How to Wash and Care for Elastane (Spandex) Clothing

A variety of athletic wear and cleaning materials

The Spruce / Michele Lee

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 10 - 15 mins
  • Total Time: 1 - 12 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $0

Fibers like elastane, spandex, and Lycra (a branded fabric) give clothes their stretch and then return to their original state, but to maintain elasticity over time, always wash with cold water and air-dry whenever possible. Wash these items inside a mesh garment bag to help prevent your pieces from twisting and over-stretching. Wash any tight-fitting spandex garments after every use with mild detergent. Never use chlorine bleach.

Here are the step-by-step instructions and helpful tips for care, repairs, storing, and more.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

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


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


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 a mesh bag
Iron Settings Do not iron
How Often to Wash After every use


  1. Presoak if Necessary

    If the garment seems 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. A mesh bag 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 a 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 are in a rush and must machine-dry, 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. It's most commonly used in leggings, yoga pants, activewear, or shapewear.

Spandex fibers can be stretched more than 500% without breaking and, after repeatedly stretching, return closely to their original length. Elastane fibers are lightweight and soft while more durable and stronger than rubber. The material is also resistant to damage from body oils, sweat, 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 often combined with natural fibers like cotton and wool and other manufactured fibers, like polyester or nylon, to lend some stretch to these fabrics.

Spandex blends are used in compression garments, sportswear, or any garment requiring comfort and a more conforming fit. Spandex is also used in swimsuits, hosiery, waistbands, lingerie, and disposable diapers.

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. 

Elastane (Spandex) Care and 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. Avoid using straight pins on fabrics with a high percentage of spandex because they may leave permanent little holes in the material. 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 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 fabric's wrong (opposite) side 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.


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 in storage.

How Often to Wash 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 the garment contains before washing it. If it's 5 percent or less, you can wash and dry the item as usual. If it's higher, give it a little extra attention.

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 causes excessive odor.
  • Avoid using chlorine bleach, which will destroy the elastane fibers. Instead, use oxygen bleach to brighten white clothing and remove stains.
  • If you prefer, it's 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 more than 30 minutes, which should be enough time to tighten the fibers without damaging the garment.
  • Is elastane or spandex machine washable?

    Elastane or spandex is usually machine washable, but to be certain, check the fabric care label since it's often blended with other fibers. Wash in cold water with mild detergent on a gentle cycle.

  • Will elastane disintegrate in the dryer?

    A full elastane garment, like a bathing suit, will lose its elasticity if repeatedly dried in a clothes dryer. Spandex does not do well in high heat; the fibers weaken and eventually break.

  • Will elastane or spandex lose its elasticity?

    Even if you properly care for your elastane and spandex, the material will eventually lose some of its elasticity over time and a lot of use. You will speed up the process by introducing harsh chemicals like chlorine bleach, hot-temperature water, or a high-heat dryer.