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How to Survive the Stench that Teenage Athletes Bring Home

Your son runs through the door smelling like a sewer system on wheels. Every time he comes home from practice, you plug your nose and ask, “Don’t you smell that?” When he looks at you with a blank stare, he may not even be bluffing.

According to Dr. Deborah Gilboa, physician, parent, and founder of AskDoctorG, odor is the body’s way to keep us safe. Sweating for survival? It’s true.

The Science of Sweating

“When people go on stage or get scared about something that happens, sweat is an olfactory signal to people in the group that something bad is going on,” Gilboa explains. “And our brains disregard the smell.”

That means we also tend to disregard the smell our workouts produce.

Gilboa compares this obliviousness to putting on a comfy sweater. After two to three minutes, you forget the sensation of being comfortable. The same goes with stench.

But of course, everyone around us does notice, which is why so many parents make their teenage athletes leave their equipment—especially shoes and socks—outside before coming in the house after practice.

Parents are at no loss for words when it comes to lamenting the intensity of these smells.

“There has been no scent strong enough to mask the ferocious smell of his stinky feet,” Shannon Battle says of her son’s post-practice odor.

“When he takes off his shoes, it feels like the earth is coming to an end.”

Have Teens Deal With Their Stank

Laundry

Children start to smell when they hit puberty, and so the task of laundry is like going into battle. Gilboa has the perfect solution: hand the responsibility over to the offenders.

“If you have a child old enough to play a team sport and learn from a coach, they are developmentally equipped to do the laundry,” Gilboa advises. Do they need super-strength detergent to tackle the odor? Not necessarily. “Detergent and water is up to the task.”

Michelle Morton claims her “eyes water” when her oldest son brings his baseball bag in the car. To prevent the smell from pervading the entire house, she does not allow him to even bring it inside the house.

“I don’t even want to look in there to determine where the smell is coming from!” Michelle says.

And it’s not just teen boys making their parents’ noses wrinkle. “I have two daughters, age 12 and 16. There is no smell known to man that is more putrid, nauseating, and downright alarming than the smell of their soccer bags,” jokes Jeff Stephens, founder of the blog CrazyDadLife.com.

So, why not have your teenagers wash the bag as well? Gilboa advises they head straight to the laundry room, take the uniform off immediately, and throw it all in— though some parents say, even that does not always work.

“We’ve tried to combat it with Febreeze, continuous washing of the gear, and even tossing multiple dryer sheets into the bag, but nothing can beat it,” says Stephens.

Personal Hygiene

At a basic level, adolescents also need to learn to put on deodorant every day, and develop a routine. According to Gilboa, it takes three to six months of daily activity to build a new habit. When Gilboa sees patients and they need to take a new medicine, she finds out what they do every day without fail and has them rubber band their pill bottle to the object they reach for every morning. The same, she says, can go for developing a deodorizing routine.

“My son rubber banded his deodorant to the drawer handle of his school uniform drawer,” she remembers. “Even if his eyes were still closed, he could find it.” But, what’s the most important lesson you can impress upon your teenager?

“Extra body spray does not equal shower,” Gilboa says seriously. So if your house reeks of Axe, it may be time to have The Talk (about deodorant!)

Samantha Zabell

Samantha Zabell just graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in journalism.