How Bad Is It to Leave Sweaty Gym Clothes On For Hours?

Have fun explaining that rash.

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Mar 27 2017, 7:03pm

David Leahy / Getty Images

Ah, friends. They're like family but cooler. Fully customizable. Fall and one of them will be right there to pick you back up. But as great as friends can be, they also do a lot of really stupid stuff. Stuff that blows your mind. Like, sometimes it seems crazy that you even hang out with people who make such crappy decisions. Stuff that, were it to get out, would be mortifying for anyone with even a shred of self-respect. Lucky for your friends, they've got you to ask their deepest, darkest questions for them. And lucky for you, we started this column to answer those most embarrassing of queries.

The scenario: The friend I'm concerned about is unabashedly gross. But no more than your average college sophomore, I suppose. The scenario here can happen to anyone concerned with getting laid on a consistent basis.

My friend loves to work out because he is very concerned with being good-looking. He likes to lift, jog, bike, and sometimes do other shit. It can be hard for any busy adult to do all of that and still have time to shower before going out on a casual drinks date—but again, getting laid is paramount, so my friend says: Fuck a shower. Cologne-disguised funk will have to do.

The concern: Because I care about this dude the same way I care about, say...myself, I'm wondering what risks come with hanging out all night in the same set of stank gym clothes you had on all day. I'd imagine spending hours covered in dried sweat can't be great for the skin. (I'm also wondering what type of hygienic habits this date must have in order to be so unbothered by sweaty shorts and pit stains).

As it turns out, I'm only half right about the skin issues.

Wearing the same workout gear "day after day for long periods of time" can definitely irritate a person's skin, according to Adrienne Haughton, a dermatologist at Stony Brook University Hospital. However, spending a single day or night in funky clothes is generally harmless, so long as you wash them before the next time you hit the gym and do it all over again.

The worst that could happen: From cysts to athlete's foot to yeast infections (yes, men can get those too, since yeast naturally covers the human body), there's no pleasant outcome waiting for you after you've spent far too long in your gym clothes. The absolute worst that could happen is you'll develop a flesh-eating staph infection. Staphylococcus bacteria is everywhere but thrives especially in warm, moist environments like the gym. Thankfully, most staph infections can be cleared up with antibiotics if they're taken care of early enough. 

What will probably happen: If you haven't noticed, every risk that comes with wearing sweaty clothes for too long is some form of bacterial infection. It won't always be a staph infection—in fact, it'll probably not be a staph infection.

The most common infection associated with this type of habitually gross behavior is folliculitis, Haughton says. "That's an infection around the hair follicles," she explains. "It presents as red bumps around the follicles. It can be really itchy and just cosmetically really annoying." There's just no telling how mild or severe it'll be for you—or, for that matter, your date. That's right: Folliculitis can be contagious, Haughton says. 

So if you're a person like my friend—who 100 percent is not me—you could be putting that Tinder date (if not everyone around you) at risk with your poor hygiene.

What to do: How often you wash your body and how often you wash your clothes is what determines your risk of bacterial infection after sweating in the same clothes for days on end, Haughton says.

A very simple solution for some—but unfortunately, not everyone. For people like my friend, Haughton would assign a very lax, but effective regimen: Take a shower and do a load of laundry at least "every other time you work out."

And for dates who spend the night? "Wear flip flops in the shower."