How to Wash and Care for a Swimsuit

Keep Your Best Swimwear Looking New All Summer

A woman wearing a swimsuit

The Spruce / Ana-Maria Stanciu  

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 10 - 20 mins
  • Total Time: 2 - 8 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $0

Whether you use your swimsuit daily or just once in a while when vacationing, the fabric can take a beating from pool chemicals, salt water, sand, high temperatures, and sunscreen lotions. Since bathing suits can be expensive—especially for women—it's well worth your time to learn how to keep them looking great all season. Learning how to wash a swimsuit is the first step. Always use cold water when washing a swimsuit—hot water can fade colors and damage elasticity. It's best to rinse it after each washing, hand-wash it after a few wears, and if you must put a bathing suit in the washing machine, then place it in a mesh bag for protection.

How Often to Wash a Swimsuit

Almost every swimsuit contains spandex, which can stretch out and break down if exposed to perspiration and body oils. Therefore, removing those contaminants as soon as possible is important to help a swimsuit keep its shape. The chlorine in pools and hot tubs can harm a swimsuit's elasticity, too, and cause the fabric to change color. White swimsuits are particularly susceptible to chlorine and will turn yellow as it strips away the white fibers surrounding the inner yellow core of synthetic fibers. Thus, it is important to thoroughly rinse your swimsuit in clear water after every use.

But deep cleaning doesn't need to be part of your routine after each use. Several manufacturers, including REI, Patagonia, and Fair Harbor, recommend rinsing after every use, then deep cleaning after every three to five uses.

Washing a bathing suit is easy, but it should be done by hand. If you absolutely must wash a bathing suit in the washing machine whether it's by itself or with other clothes, put it in a mesh bag meant for delicate garments, use an ultra-mild detergent, and choose the delicate cycle.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Sink
  • Drying rack

Materials

  • Mild detergent or spandex-specific detergent
  • Cold water

Instructions

A bowlful of detergent next to a sink
The Spruce / Ana-Maria Stanciu
How to Wash a Bathing Suit
Detergent Gentle liquid or spandex-specific
Water Temperature Cold
Cycle Type Hand-wash only
Drying Cycle Type Do not machine-dry
Special Treatments Hand-wash only
Iron Settings Do not iron

How to Wash Swimsuits by Hand

  1. Rinse Your Bathing Suit

    Rinse your swimsuit as soon as possible in cool tap water after each time you wear it. If you have time, allow the suit to soak in cool water for 30 minutes, which is even better for the fabric. Soaking will remove most of the chemicals, salt, sand, and body oil that can damage the fabric.

    Someone rinsing a bathing suit
    The Spruce / Ana-Maria Stanciu 
  2. Drain and Refill the Sink 

    Plain water doesn't remove all of the chlorine or salt. Refill the sink with cool water, and add 1 teaspoon or less of a gentle liquid laundry detergent. If you're in a pinch, use just a dab of shampoo to wash your suit, but skip any combination products that contain conditioner.

    Someone adding detergent to a sink
    The Spruce / Ana-Maria Stanciu 
  3. Treat Stains

    Whether you dripped ketchup on your suit at a poolside barbecue or got some sunscreen on the fabric, follow stain removal guidelines for the specific stain to remove it from your swimsuit. Self-tanners are particularly difficult to remove, so always wear an older suit when applying them.

    Someone treating stains on a bathing suit
    The Spruce / Ana-Maria Stanciu  
  4. Submerge the Suit

    Turn your swimsuit inside out, and submerge it in the solution. Swish for several minutes, and then rinse well.

    Someone submerging a swimsuit

    The Spruce / Ana-Maria Stanciu 

  5. Remove Excess Water

    Remove the bathing suit from the water, and then gently squeeze the water out of the fabric. Don’t wring the suit as it can cause damage.

    Someone squeezing water out of a suit
    The Spruce / Ana-Maria Stanciu 
  6. Air-Dry the Bathing Suit

    Spread your suit flat to dry in a spot out of direct sunlight. UV rays from the sun can both fade and break down the fibers in your suit.

    Someone placing a suit on a drying rack
    The Spruce / Ana-Maria Stanciu 

Treating Stains on a Swimsuit

The proper method for removing a stain will vary depending on the staining agent, but whatever method you use will be more efficient if you pretreat stains by first applying a paste made of 1/3 cup of warm water and 6 teaspoons of baking soda. Allow the paste to fully dry before moving on to washing the swimsuit.

Most stains come out rather easily, but sunscreen lotions can be one of the worst. Here, you may need to turn to an oxygen-based bleach, mixed into cool water. Let the stained suit soak in water for at least eight hours, and repeat if the stain is not eradicated. Remember, this method should be used only with an oxygen-based bleach product, such as OxiClean. Never use ordinary chlorine bleach on a swimsuit.

Swimsuit Care and Repairs

A broken strap or small hole isn’t a reason to toss an expensive bathing suit. Use a needle and polyester thread to hand-sew small snags or rips in the fabric. Easily fix a snag by threading a needle with the same color thread, pull it through the middle of the loop of the snag, and knot it so it's tied to the snag. Then, put the needle into the base of the snag to pull it through to the other side. If you need a bigger repair or need to alter a bathing suit, take it to a professional tailor. They’ll be much more adept at sewing finicky spandex or Lycra. 

When wearing a swimsuit, avoid sitting or brushing up against abrasive surfaces, such as concrete and cement around pool walls and grounds. This can lead to damaging pilling and holes in your suit.

Someone stitching a bathing suit
The Spruce / Ana-Maria Stanciu 

Storing a Swimsuit

Don’t hang up your bathing suit because it'll stretch out the fibers. Instead, store the suit flat when it’s completely dry; any moisture may result in the growth of mildew. If you’re putting it away for the season, store the suit in a fabric garment bag. Don't use plastic bags, which can also provide a breeding ground for mildew and bacteria. 

Someone storing a bathing suit
The Spruce / Ana-Maria Stanciu 

Tips for Washing a Bathing Suit

  • Instead of taking off the bathing suit and soaking it in cold water, just wear the suit into your post-swim shower. 
  • When hand-washing, don't use powdered detergent because it may not dissolve completely or rinse away well. Never use chlorine bleach to whiten or remove stains on suits. 
  • Distilled white vinegar can be used as an emergency substitute for detergent when washing a swimsuit, as it both deodorizes and reduces bacteria on the fabric. 
  • If possible, wear an older suit in a hot tub, or rinse out your suit as quickly as possible. Hot tubs offer a double whammy of excessive chemicals and high heat that will fade and stretch a suit out very quickly.
  • For frequent hot tub use, choose a suit that is 100% polyester and/or chlorine-resistant. Cotton and natural fibers won't hold up in hot chlorinated water.
FAQ
  • How long do swimsuits last?

    The life of a swimsuit varies depending on the quality of the garment and how it's taken care of. Generally, a swimsuit should last three months to a year, but if it's well-maintained, it can last for a few seasons.

  • Are there any swimsuits that can be machine-washed?

    It's generally advised to hand-wash all swimsuits, regardless of material. However, if hand-washing is not practical, choose a swimsuit made of cotton or a durable synthetic fabric, such as polyester or nylon, not spandex. The manufacturer's label will indicate whether the suit can be washed by machine.

  • Can I use baking soda to freshen a swimsuit?

    Yes. Half a cup of baking soda added to a sink of cold water before soaking will both brighten a swimsuit and remove odors.

  • Are there any special techniques for washing competition swimsuits?

    Competition swimsuits (men's types are often known as "jammers") are tight, compression garments made with a unique weave of fine spandex and polyester or Lycra fibers. It is even more important to rinse these thoroughly after each use. And reserve these swimsuits for competition use, as they are easily abraded and damaged when rubbed against concrete pool walls or pool decks.

Article Sources
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  1. How to Wash Your Swimsuits the Right Way. Today.