How to Clean and Care for Swimwear Rash Guard Shirts

Rash guard on a beach towel

The Spruce / Lisa Ruschioni  

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 1 hr - 1 hr, 14 mins
  • Total Time: 10 - 15 mins
  • Skill Level: Beginner

Spending a great deal of time in the sun and surf can be hard on your skin. Remember those old-fashioned 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 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, a durable fabric that fits all those criteria. 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.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Sink or bucket
  • Drying rack


  • Gentle detergent
  • Cold water


How to Wash Swimwear Rash Guard Shirts
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
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 with clean 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 


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.


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.

Buying Your First Rash Guard

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.

It's also important to learn how to put on rash guards. While the Lycra 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 it 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.