Spending a great deal of time in the sun and surf can be hard on the skin. Remember the original bathing suits that covered more skin than they showed? Today's swimmers and surfers don't want a bunch of fabric slowing them down, but they still need skin protection. That's why rash guards or swim shirts and pants have become an important category of swimwear.
Surfers were the first group to demand a lightweight swim shirt to guard against rashes caused by saltwater and 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, a durable, lightweight, fully stretchable fabric. Water enthusiasts can find rash guard shirts with short and long sleeves as well as sleeveless in children's, men's, and women's styles. There are also rash guard shorts and long pants!
Buying Your First Rash Guard Garment
It is 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 causing longevity and wear problems.
It is also important to learn how to put on rash guard garments. While the Lycra fabric is durable, it can easily be punctured by any sharp object like a fingernail or toenail. Always handle the rash guard fabric with your fingertips, not fingernails. Since the garments are meant to be snug, put them on in slow steps.
For long-legged pants, pull the rash guard over your feet and ankles. Then work up the legs in sections, pulling gently until you reach the hips. For shirts, insert your arms into the sleeves or armholes then carefully pop over your head. Slowly pull down sleeves and the body of the shirt until smooth.
Work in reverse when removing the rash guard gear. Do not 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 is best to avoid putting on wet rash guards; having the fabric wet or damp compromises the integrity of the spandex.
For young or inexperienced swimmers, take the time to care for life jackets just as regularly as you do swimwear.
How to Care for Rash Guards
Taking care of your rash guard shirt or pants is much like taking care of a swimsuit, especially racing swimwear. Here are some care tips:
- After each wearing, immediately rinse your rash guard garments with fresh water. Do not use hot water, use cool or tepid water for washing or rinsing.
- It is best to wash a rash guard by hand and not in the washer. If you decide to use a washer, place the rash guard in a mesh lingerie bag, and use the gentle cycle. Do not wash with other garments especially if the fabric produces lint (like terry cloth towels).
- Use a gentle biodegradable soap that will help remove salt, chlorine, and organic residues. Never use bleach or any harsh cleaner.
- Turn your rash gear inside out when washing and drying.
- Never place rash guards in a dryer. The high heat will weaken the fabric. Hang to drip dry away from direct heat and sun.
- Use a heavy, padded hanger (never a flimsy wire hanger) to store and hang rash guard gear.
- Store on a hanger or flat—do not fold tightly or cram into a drawer because it can weaken fabric at the folds.
- To remove strong odors, fill a sink or bucket with cool water and add one cup of baking soda. Allow the rash guard to soak overnight. Then rinse with cool water and dry in a breezy spot.
- Never iron rash guards as high heat should always be avoided.
- Stay away from oil, gasoline, chemical solvents, and aerosols because the stains are impossible to remove and will weaken the fabric.
By far, the most important care tip is to never wad up your wet rash gear and throw it in the trunk 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 get it out as soon as possible.