It doesn't matter whether you’re lounging seaside in a chic bikini or channeling your inner Katie Ledecky for a few laps in the pool—chlorine, salt water, and sun can wreak havoc on your bathing suit. Even sunscreen can damage the material, causing it to break down over time.
Although you can’t undo what the elements have done, you can prevent fading color, stretched-out straps, and pilling fabric in new (or newish) suits. These expert tips on how to care for your swimsuit will help your favorite bikini or one-piece last for many summers to come.
1. Rinse your swimsuit immediately after wearing it
Proper swimwear care starts as soon as you peel off your suit after a day at the beach or pool. The American Cleaning Institute (ACI) recommends rinsing your suit in cold water as soon as possible after use to remove any chemicals and prevent odors from setting in.
Bonus points if you let your swimsuit soak for a while, especially if you don't plan on actually laundering it for a few days. This can help remove any chlorine, salt, sand, and sunscreen or tanning oil before you toss it in the wash. All of the above—particularly chlorine—can affect the elasticity of the suit or strip color from the fabric's fibers.
2. Spot treat when needed
Maybe you dripped some tanning oil on your suit or you had an incident with your poolside cocktail. To prevent it from ruining your swimsuit—which it can if you let it soak into the material for hours or days before laundering it—treat the stain after rinsing your suit. To do this, gently scrub the area with a dab of detergent or even dish soap and then rinse.
3. Use the right detergent
When it comes to washing your bathing suit, not just any detergent will do. Swimsuits are made of synthetic fabrics like nylon and spandex, which wick away moisture and are less absorbent than other materials. They're also often more delicate. If you don't remove all of the chemicals or oils that build up on your bathing suit during use, they can damage the fit or elasticity of the suit over time.
As such, ACI recommends using a detergent that's made specifically for synthetic fabrics or one for delicate materials that are gentler on your bathing suits. "There are detergents designed for spandex, which can help keep the suit from stretching out or thinning," a spokesperson from ACI says. You can also look for one that's labeled as a "sports" detergent, as most activewear is made of similar fabrics as swimwear. Some of the most highly rated options include Hex Performance Laundry Detergent, which has more than 1,500 rave reviews on Amazon; Active Wear Laundry Detergent, which is designed for spandex and other synthetic materials; and Woolite Delicates, which has a 4.7-star rating from more than 1,700 reviewers on Amazon. Another top pick is The Laundress Delicate Wash, which comes highly recommended by Target shoppers for hand washing polyester, nylon, and spandex.
If you're really in a pinch, ACI says you can even use liquid hand soap to wash your bathing suit.
4. Hand wash your swimsuit whenever possible
Although it might be tempting to toss your suit in with the everyday wash, it's better to wash it by hand. Even on the delicate cycle, a washing machine can agitate the fabric of your swimsuit to the point of stretching it out of shape.
When hand washing, Drew Westervelt, founder of HEX Performance, recommends mixing cool water and about a teaspoon of detergent in a basin and first soaking your swimsuit for at least five minutes but no more than an hour. Leaving it in for too long could start to slowly break down the material fibers. Then, scrub your suit thoroughly, focusing especially on any discolored parts or stains. “Agitation is key in cleaning,” he explains.
5. Air dry your swimsuit flat
Two things not to do to your bathing suit after you wash it: hang it to dry or toss it in the dryer. Hanging can warp the shape of the suit and cause it to stretch out, while the heat of tumble drying can weaken the elasticity.
Instead, after washing your swimsuit, ACI says to squeeze it gently to remove any excess water—but avoid wringing it as it could damage the fibers—and then lay it on a flat surface, like a countertop or a lay-flat clothes drying rack. This helps it maintain its shape while it dries. Choose an area out of direct sunlight or heat as well to prevent the color from fading.
6. Let it dry completely before storing
Whether you're just putting it in your drawer for next weekend or if you're packing it away until next summer, make sure your swimsuit is totally dry to avoid any mildew growth. Then, just as you let it dry flat, you should also store it flat so the material doesn't stretch out or become misshapen. For more protection from bacteria or mildew, you can place your swimsuit in a zippered garment bag before storing it.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.