How to Clean and Care for Rash Guard Shirts and Pants

Rash guard on a beach towel

The Spruce / Lisa Ruschioni  

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 15 mins - 5 hrs, 30 mins
  • Total Time: 3 hrs, 15 mins - 1 day
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $0 to $10

Today's swimmers and surfers don't want a bunch of fabric slowing them down, but they still need skin protection. That's why form-fitting rash guard garments—swim shirts and pants—have become an important category of swimwear. These garments can last a long time provided they are rinsed after every use, and periodically hand-washed in cool water using a gentle laundry detergent.

Rash wear garments are usually made of spandex (lycra), nylon, or polyester—usually blends of these materials. The most common form-fitting garments usually contain at least 18 percent spandex/lycra, a stretch fabric. Always read and follow product labels, as they will tailor the cleaning instructions to be appropriate for the type of fabric. While spandex itself has good heat resistance, the polyester or nylon usually found in the fabric blend will stretch when washed or dried at high temperatures, so it is important to avoid heat when caring for rash guard swimwear.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Sink or bucket
  • Drying rack


  • Gentle detergent
  • Cold water


How to Wash Rash Guard Swimwear
Detergent Gentle
Water Temperature Cold
Cycle Type Hand-wash or delicate
Drying Cycle Air-dry only
Special Treatments Hand-wash
Iron Settings Do not iron
How Often to Wash After every three to five uses
Rash guard by a sink
The Spruce / Lisa Ruschioni


  1. Rinse After Wearing

    After each wearing, immediately rinse your rash guard with cool water. Don't use hot water because it can cause shrinking and set stains.

    Someone rinsing a rash guard
    The Spruce / Lisa Ruschioni 


    By far, the most important care tip is to never wad up your wet rash gear and throw it in your car to bake. Rinse it immediately, even if you never get around to washing the gear. Sun, salt, sunscreen, and chlorine will take a toll on the fabric, so rinse it as soon as possible.

  2. Mix a Cleaning Solution

    Fill a basin with cool water. Following product directions, add a gentle biodegradable soap that'll help remove salt, chlorine, and organic residues. Never use bleach or any harsh cleaner.

    Someone adding detergent to a sink
    The Spruce / Lisa Ruschioni 
  3. Prepare the Garment

    Turn your rash gear inside-out when washing and drying to help prevent snags. It's best to hand-wash a rash guard instead of using a washer. If you do decide to machine-wash, place the rash guard in a mesh lingerie bag, and use the gentle cycle. Don't wash with other garments, especially if the fabric produces lint (like terry cloth towels).

    Someone turning a rash guard inside out
    The Spruce / Lisa Ruschioni 
  4. Tackle Tough Odors

    To remove strong odors, fill a sink or bucket with cool water, and add one cup baking soda. Allow the rash guard to soak overnight, rinse with cool water, and dry in a breezy spot.

    Someone adding baking soda to water
    The Spruce / Lisa Ruschioni 
  5. Wash and Rinse

    Submerge the rash guard in the cleaning solution, and gently swish in the water to loosen any soil. Allow the garment to soak for at least five minutes. Gently squeeze the solution through the fabric.

    Drain the sink, and refill it with clean cool water to rinse the guard. Repeat until no more soapy residue remains. Gently squeeze out the rinse water. Don't wring the fabric because it can cause stretching.

    Someone rinsing a rash guard
    The Spruce / Lisa Ruschioni  
  6. Air-Dry

    Hang the rash guard from a sturdy hanger to air-dry away from direct sunlight. Never place rash guards in a dryer or iron them because high heat will weaken the fabric.

    Rash guard on hanger
    The Spruce / Lisa Ruschioni 

What Is Rash Guard?

Surfers were the first group to demand a lightweight swim shirt to guard against rashes caused by sand and saltwater and to provide as much sun protection as possible. The shirt had to be sleek, quick-drying, fully stretchable, and lightweight. Today, most rash guards are made from six-ounce lycra (spandex), a durable fabric that fits all those criteria, blended with nylon or polyester. Water enthusiasts can find rash guard shirts with short and long sleeves as well as sleeveless ones for children and adults. There are also rash guard shorts and long pants. Taking care of your rash guard shirt or pants is much like taking care of a swimsuit, especially racing swimwear—which is also typically made with a spandex blend.

Treating Stains on Rash Guard Garments

Stains are not a common occurrence with rash guard garments, but sunscreen and other stains can usually be removed by soaking the garment for at least eight hours in a sink filled with cool water blended with a small amount of oxygen bleach, such as Oxi-Clean or Clorox 2. If the stains are not removed, repeat the process for another eight hours. After the stains are gone, hand-wash using the process described above.

Care and Repairs

It's also important to learn how to put on rash guards. While the synthetic fabric is durable, it can easily be punctured by any sharp object, like a fingernail. Always handle the rash guard with your fingertips, not your fingernails. Since the garments are meant to be snug, put them on slowly.

For long-legged pants, pull the rash guard over your feet and ankles. Then, work the legs up in sections, pulling gently until you reach the hips. For shirts, insert your arms into the sleeves or armholes, and then carefully pop them over your head. Slowly pull down the sleeves and the body of the shirt until smooth. Work in reverse when removing the rash guard. Don't pull too hard. Remove the gear slowly and carefully.

Always try to put on your rash guard gear in a clean, dry place away from the sand, pool deck surfaces, and rocks that can snag the fabric. It's best to avoid putting on wet rash guards. If the fabric is wet, the integrity of the spandex can be compromised.

It's very difficult to repair a torn rash guard without leaving a noticeable seam. If a hole does appear, pull together the edges, and stitch securely with nylon thread.

Storing Rash Guard Garments

Use a heavy, padded hanger (never a flimsy wire hanger) to store and hang rash guards. Store on a hanger or flat—don't fold it tightly or cram it into a drawer because the fabric can weaken at the folds. Keep the guard away from oil, gasoline, chemical solvents, and aerosols because such stains are impossible to remove and will weaken the fabric.

How Often to Wash Swim Guard Swimwear

The guidelines for how often to wash swim guard garments are similar to those for washing swimsuits made of similar material. Provided you rinse the garment after every use, deeper washing can be done after every three to five uses.

Tips for Washing Swim Guard Swimwear

  • Never use chlorine bleach on any swimwear—including swim guard garments.
  • If you are unable to rinse the garment immediately after use, then it's best to fully hand-wash the garment at the earliest opportunity. Rinsing can be done while still wearing the garment—just stand under a fresh-water shower for a couple of minutes before taking off the garment.
  • Always read use-and-care labels on the garments. Most swim guard shirts and pants are made from a blend of spandex (lycra) and polyester or nylon. Some, though, are made from 100 percent nylon or polyester, and these may have different washing instructions.
  • How do I buy the right size when choosing swim guard shirts and pants?

    It's important to pay attention to sizing when purchasing a rash guard. It should fit snugly but not be stretched too tightly. If the garment is too tight, the seams will pull and rip.

  • Do rash guard garments protect against sunburn?

    Yes—many types have built-in sunscreen protection that can offer as much as UPF 50+/ SPF 150+ ratings.

  • Can I wear rash guard swimwear under a wet suit?

    Yes. Rash guard garments can offer extra warmth and skin protection if you don them before putting on a wet suit. Those designed to provide extra warmth usually carry the word "thermal" in the product description, and they may include neoprene in the fabric description. The rash-wear garments need to be properly form-fitting in order to work well under a wet suit.

  • Are there different types of rash guard swimwear?

    Yes. Short-sleeved, loose-fitting garments are designed mostly for sun and sand protection, while close-fitting, long-sleeved and long-legged garments are preferred by surfers or to wear beneath wet-suits by snorklers and scuba divers. Children's rash guard garments are sometimes marketed as "sun suits."

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. What Is Spandex Fabric? Sewport.