How to Clean and Care for Elastane (Spandex) Clothing

Man in spandex running up stairs, working out

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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.

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

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

Working time: 10 minutes

Total time: 1 hour

Skill level: Beginner

What You’ll Need

Supplies

Tools

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. 

  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 delicate elastane fibers from snags.

  3. Set the Washing Machine

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

  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 sun or direct heat. If you must use a machine, set it as low as possible and remove the clothing while still slightly damp. 

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 you should 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.

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.

What Is Elastane?

Elastane is a synthetic or man-made fiber manufactured from polyurethane that's more commonly referred to as spandex or under a brand name Lycra. Spandex fibers can be stretched more than 500 percent 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.