How to Clean and Care for Elastane (Spandex) Clothing

athletic wear

The Spruce / Michele Lee

Imagine living in a world filled with clothes made from fabrics that don't stretch—no tights, yoga pants, comfortable waistbands, or shapewear! Equally difficult would be a world where knits stretch and stretch but don't retain their shape. The introduction of fibers like elastane, spandex, and Lycra that stretch and return to their original state forever changed the world of fabrics, fashion, and activewear clothes.

Using cold water to wash your stretch clothing and air-drying whenever possible will help maintain elasticity over time. Washing inside a mesh garment bag can also help prevent your pieces from twisting and overstretching. Tight-fitting spandex workout gear requires cleaning with every use, but you may be able to wear looser items two to three times before washing.

Before washing, check the label to see the amount of elastane or spandex that the garment contains. If it’s 5% or less, you can wash and dry the item as normal. If it’s higher, give it a little extra attention.

How to Wash Elastane Clothing
Detergent Mild; no chlorine bleach
Water Temperature Cold
Cycle Type Gentle
Drying Cycle Type Low or air-dry
Special Treatments Wash in mesh lingerie bag
Iron Settings Do not iron

Project Metrics

Working time: 10 minutes

Total time: 1 hour

Skill level: Beginner

What You’ll Need

Supplies

Tools

materials for cleaning elastane clothing
The Spruce / Michele Lee

Instructions

  1. Presoak if Necessary

    If the garment seems to be super-stinky—like grimy workout clothes—give it a presoak in the sink in a solution of cool water and one cup of baking soda for about 30 minutes. 

    presoaking elastane items
    The Spruce / Michele Lee
  2. Put Clothing in a Mesh Laundry Bag

    Place the spandex clothing in a mesh laundry bag before adding it to the washing machine. This helps protect the elastane fibers from snags.

    placing items in a mesh bag
    The Spruce / Michele Lee
  3. Set the Washing Machine

    Tweak the washing machine’s settings so it runs on the gentle cycle and uses cold or cool water.

    selecting an appropriate washing cycle
    The Spruce / Michele Lee
  4. Air-Dry or Machine-Dry on Low

    The heat of a clothes dryer can damage elastane fibers. If you have the time and space, hang the garments to drip-dry away from the sun or direct heat. If you must use a machine, set it as low as possible and remove the clothing while still slightly damp. 

    hanging the garment on a drying rack
    The Spruce / Michele Lee 

What is Elastane?

Elastane is a synthetic or man-made fiber manufactured from polyurethane that's more commonly referred to as spandex or under the brand name Lycra. Spandex fibers can be stretched more than 500% without breaking and, after stretching repeatedly, return closely to the original length.

The fibers are lightweight and soft while being more durable and stronger than rubber, as well as resistant to damage from body oils, perspiration, and most cosmetic chemicals found in deodorants and lotions.

Spandex is heat settable during manufacturing. Because of this, clothes can be molded into permanently rounded or flat shapes. The fibers can be dyed and are resistant to abrasion and are easy to cut and sew. While spandex can be used alone to weave fabric, it is very often combined with natural fibers like cotton and wool as well as other man-made fibers like polyester or nylon to give stretchy qualities to these fabrics.

These are used in compression garments and sportswear or for any garment where comfort and a more conforming fit is desired. Spandex is found in swimsuits, hosiery, waistbands, lingerie (specially shapewear), and even in disposable diapers.

Ironing

If the clothing is high in spandex content, don't iron it—the heat will ruin the fibers. Luckily, spandex doesn't easily wrinkle. If it's a blend, iron on the lowest setting. Keep the iron moving to avoid melting fibers.

Storing Elastane Clothing

Though elastane clothing is usually not considered delicate or keepsake quality, take care to clean it before you store it long-term or else stains will become permanent. However, store any clothing with spandex away from heat or light that may fade colors. Some Lycra blends, such as nylon, may fade over time if exposed to natural light when in storage.

Repairs

It's not always easy to repair spandex clothing because of its stretch characteristics. When mending by hand or machine, use a polyester thread because it has a bit of give. Keep stitches somewhat loose to allow for stretch. Try to avoid using straight pins on fabrics with a high percentage of spandex because they may leave permanent little holes in the fabric. If using a machine to fix a tear, a ballpoint needle will reduce the possibility of snagging the fabric. Use a stretch stitch or a narrow zig-zag stitch which is best for stretchy fabrics. As you're sewing, stretch the fabric a bit as you guide it through the feed, but not too much or it will pucker.

If you spot a snag, fix it with a needle and thread of the same color. Aim for the snagged thread with your needle. Poke the needle up through the wrong side of the fabric to the right side of the item. Grab the snag with the needle and bring it back to the wrong side of the fabric to make it disappear. Sometimes you can achieve this with just a needle and no thread.

Treating Stains on Elastane Clothing

Treat oily stains as soon as possible because they can be difficult to remove. Apply a small amount of mild liquid detergent to the stain, rubbing it in gently. Wash as instructed. 

To remove strong odors from clothes that contain spandex, fill a sink or bucket with cool water and add one cup of baking soda. Allow the clothes to soak overnight. Then wash as usual or rinse with cool water and dry in a breezy spot.

Tips for Washing Elastane Clothing

  • Never use fabric softener or dryer sheets. Most detergents are safe to use on spandex but skip the fabric softener or any combination detergent/fabric softener product. Fabric softener leaves a residue on spandex that can dull the finish and attract bacteria that causes excessive odor.
  • Avoid using chlorine bleach, which will destroy the elastane fibers. Instead, use an oxygen-based bleach to brighten white clothing and remove stains.
  • If you prefer, it's entirely safe to take elastane clothing to the dry cleaners.
  • Elastane clothing can withstand constant washing, so don't worry that you're washing your spandex clothing too much.
  • Once in a while, you may want to tighten up form-fitting clothing with spandex that has become slightly saggy, such as leggings. To do that, carefully toss the garment into a dryer on medium to high heat for no longer than 30 minutes, which should be enough time to tighten up the fibers without damaging the garment.