How to Clean and Care for Elastane (Spandex) Clothing

A variety of athletic wear and cleaning materials

The Spruce / Michele Lee

Overview
  • Working Time: 10 - 15 mins
  • Total Time: 1 - 12 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner

Imagine living in a world filled with clothes that don't stretch—no leggings, yoga pants, activewear, or shapewear. Equally difficult would be a world where knits stretch and stretch to no end, without retaining their shape. The introduction of fibers like elastane, spandex, and Lycra (a branded fabric) that stretch and return to their original state forever changed the world of fabrics and fashion. To keep your favorite spandex pieces in top condition and help maintain elasticity over time, always wash with cold water and air-dry whenever possible. Washing inside a mesh garment bag can also help prevent your pieces from twisting and over-stretching.

How Often to Clean Elastane (Spandex) Clothing

Elastane clothing is extremely durable when correctly washed. The fabric can withstand constant washing in cold water, so don't worry that you're washing it too much. 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. Check the label to see the amount of elastane or spandex that the garment contains before washing it. If it’s 5 percent or less, you can wash and dry the item as normal. If it’s higher, give it a little extra attention.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Sink (optional)
  • Washing machine
  • Mesh laundry bag
  • Drying rack, hangers, or clothes dryer

Materials

  • Gentle detergent
  • Baking soda (optional)
  • Cold water

Instructions

Materials for cleaning elastane clothing
The Spruce / Michele Lee
How to Wash Elastane (Spandex) Clothing
Detergent Mild; no chlorine bleach
Water Temperature Cold
Cycle Type Gentle
Drying Cycle Type Low or air-dry (preferred)
Special Treatments Wash in mesh bag
Iron Settings Do not iron
  1. Presoak if Necessary

    If the garment seems to be excessively stinky—like grimy workout clothes—give it a presoak in the sink in a solution of cool water and 1 cup baking soda for a minimum of 30 minutes. Or allow the clothes to soak overnight before washing as usual.

    Someone 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 snagging.

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

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

    Someone 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. Air-drying an item should take a few hours. If you must use a machine, set it as low as possible, and remove the clothing while still slightly damp. 

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

What is Elastane (Spandex)?

Elastane is a synthetic fiber manufactured from polyurethane that's more commonly referred to as spandex or by the brand name Lycra. Spandex fibers can be stretched more than 500 percent without breaking and, after stretching repeatedly, return closely to their original length. Elastane fibers are lightweight and soft while being more durable and stronger than rubber. The material is also resistant to damage from body oils, perspiration, and most chemicals found in deodorants and lotions.

Spandex can be heat-set during manufacturing. Because of this, clothes can be molded into permanently rounded or flat shapes. The fibers can be dyed, are resistant to abrasion, and are easy to cut and sew. While spandex can be used alone to weave fabric, it's very often combined with natural fibers like cotton and wool as well as other manmade fibers, like polyester or nylon, to lend some stretch to these fabrics.

These blends are used in compression garments, sportswear, or any garment requiring comfort and a more conforming fit. Spandex is also found in swimsuits, hosiery, waistbands, lingerie (especially shapewear), and even 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 (Spandex) 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 stretchiness. 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 (opposite) 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 (Spandex) Clothing

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

Tips for Washing Elastane (Spandex) Clothing

  • Never use fabric softener or dryer sheets when washing spandex. Most detergents are safe to use on spandex, but avoid any product that's a combination of detergent and fabric softener. The latter leaves a residue on spandex that can dull the finish and attract bacteria, which cause excessive odor.
  • Avoid using chlorine bleach, which will destroy the elastane fibers. Instead, use an oxygen bleach to brighten white clothing and remove stains.
  • If you prefer, it's entirely safe to take elastane clothing to the dry cleaners.
  • Once in a while, you may want to tighten up form-fitting spandex clothing that's 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.