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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.