How to Clean and Care for a Bathing Suit

How to Clean and Care for a Bathing Suit

Bathing suits are a swimmer's best friend. They make swimming in the pool or ocean more fun, but they can also be quite difficult to clean and maintain. However, a few simple, easy steps will help you take care of your bathing suit, so it lasts for many seasons to come! 

It's summertime, and you're looking for some tips on how to care for your bathing suit. You've heard that the chlorine in pools can ruin a swimsuit, but many other things can happen to it as well. 

This blog post will offer some handy advice on how to clean and take care of your bathing suit, so it lasts longer than just one season! 

The bathing suit is one of the most important pieces of clothing in your summer wardrobe. It can make or break an outfit, but it needs to be cared for to maintain its quality and extend its life.

I am here to help you take care of your bathing suit. This guide will give you some tips on how to clean and care for your bathing suit. You can find more information below in the "How To" section, but first, let's answer some questions: What type of material do I use? 

How often should I wash my bathing suit? Do I need special detergent or soap? Can I machine wash my bathing suit? When should I store it away after wearing it? For more information about these topics, scroll down!

Bathing suits are great for swimming, lounging on the beach, and looking good in photos. However, they can get dirty pretty easily when you're in the water all day or if you're wearing one every day to work out at the gym. 

You might not know how to clean your bathing suit because it's hard to find information about cleaning them online. One way to clean a bathing suit is by filling up a sink with warm water and adding some laundry detergent before soaking the entire thing in there for 10 minutes (or more). 

After that's done, rinse it off using cold water until all of the soap is gone before hanging it outside or inside somewhere dry so that it can air-dry faster than usual. 

Before you even get into the water with your suit on, rinse it out thoroughly by holding it under running water then shaking off any excess water before putting it back on. This helps remove salt, which can cause staining if left unchecked. 

After getting out of the pool or ocean, rinse off as much as possible (without wringing) with fresh cool water and gently pat dry with a towel to avoid stretching out the fabric too much.

You may not be aware, but your bathing suit can hold a lot of bacteria. Wearing it for hours in the hot sun and water only increases the number of germs growing on it. 

The best way to care for your bathing suit is to wash it after every use. This will help you stay healthy while also keeping your clothing looking great! 

Let's get started!

How To Wash Your Swimsuits The Right Way

Whether at a pool, beach, lake or park, putting on a swimsuit can be a highlight of the summer, but don't let the laundry aspect scare you. There's no reason to stress about how to wash your swimsuit after a day in the sun.

1. Can You Put A Bathing Suit In The Washing Machine?

The short answer is: It depends. Most bathing suits will tell you on the label that hand washing is preferable.

According to ProSwimwear, an international competitive swimwear retailer, the wash cycle can damage the swimsuit's fabric. Outdoor clothing company Recreational Equipment, Inc., commonly referred to as REI, also recommends washing by hand.

Hand washing not only ensures that your bright coral swimsuits stay bright (and coral), but it also gives your suit more longevity and helps keep its shape.

Detergent company The Laundress suggests washing swimwear by hand in a bath of warm water.

But some companies intentionally use machine-friendly fabrics.

Jake Danehy, CEO and co-founder of sustainable swimwear brand Fair Harbor, says that his company’s wares are made so that they can be machine washed, so be sure to check the label on your specific swimwear.

2. Should I Use Baking Soda?

If your swimsuit does require hand washing, baking soda is a perfect product to use.

Tyler Mulholland, clothing sales lead for REI, calls baking soda an "excellent means of cleaning all types of swimwear."

Baking soda brand Arm & Hammer recommends using half a cup of baking soda to "brighten," "freshen," "remove odours" and "give new life" to laundry. Just fill the sink with cool water, add the baking soda, let your suit soak, rinse it out and hang it to dry.

Not only is baking soda great for a general clean, but it also does the trick for pesky stains. Arm & Hammer also recommend pre-treating stains, such as coffee or wine, by mixing six tablespoons of baking soda with 1/3 cup warm water to create a paste. 

Test it on the swimsuit in an inconspicuous area to ensure no colour bleeding or fading, and then apply the paste to the stain. Once the paste dries, wash it out and hang to dry.

3. So, What Is The Best Way To Wash A Bathing Suit?

Using mild or even no detergent at all is the best way to clean your suit. 

Corey Simpson, PR and communications coordinator at Patagonia, told us that washing in cold water without detergent is recommended, while Danehy recommends using mild detergents for machine-friendly swimsuits.

The Laundress recommends using a small amount of detergent in a warm bath, agitating the water to incorporate the soap and letting the swimsuit soak for 30 minutes before rinsing clean.

How Often Should You Wash Your Bathing Suit?

If you think, "Well, chlorine keeps the pool clean, so my bathing suit is clean," you're wrong. Or if you tell yourself, "Well, I didn't swim at all, so my bathing suit is still clean," you're wrong again. You need to wash your bathing suit after every single use.

According to the American Cleaning Institute, while that's a pain in the tan lines when you're on vacation, it's a matter of personal hygiene.

Chances are, when you're in your bathing suit, you're sweating. Sunny skies and warm temperatures make for a great beach or pool day, but by the end of the day (or in the first 10 minutes of sitting in the blazing hot sun), you're drenched in sweat.

That isn't even taking into account how much sunscreen accumulates on your bathing suit during the day. Typically, it would be best if you reapplied sunscreen every 80 minutes during sun exposure. 

By the time you're applying your third round of sunscreen, you're not thinking about how much is going on in your bathing suit. On top of that, your bathing suit has most likely begun to start its own mini island with the amount of sand collecting in it.

After each wear, washing a bathing suit sounds simple but requires more care than tossing it into your washing machine and pressing start. Here are tips for washing your swimsuit after every use:

  • Do not wring out your bathing suit, as this can ruin the elasticity 
  • Don't crumple your bathing suit and shove it to the bottom of your pool/beach bag
  • If you're going to be in the sun for a while longer after taking your swimsuit off, lay it flat out to dry (but not too long, as the direct sun exposure can ruin the colour)
  • If you're not outside, lay your bathing suit flat and pat it dry with a towel
  • You could get away with just gently hand-washing your bathing suit in water if you didn't sweat a lot or get sunscreen all over it. In that case, you'll only need to use detergent after every three uses
  • Otherwise, use a gentle detergent (no bleach) to wash your bathing suit in the machine-like The Laundress Swim Do Spot Detergent, Arm & Hammer Liquid Detergent for Sensitive Skin, or Tommy Bahama Swim Suit Cleaner

If having to wash your bathing suit after every single wear is an issue (because you barely have any swimwear).

Just like your bathing suit, your beach and pool towels should also be washed after every use if they get sandy and sweaty. If your towel barely gets wet, you can probably get away with reusing it.

Is It Gross To Wear a Swimsuit Again Before Washing It?

After getting out of the water, it's common to strip out of your wet bathing suit and hang it to dry until it's ready for your next swim. 

Rewearing swimsuits before you wash them means you can enjoy a summer full of swimming without owning a bajillion suits or doing laundry all the time. And since you wear swimsuits in the water, they're technically kind of clean when you take them off. 

Sort of, says Lucky Sekhon, MD, a New York City-based fertility specialist and board-certified OB-GYN. Rewearing a swimsuit before washing it can be gross, but it depends on the circumstances.

"Bathing suits do not need to be washed every single time you wear them," says Dr Sekhon. "If swimming in chlorinated or salt water, it is beneficial to wash the bathing suit every time. If wearing the bathing suit while outside of the water, for an extended period, I would recommend washing it before reuse."

So if you're swimming in chlorinated or salt water, or wearing your suit outside of the water for a long time, be sure to wash your swimsuit after every use.

"Unlike wearing a bathing suit in the water, wearing a bathing suit outside of the water for a prolonged period is akin to wearing underwear," says Dr Sekhon. 

"Build-up of sweat, vaginal discharge after prolonged wear outside of the water, while dry, should be cleaned before the bathing suit is worn again. If not, this can lead to skin irritation and discomfort."

Additionally, staying in wet bottoms for too long could lead to a yeast infection, especially if you're prone to them. Jacqueline Ho, MD, MS, assistant professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at USC Keck School of Medicine, explains that "things like tight clothing, non-breathable fabric, and moisture can predispose you to have a yeast infection." 

Change into dry clothing sooner than later. Remember that you have a higher risk of developing a yeast infection if you have diabetes, were recently on antibiotics, are pregnant, or have a weakened immune system.

If you're taking a dip in freshwater or unchlorinated water and change right before and after your swim, you're good to wear it. This is also better for your bathing suits in the long run.

"Frequent washing may actually lead to the fabric wearing down and decreased longevity of the suit," she says. "Most bathing suit designers and manufacturers recommend letting the bathing suit air dry and washing only every three to five years."

To prolong the life of your swimsuit (and keep your bits healthy and happy), Dr Sekhon recommends using your usual detergent to hand wash your swimsuits.

Designer Yasmine Eslami tells The Strategist that there's a right way to hand wash your delicates. First, fill your sink with room-temperature water, not hot. Then, add some soap to get the water nice and bubbly. 

Then instead of rubbing your swimsuit to get it clean, gently and repeatedly push each pair down to the bottom of the sink and let it float back up to the surface again. After letting them soak for an hour, rinse with cold water and hang to dry.

Smart Ways to Extend the Life of Your Swimsuit

1. Make sure to wash your swimsuit after every wear—even if you don't go in the water. 

“Sunscreens contain ingredients that can be damaging to the fabric and can lead to the eventual breakdown of the material,” says Marysia Reeves, designer of Marysia Swim (marysiaswim.com). 

To top it off, some SPFs are more detrimental than others, warns Lindsey J. Boyd, co-founder of the all-natural detergent line, The Laundress. For example, mineral-based lotions and oil formulations can cause yellowing or gradual stains over time if swimsuits are not washed properly. 

Another reason to be meticulous about washing your suit, particularly if you're taking a dip in the pool? Chlorine is harsher on swimwear fabrics than fresh and saltwater and can leave bright colours especially susceptible to fading.

2. Read the fine print—really. 

When shopping for a new swimsuit, consider the fabric makeup of whatever style you're eyeing. Andrea Jagaric, senior vice president of design at Aerie, suggests "a fabrication that has some spandex in it—[it] will last more than one season." 

Spandex and materials like it hold their shape for the longest amount of time, meaning you don't have to worry about sagging. (Lori Coulter, CEO and co-founder of Summersalt, recommends Xtra Life Lycra.) Also, if you're spending a lot of time in the pool, make sure your suit is made with chlorine-resistant materials.

Lately, we've seen a trend toward alternative fabrics in swim, with more and more styles being rendered in crochet, terry, and even velvet. 

But be extra cautious when wearing these suits: According to Megan Balch and Jaime Barker, the designers of Flagpole, those fabrics don't have as much elastic as traditional swimwear materials, and they're more susceptible to wear and tear. 

The same goes for embellishments: "Some accessories and hardware, if not well made, can represent potential friction points," explains Paula Fernandez, founder and designer at Valimare, noting how thin metal loops can stress fabric or even break after a lot of wear.

3. But don’t throw your swimsuit in the washing machine or use just any old detergent.

For best results, wash your swimsuit by hand and use a detergent specifically designed for delicates or high spandex-content fabrics, like The Laundress Sport Detergent ($14, containerstore.com), protects the fabric's colours and safely eliminates oils and chemicals without damaging the fine fibres. 

Boyd also swears by white vinegar in a pinch for its deodorizing and antibacterial properties instead of detergent. 

After spending an afternoon poolside, it's important to clean your suit in a timely fashion, especially if it's been in chlorine or saltwater, according to Ookioh founder Vivek Agarwal. 

Gwen Whiting, co-founder of luxe laundry service The Laundress, recommends a specific regimen for cleaning your swim gear: "Use the targeted precision of a hard bar of laundry soap (try the Laundress Wash & Stain bar, $6, The Laundress to scrub the waistband, straps, and underwire—areas prone to sweat build-up or sunscreen that could cause yellowing; then soak for 30 minutes in cool or warm water with a bleach-free detergent." 

Alternatively, like, say, if you're travelling, "shower gel can work in a pinch," she says.

And if you must, must, must use the washing machine, make sure it's set on cold water.

If you're away from home and don't have detergent or vinegar readily available, Reeves suggests rinsing the swimsuit in fresh water at the very least. As for men's swim, trunks are durable enough to be machine washed because they contain less spandex.

4. How you hand wash your swimsuit makes a big difference, too. 

Start by filling your sink with cold water and add one capful of mild detergent or white vinegar. Let the swimsuit soak in the solution for up to 30 minutes, and then rinse with cool water. 

To dry, gently roll your suit in a clean, dry towel, lightly pressing to remove the excess water. While it may be tempting, you should never wring out your swimsuit, as doing so may damage the spandex fibres. When you're finished, lay the suit flat to dry.

5. And always, always, always air-dry. 

Sure, dryers get the job done quickly. Still, Whiting explains that the dryer's heat wreaks havoc on swimsuits: "The heat kills elasticity and causes the fabric to shrink, not to mention the fact that rubbing up against other items in a load induces pilling," she says. 

Agarwal adds that "while throwing your new swimsuit in the washer and dryer won't immediately ruin a swimsuit, it will shorten its lifespan dramatically."

A straightforward way to dry your swimsuit that every designer agrees on: Lay swimsuits flat to dry. However, don't wring out the suit—it'll stress the fibres, and you'll run the risk if your suit is losing its shape, according to Fernandez. It would be best if you also didn't leave it in direct sunlight, as you might run the risk of having the colours fade.

Sewn-in padding is safe during hand washing and flat drying, says Whiting; removable inserts, however, should be washed separately from the suit and then reinserted when dry.

6. Attend to sunscreen and deodorant marks on the spot. 

An extra glob of sunscreen or a little deodorant smudge might not seem like a big deal, but if not dealt with at the moment, it could turn into a permanent stain, so, as soon as you spot it, "try a stain remover stick and rinse as soon as possible," says Jagaric says. No Tide-to-Go handy? 

Some MacGyver hacks you can use back at home to treat tough stains: Fernandez recommends baking soda and vinegar. "Leave the soda on the stain for at least 30 minutes and then rinse in cold water," she says. 

"When used as a dilution in water—three parts water to one part white vinegar works well—you can soak out a sunscreen stain. You can also apply white vinegar directly to small stains, but make sure that you use it very conservatively." A little bit of water mixed with laundry detergent works as well, according to Balch and Barker.

7. Fix loose stitches immediately. 

If you notice a thread here or there loosen up, the suit can still be salvaged: "If a stitch accidentally gets pulled, you can gently stretch the seam to work the thread back in evenly," Balch and Barker advise. Just make sure to do so as soon as you notice.

8. Unpack as soon as you get back from vacation. 

When you're returning from a trip, the pool, or the beach, throwing a wet swimsuit into a plastic bag may seem like the straightforward packing solution, as long as it's the first thing you take out of your bag when you get home. 

Resist the urge to leave your suit crumpled up in your luggage—not only does leaving your suit in a ball ruin its shape, but "it damages fibres and causes mildew," according to Fernandez.

9. Store your suits correctly during the off-season. 

"It's tempting to vacuum-pack suits away for the winter," Balch and Barker explain, "but you should avoid keeping anything with high elasticity in sealed plastic." Instead, please keep them in a drawer or your closet.

10. To keep your swimsuit in tip-top shape, also be mindful to avoid these don’ts:

  • Don’t let a swimsuit dry directly in the sun. This may cause fading.
  • Don't put a swimsuit in the dryer. The heat weakens the elasticity of the spandex. This is the same reason why you shouldn't wear your favourite bikini in a Jacuzzi.
  • Don't sit on rough surfaces while wearing a swimsuit. For example, the concrete beside the pool or wood from the lounge chairs may snag the swimsuit material. Always lay down a towel before you sit.

Dos and Don'ts of Swimwear Care

Bathing suits, swim trunks, and other types of swimwear are very specific types of clothing. You can't wear these items just anywhere, so depending on how often you swim, you may or may not get a lot of regular wear out of these items. 

However, swimwear does tend to be some of the more expensive items of clothing that you have to purchase, so you want to make sure that you get as much use out of it as you can for as long as you can. 

That may sound easy for clothing that is usually seasonal and only worn under certain circumstances. Still, swim conditions can be hard on clothing, even clothing that's specifically designed for those conditions. 

Please take a look at some dos and don'ts for taking care of your swimwear so that it lasts as long as it can and does what you need it to do. 

1. Do: Rinse and Hand Wash

You don’t have to wash your swimsuit as soon as you take it off, but you do need to at least rinse it right away. Chlorine and salt in swim water are tough on your bathing suit, and a good rinse can help remove these as soon as possible. 

Even if you've been sunbathing, sunblock and your own body's oils can also be tough on the suit, so rinse the suit when you remove it, even if you stayed dry while wearing it. 

Swimsuits are delicate garments, and even a gentle washing machine cycle can agitate parts of the suit that don’t need to be agitated. Use a gentle detergent and hand wash the suits instead. 

2. Don’t: Wring Out Your Suit

Wringing out a wet suit can seem like a quick way to get rid of the water, but it puts pressure on the suit's fibres and can damage the suit. On the other hand, hanging the suit to dry isn't the best choice either; it can weaken the straps, leaving them loose and ruining the fit. 

Instead, lay the wet suit out on a dry towel. Roll the towel up with the swimsuit inside of it and give it a gentle squeeze. Then unroll it, and lay the suit out flat to dry. 

3. Do: Rotate Suits

Make it a point to have more than one swimsuit that you regularly use during the swimming season. For example, spandex needs a whole day to return to its usual position after use, which means that when you're swimming daily, each suit needs a day-long break between uses. 

4. Don’t: Overdo the Heat

Swimwear holds up better in cold water than in hot, so make sure that you're using cool water when you wash your swimwear. Going in hot water when you're wearing the suit can also be hard on it, so keep hot tub time to a minimum. 

If dips in a hot tub are part of your routine, designate one swimsuit – preferably an inexpensive one – to be the hot tub suit, and save the rest of your swimwear for cool water swimming and sunbathing.

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