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How to Clean and Care for Your Swimsuit

Beach bag with swimsuit, flip flops, and a pretty sarong wrap on a light background
Nesolenaya Alexandra/Shutterstock

Finding a great swimsuit is like finding the holy grail of summer attire. When you find one that fits perfectly and makes you feel great, you never want to let it go. Here’s how to keep it looking great, longer.

Unfortunately, you can’t just throw your swimsuit in with the rest of your laundry. But, compounding the problem, chlorine, salt, sun, and sand are all extra-hard on the fabric, so you can’t skimp on washing it, either. You want to take care of it, though because just one summer of improper care can ruin your beloved ‘suit.

We know a good swimsuit is hard to find, so we’ve put together the cleaning and care tips that will make yours last for seasons to come.

How to Clean Your Suit

There’s usually nothing between your skin and the fabric of your swimsuit—so you’ll obviously want it to be clean. But don’t toss it in the washing machine yet: follow these steps instead.

Rinse First

When you’ve just gotten out of the water and changed back into real clothes, doing laundry is probably the last thing on your mind. Just make sure to give your swimsuit a quick rinse in cold water as soon as you take it off (you can even do this while you shower post-swim).

This removes excess debris, sweat, sunscreen, and other contaminants that could make the fabric break down over time.

Handwash Occasionally

With regular rinsing, you won’t need to wash your swimsuit every time you wear it. But after a few wears, it will start to feel grimy and ready for a proper wash.

Do a gentle handwash in cool water: a washing machine can make the delicate fabric fall apart. Use a detergent designed for delicates. You can even find detergents made specifically for athletic clothes with a high spandex content.

Let the swimsuit soak with a bit of detergent, swish it around gently, then rinse the detergent out thoroughly. Dry your swimsuit by rolling it up in a clean towel and pressing the water out. Avoid wringing or squeezing the fabric, which can make it lose its shape.

To finish drying, lay it flat on a towel or drying rack. It’s actually best not to dry swimsuits in the sun since excess sun exposure fades and damages the fabric.

If your swimsuit is extra dirty or stained, soak it in white vinegar and baking soda before you wash it, which will lift most stains. You can also replace the detergent with vinegar for a super-gentle wash that kills odor and bacteria.

Machine Wash as a Last Resort

If your swimsuit is too dirty or stained for handwashing, and you don’t want to get rid of it, you can machine wash it as a last-ditch effort.

Use a gentle cycle, cold water, and mild detergent. Add a couple of towels to the machine—the added padding can reduce damage. Use a front-loading washing machine if you can; they’re more gentle than top-loading designs. A lingerie bag will also help protect your swimsuit during washing.

Never put your swimsuit in a dryer, though. Dry it flat with a towel, just like after you handwash it. Heat damages the fabric, and hang-drying can stretch it out.

One exception to this rule: many men’s swim trucks don’t contain much spandex so that they can stand up to machine washing. While handwashing will still make them last longer, you can safely throw them in the washing machine (but never the dryer) more often.

How to Extend Your Suit’s Life

With the basics of swimsuit cleaning covered, here are a few more care tips to keep yours looking like new.

Stay Away from Rough Edges

Rough surfaces, like the concrete edge of the pool, can fray the material. Use a chair or towel for sitting on instead. If you like to lounge on the steps of the pool or hang out in the hot tub a lot, be aware of the texture of the steps. The steps leading into a pool and the bench seat around the inside of hot tubs at gyms and resorts is usually a highly textured concrete to prevent people from slipping (and is particularly rough on swimsuits).

Rotate Swimsuits

While all swimsuits will stretch out over time, you can slow the process down by rotating between a couple of suits. That way, you give each one time to return to its original shape before you put it on again. And since swimsuits don’t take up much space in your luggage, it’s easy to pack more than one.

Avoid Soaking

No matter how bad a stain is, don’t soak your swimsuit overnight before washing it. Long-term exposure to water breaks down the fibers of the fabric.

Keep Your Favorites out of the Hot Tub

Heat and chemicals also weaken the fibers in spandex fabric, so they can’t hold their shape. If you love the hot tub, avoid going in with your favorite swimsuit on—the ‘suit will fall apart faster. Keep a cheaper or less-beloved backup for hot tub wear.

Know When to Get a Replacement

This careful care will help your swimsuit last longer, but nothing can make it last forever. You might notice the straps slipping off your shoulders, the fabric sagging, or the vibrant colors fading. If your swimsuit is stretched out and no longer fits well, it’s time to replace it. But if it has smaller issues, like a bit of fading, you can save it for the hot tub and other rough wear, and buy a new one for looking pristine by the pool.


Of course, your swimsuit isn’t the only clothing item that needs special care. For more laundry tips, check out this guide to hang-drying.

Elyse Hauser Elyse Hauser
Elyse Hauser is a Seattle-based writer and editor with a Master's in Writing Studies from Saint Joseph's University. Her work has appeared in publications like Racked, Vine Leaves Literary Journal, and Rum Punch Press. She was awarded a 2017 Writing Between the Vines residency.  Read Full Bio »

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