How to Care for Dancewear and Dance Costumes

Dance leotard and pink tutu hanging on clothesline with clothing pins

The Spruce / Nelly Cuanalo

Whether practicing or performing, dancewear, cheer uniforms, dance costumes, and dance shoes can be quite expensive. Learning how to clean and care for them early on can help you save money in the long run.


Leotards today are made from high-performance materials that need a bit of special care to maintain their stretch and texture. Always turn solid color leotards inside-out before washing to prevent snags. Wash them by hand or on a gentle cycle using a gentle or sports detergent. Do not use fabric softeners which can build-up on the fibers and make the leotards less breathable. Use warm or cold water—never hot. Do not dry them in your dryer. Instead, hang them in direct sunlight, or near a heat source, like a radiator.

If the leotard has stains, treat them before washing following the specific direction for each type of stain. For heavy body soil and perspiration, mix a solution of oxygen-based bleach (OxiClean, Clorox 2, Country Save Bleach, or Purex 2 Color Safe Bleach are brand names) and cool water following package directions. Soak the leotard at least two hours or up to overnight before washing as usual.

Dance leotard turned inside-out next to oxygen-based bleach and water solution in glass

The Spruce / Nelly Cuanalo

Metallic Leotards

The metallic threads used in leotards are more delicate than regular fibers. They can break and even tarnish during washing. Metallic designs should always be washed by hand with a gentle touch. Use a gentle detergent and no fabric softeners that can dull the threads.

Tights and Leggings

All tights and leggings should, ideally, be hand washed in cool water with a gentle detergent. If it is necessary to wash them in a washer, they should be placed in a mesh bag before adding to the washer. Use a gentle cycle, cool water, and a mild detergent. Air dry away from direct heat. Never place in a hot dryer. If they must be dried quickly, use the air only tumble cycle on the dryer.

Dance Costumes

Many dance costumes—especially those for children—are constructed from inexpensive materials and meant to be worn only once or twice. Do not clean or wash the costumes before the first performance because they may not withstand the cleaning and fade or lose their shape.

However, if you want to pass the costume along to someone else, read the cleaning directions carefully. Most can be washed by hand in cold water using a mild detergent. Remove as many bows or trimmings as possible before washing. Do not wring the costume. Roll in a towel to remove excess moisture and dry flat or hang to air dry. Do not place it in direct sunlight—that could cause fading.

For costumes that are made of velvet, chiffon, leather, or satin, use a professional dry cleaner.


For most ballet dancers, a tutu is a significant garment that declares that you are gaining knowledge and position in your ballet training. Most tutus are separate garments from the leotard but if they are all one piece, the washing instructions remain the same.

The biggest challenge in washing tutus is to prevent crushing. To wash a plain tutu, fill a large sink or bathtub with lukewarm water and a small bit of a mild detergent. Swish the tutu gently through the water. Drain the tub and refill with clean water to rinse. Remove the tutu, shake gently to remove as much water as possible, and then hang to air dry.

If the tutu has a metal hoop, it should be removed before washing. The metal can rust and ruin the tutu. If there is added trim, it should be removed to prevent fading. Beads and sequins that are glued on and not hand-sewn may come off during washing.

Pink tutu hand-washed in plastic bin with mild detergent and water solution

The Spruce / Nelly Cuanalo

Dance Shoes

Many dance shoes have suede soles for flexibility that can accumulate a great deal of dirt and wax. The soles can be cleaned by using a suede brush after every wearing. The suede nap should be brushed in one direction until the soil is removed and the nap has returned.

Canvas dance shoes can be placed in a mesh bag like one from Diamond Laundry and washed in the washer on a gentle cycle in cool water. Allow them air dry. You may need to stuff them with white tissue paper to help them retain their shape.

Leather shoes should be cleaned with a leather cleaner or good saddle soap. Patent leather shoes can be cleaned by spraying window cleaner on a white cloth and wiping down the shoes.

Dance shoes inserted into mesh laundry bag

The Spruce / Nelly Cuanalo