How to Clean and Care for a Bathing Suit

Woman having fun on the beach

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Whether you use your swimsuit daily or just once in a while when vacationing, the fabric can take a beating from pool chemicals, sand, high temperatures, and sunscreen. Bathing suits can be expensive (especially for women), so it's worth your time to learn how to keep them looking great all season.

Almost every swimsuit contains spandex or Lycra, so prompt cleaning is important. Perspiration and body oils react with the elastic fibers in a bathing suit, causing them to stretch and break down. 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 and cause the fabric to change color. White swimsuits are particularly susceptible to chlorine and will turn yellow as the chemical eats away the white fibers surrounding the inner yellow core of synthetic fibers.

Swimsuits and Hot Tub Tips

  • 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 percent polyester or chlorine resistant. Cotton and natural fibers will not hold up in the chlorinated water.
How to Wash a Bathing Suit
Detergent Gentle liquid detergent; spandex-specific detergent
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

Project Metrics

Washing a bathing suit is easy, but it must be done by hand. If you absolutely must wash a bathing suit in the washing machine, put it a mesh bag that's meant for delicate garments and use an ultra-mild detergent.

Working time: 10 minutes

Total time: 45 minutes

Skill level: Beginner

What You’ll Need

Supplies

  • Mild detergent or spandex-specific detergent
  • Cold water

Tools

  • Sink

Instructions

  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 to allow the suit to soak in cool water for 30 minutes, that's even better for the fabric. The soak will remove most of the chemicals, salt, sand, and body oil that can damage the fabric.

  2. Drain and Refill the Sink 

    Plain water does not remove all of the salt or chlorine. Refill the sink with cool water and add just a teaspoon or less of a gentle liquid laundry detergent. If you are in a pinch, you can use just a dab of shampoo to wash your suit but skip any combination products that contain hair conditioners.

  3. Submerge the Suit

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

  4. Remove Excess Water

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

  5. Air-Dry the Bathing Suit

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

Storing a Bathing Suit

Don’t hang up your bathing suit, as it will stretch out the fibers. Instead, store the suit lying flat when it’s completely dry—any moisture, and you risk mildew. If you’re putting it away for the season, store the suit in a fabric garment bag. Skip the plastic bags, which also provides a breeding ground for mildew and bacteria. 

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. 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. 

Treating Stains on Bathing Suits

Whether you dripped ketchup on your suit at a poolside barbecue or spread too much sunscreen close to the fabric, follow the 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.

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. 
  • Distilled white vinegar can be used as an emergency substitute for detergent when washing, as it both deodorizes and reduces bacteria on the fabric.