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The Stinky Weights Problem
Any brand new rubber dumbbells, rubber coated weight plates, or crumb rubber bumper plates might stink when you first get them.
The reason is they’re recycled rubber, which is prone to off-gassing for a while. 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.
As you may suspect, the gas you smell is likely toxic. If it’s rubber off-gassing, it’s a VOC, volatile organic compound, known to be a health hazard. While a little of it isn’t likely to do anything but bother you from the odor, you shouldn’t just try to ignore it and spend a lot of time in your gym that the gas has filled. You have to do something to get rid of it.
Here’s what to do to get the smell out of your weights…
The first thing you should try is washing your weights to get rid of the surface oil. You might be fortunate and the odor is merely from the oil. Manufacturers cover weights with oil to protect them against rust from many months in transport or storage where they could inadvertently get exposed to moisture at some point.
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 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. The center hole of weight plates might not be rubber coated on some plates.
If that doesn’t do the trick, it’s worth trying laundry detergent on them. Or even engine degreaser, if you have some. Use gloves and do it outside.
Absorb the Odors
Kitty litter can absorb odors pretty well, as you would expect it to. Seal the weights in a large container or trash bag filled with kitty litter and leave them there for a couple days.
Baking soda sucks up odors from the room well and is totally unscented itself. Unlike kitty litter, it can work well just being in the same room as your weights. This could be a good option if you notice the rubber odor but it’s not overpowering. 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. People do the same thing for inside their fridge.
Or if you ever do a little charcoal grilling, 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:
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 carefully over the rims, 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.
The last thing you can do is just wait. They will only out-gas for around 2-4 weeks when you put them in an environment where they can air out. Reportedly, leaving them out in the sun for just one week should do it. Cover them as needed to stop rain or morning dew from getting on them. The stainless steel inserts are fairly rust-resistant but not 100%.
Once it gets to the point where you can’t smell it unless you get your nose close to it, it’s no longer going to fill the room with chemicals, and that’s as good as it’s going to get.
Avoiding the Problem Next Time
To avoid the issue altogether, for your next batch of weights, urethane dumbbells or plates are a sure bet for zero odor, and it’s what commercial gyms get nowadays.
Hey! So I got some weights and they smell so badly. I tried the vinegar method that was posted elsewhere and it worked to a certain extent.
I’ve now also put the weights in a trashbag and covered it all up with baking soda.
Hopefully the smell dissipates since I’ll be using the dumbbells indoors in my room
That should help, as long as you already cleaned them with soap to remove any oil. Update us later on how that went!
But my plate, after Iv leaved it for almost a year it still smells bad… What should I do now I mean I bought it with 89 bucks…
My gym is in my room and I noticed that there are harmful substances in bumpers. Do you know if there’s anything of that sort in cast iron plates?
Thank you for your insight.
Either one could be giving off fumes if they have been only recently unboxed or the paint wasn’t cured right. If someone with a good sense of smell can’t smell it then it’s fine.
Can you recommend brands that use Virgin Rubber, Urethane, and or steel ones you feel are worth the buy? Amazon links would be great if possible too.
Thx in advance for your reply and this article!
Plates by Intek, Ivanko, Rogue and Troy are good. I buy a million things on Amazon too, but don’t buy plates on Amazon.
Thx these are way outside my budget!
I ended up finding Sporzon! and Day 1 Fitness in Cast Iron.
Hope they don’t stink like the recycled rubber ones that were also more expensive
I bought Rogue bumper plates and I tried the cat liter method. It worked at first but the smell came back. Living in the Northeastern USA there isn’t much strong sunlight out now to de-gas the plates.
I am going to try the degreaser method. Would you just apply it and let it sit? Thanks! Great article!
Follow the instructions on the degreaser can, but it doesn’t need to sit for long. If there’s still an issue then it’s not grease, it’s the rubber, which just needs some airflow.
David, Thanks for the info. I’m really glad I found this blog. I thought I might be the only one that is bothered by the volitility of gas emitting from my iron weight plates. I recently purchased 780 pounds of the Troy PO or premium weight plates in black–which are awesome–but they do have an odor. I do not see an oil or even feel any residual film from the surface. I expected this to be the case while unpacking the plates but I didn’t see any evidence of the oil. The smell is there definitely there but I think it’s from the enamel. I’m a grad student building a homegym while living in an apartment. So, now I live with this slight odor–it does seem to dissipate daily though. I’m keeping windows open and hoping the off-gas will slowly go away. I did purchase an odor removing gel that’s being shipped tomorrow..we’ll see if that helps. Any other suggestions? I’m thinking I should probably wipe them down even if I don’t see or feel an oil residue.Thanks again.
Let me know how well the gel works! I haven’t heard much about that. At a minimum use a light solution of dish soap and dry well. If that doesn’t work then I would suspect the enamel didn’t fully cure or something and it might need a little more time.
Thanks for the reply. ***Update: it took about 7 days from the day they arrived for all of the plates off-gas to dissipate. I really don’t smell anything anymore. For anyone who purchased the Troy PO iron plates…no more smell after about a week! Thanks David appreciate the reply.
Excellent. Seems like the odor always goes away after a short time. The thing that can take a long time to stop stinking is rubber flooring, I guess because of so much porous material involved.
Just bought a barbell bar and it smelled like someone took a shit in it (the packaging) and lidded it up before shipping. I’m not entirely sure its supposed to smell like that, but given I only use dumbbells and machines – so this is a first. Even the outside smelled like shit, my eyes burned trying to get a sniff.
I figured since the it took a one month journey to me from Amazon, it contaminated from other packages. But is this smell normal? I’m getting paranoid that someone purposely shitted on my package or didn’t wash their hands. It doesn’t have that factory smell I get from my dumbbells.
That kind of odor doesn’t sound typical. Who knows what happened.
I was going to attempt to use the kitty litter method. Afterwards, to get the kitty litter off, just rinse the dumbbells off? I don’t want to ruin the rubber with kitty litter dust lol Thanks!
I would wipe them with a cloth, then go over them with a damp cloth to get any remaining dust. Any metal areas wipe dry again if your cloth was damp enough to leave it very wet.