How to Care for Swimwear Rash Guard Shirts

rash guard on a beach towel

The Spruce / Lisa Ruschioni  

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.

How to Wash a Rash Guard
Detergent Gentle detergent
Water Temperature Cold
Cycle Type Hand wash or delicate
Drying Cycle Air-dry only
Special Treatments Hand wash
Iron Settings Do not iron

Project Metrics

Work Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour

Skill Level: Beginner

What You'll Need


  • Gentle detergent
  • Cold water


  • Sink or bucket
  • Drying rack
materials for cleaning a rashguard
The Spruce / Lisa Ruschioni


Taking care of your rash guard shirt or pants is much like taking care of a swimsuit, especially racing swimwear.

  1. Rinse After Wearing

    After each wearing, immediately rinse your rash guard garments with cool, fresh water. Do not use hot water which can cause shrinking and set stains.

    rinsing a rash guard after each wear
    The Spruce / Lisa Ruschioni 


    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.

  2. Mix a Cleaning Solution

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

    preparing a soaking solution
    The Spruce / Lisa Ruschioni 
  3. Prepare the Garment

    Turn your rash gear inside out when washing and drying to help prevent snags. 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).

    turning the rash guard inside out before washing
    The Spruce / Lisa Ruschioni 
  4. Tackle Tough Odors

    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.

    adding baking soda to the 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 guard to soak for at least five minutes. Gently squeeze the solution through the fabric.

    Drain the sink and refill with clean water to rinse the guard. Repeat until no more soapy residue remains. Gently squeeze out the rinse water. Do not wring the fabric which can cause stretching.

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

    Hang the rash guard from a sturdy hanger to drip dry away from direct sunlight. Never place rash guards in a dryer. The high heat will weaken the fabric.

    hanging the rash guard to dry
    The Spruce / Lisa Ruschioni 
  7. Do Not Iron

    Never iron rash guards as high heat should always be avoided.


It is 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.


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.

Keep the guard away from oil, gasoline, chemical solvents, and aerosols because the stains are impossible to remove and will weaken the fabric.

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.