the past three years I’ve found that my athletic drawer no longer comes with a scent all its own and the rest of my wardrobe is as clean and fresh as it ever was when I used an old-school detergent. And while it took a few rounds through the washer before my workout gear was entirely odor-free, I chock this up to the fact that there were months’ (or even years’) worth of grime, sweat and bacteria stuck within those fibers that just one wash couldn’t possibly eliminate. I will say, however, that while HEX certainly does a good job of keeping my whites white, blacks black and my colors nice and bright, I do still prefer to sprinkle some OxiClean onto stains before tossing them in the wash for added stain-removal power. (If you’re dealing with tough grass or mud stains, you might want to do the same.)
The fragrance-free formula is my preferred choice, although I’ve also tried Fresh & Clean and Crisp Linen. Each of those has a wonderfully light fragrance that doesn’t simply mask the smell of dirty laundry, nor does it stick around for too long after a run in the washing machine. HEX is also less viscous than most other detergents, which means you don’t have to leave the bottle propped upside down to wait for those last few drops to slowly make their way out of the nozzle, nor should you worry about excess detergent sticking to the walls of the cap.
I also give HEX bonus points for creating a detergent that’s tough enough to erase odors and tackle stains but delicate enough that it won’t irritate your skin (it’s hypoallergenic, too) and the formula is readily biodegradable and comes in a recyclable bottle. Oh, and it’s cruelty free too. Even if you’re not quite ready to give up on your current beloved detergent, if you work out often or are just ridiculously sweaty—like yours truly—it’s well worth testing with a few loads of athleticwear to really see (or smell) the difference it can make. There’s even a mini five-load trial size you can pick up for just $5 rather than committing to an entire bottle, which would still set you back only 10 bucks.
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