The Stinky Weights Problem

Any brand new dumbbells or plates might stink when you first get them. 

There’s a couple reasons for this:

  1. For iron weights – Factories usually put a layer of oil on plates, bars and dumbbells to protect against rust during storage and transport. Once you’ve got them, you don’t need that nasty oil on it anymore. Sometimes it’s a thick brown oil that resembles rust. It’s not, it’s just a nasty oil… unless you actually do find solid rust. This oil stinks. Fortunately you can wash it off (see below).
  2. Recycled rubber dumbbells and plates can off-gas for a while after being manufactured. Even if they were sitting a while in the warehouse, they probably spent most of their time boxed up as they were from the factory in China and have been wallowing in their own fumes for months. 

Here’s what to do to get the smell out of your weights:

Wash Them

The first thing you should try is washing your weights to get rid of the surface oil.

Wash them with a very light solution of dish soap on a rag. You don’t need much. If you use too much soap you’ll just cause yourself more work as you create a whole new problem and have to wipe it off repeatedly to get it all off. Be sure to wipe them dry immediately afterwards with a towel. VERY dry. Even a short time wet can lead to rusting. A rubber coating protects weights from moisture somewhat, but moisture still seeps through the pores in the rubber. Plus, the steel handle of dumbbells isn’t coated, and the center hole of weight plates might not be coated on some plates.

If that doesn’t do the trick, it’s worth trying laundry detergent. Or even engine degreaser, if you have some.

Absorb the Odors

kitty litter for odor
Kitty litter can absorb odor!

If that doesn’t work, what kind of weights do you have? If they’re plain iron, they normally have a baked enamel finish that shouldn’t stink once you get the oil off. If they still stink in such case, perhaps the enamel never cured properly, or it wasn’t baked, or it wasn’t baked long enough. It’s a temporary issue, anyway. They will finish off-gassing in a while.

If they’re rubber coated, it’s chemicals in the rubber outgassing. Same principle. Also temporary.

There are all kinds of materials that absorb odors. It all depends on what’s convenient for you.

If you have a cat, make use of your kitty litter. Seal the weights in a large container filled with kitty litter and leave them there for a couple days. Kitty litter is effective at absorbing odors, and it doesn’t care of it’s poop or other chemicals. I think it helps for the kitty litter to be in contact with the weights, so cover them up.

Baking soda sucks up odors from the room well and is totally unscented itself. I always have some on hand for sprinkling in the garbage, unclogging drains, whatever. There’s dozens of uses for it. Just dump some in a bowl and leave it in your workout area for an indirect method of getting rid of the stink over time.

Or if you do a little charcoal grilling like me, smash up some spare charcoal (jut enough to expose the insides) and leave it out in a bowl just like baking soda and it will absorb odors from the air.

Mask the Odors (not recommended)

Chemical air fresheners like Febreeze can do a good job of masking odors, but they’re bad for you. They’re loaded with chemicals that can irritate your eyes, skin, lungs, flare up your allergies, and even cause cancer. When the point of gym equipment is to get you in better shape, it’s counterproductive to be doing something like this in the process that’s so harmful to your health. It’s worse for you than whatever odor is coming from your weights, and you’re just adding chemicals on top of chemicals.

If you found an air freshener you like, well, don’t let me stop you. Maybe that’s the best solution for you temporarily until your weights have finished out-gassing.

Please don’t do what this member of the bodybuilding.com forums did:

source: http://forum.bodybuilding.com/showthread.php?t=144641571

He went into full duct tape mode, completely covering his brand new, beautiful, but stinky plates. It should be a crime.

At least he didn’t stop halfway through. This took time. He committed to it, kept wrapping over the edges, smoothing it out the best he could. Instead of locking him up, let’s honor his commitment to the task!

As you might imagine, the worst part of this is when you remove the duct tape and you’re left with a horrible sticky film over the plates that’s a pain in the butt to try to remove. 

Time

The last thing you can do is just wait. They will only out-gas for a a couple weeks or month or so when you put them in an environment where they can air out, like a garage, or even outside if you cover them so they don’t get wet from rain or dew. Until then, keep the area ventilated and do something to absorb the odors as per above.

Once it gets to the point where you can’t smell it unless you get your nose close to it, that’s as good as it’s going to get.

To avoid the issue altogether, consider getting virgin rubber versions of rubber weights for just a little more money. They don’t have nearly the same level of outgassing that recycled rubber does. It’s very faint or not there at all. If you’re still super-sensitive to any amount, rubber might not be for you. Urethane is a sure bet for zero odor, and it’s what commercial gyms get nowadays.

Now that your weights are clean and odor-free, be sure to keep them from forming rust by following these guidelines.