With the swimsuit class next week, my trip to Florida last weekend, and my recent me-made swimsuit, I thought it would be appropriate to discuss how to care for swimwear. Bathing suits are exposed to a lot of harsh chemicals (chlorine), products (sunscreen) and wear and tear (sun). Just like lingerie, the life of a swimsuit relies heavily on how it is washed and worn.
Like any garment, the correct care instructions depend on the swimsuit’s fiber content. So first, let’s take a look at the most common types.
- Spandex/Lycra: The most widely used fabric for swimwear. It is form fitting, has great recovery, and is susceptible to chlorine and salt.
- Cotton: Cotton can be blended with spandex or polyester for swimwear, but the problem is the fabric doesn’t have great recovery and will stretch out of shape when wet. It also isn’t durable when exposed to chlorine, salt and sun. I don’t suggest using cotton-based fabric for swimwear, but if you’re stash busting, I get it, and in that case, make that swimsuit a show piece (read: don’t go swimming!).
- Nylon: The most common fabric for swimwear lining. I always buy a 100% lightweight nylon from Bra Makers Supply. It’s strong enough to line a bathing suit, but doesn’t add bulk. It can withstand chlorine and salt, but will fade in the sun. That usually won’t be a problem because in most cases, it will be on the inside of the garment and white, beige or black.
- Polyester: An alternative to nylon, but not as strong or lightweight. I would only choose poly over a spandex/Lycra blend if I intended to wear it in a hot tub/Jacuzzi. Poly can withstand the heat better than spandex/Lycra.
Wash Frequency: Even if you don’t go in the water, wash after every wear. Sunscreens, lotions and all those other oily products you put on at the beach and pool break down fabric over time and can cause it to yellow. Also, residual chlorine that is not washed away will cause fading.
Hand washing versus machine washing: Hand washing is the “correct” way, but I don’t think it’s bad to machine wash so long as you put it on delicate cycle. That’s what I do. However, note that my swimsuits are basic styles – no cups, no padding, no beading, no appliques and no fussy trims. If you have a bedazzled swimsuit, bite the bullet and hand wash it please!
Detergent: Use a detergent specifically intended for delicates or active wear fabrics. Almost all grocery stores and drug stores have a stock. The Laundress also sells a sport detergent which protects fabric’s colors and safely eliminates oils and chemicals without damaging the fabric. Another option, which is natural, is white vinegar. It’s deodorizing and antibacterial, and will clean your washing machine at the same time.
Drying: Do not, I repeat, DO NOT, put your swimsuit in the dryer. The heat will destroy the elasticity of the spandex. So, what should you do? Lay flat to dry. Spandex/Lycra is a “memory fabric,” so it needs a full day to return to its original shape. So, if you’re on vacation, bring 2 suits and rotate each day. If you need to dry your suit fast, use a hair dryer on cool/warm setting.
Care While Wearing: Don’t sit on rough surfaces, such as the concrete beside the pool. It will cause the fabric to have a “peach fuzz” near your heinie. No bueno. Lay down a towel wherever you sit to prevent.
Removing A Sunscreen Stain: So what if you get a stain from sunscreen? Use baking soda or vinegar to remove. For basking soda, sprinkle a generous amount directly onto the stain and allow it to sit for one to two hours. Then wash as per usual. For vinegar, dilute one part white vinegar with three parts warm water and soak (white vinegar can also be applied directly to the stain). After soaking, wash as per usual.
Ironing and Bleaching: Don’t use bleach as is causes discoloration and damage to fabric, and do not iron. The only time where I would iron was to press a seam after sewing and in that case, I’d DEFINITELY use the synthetic setting.