Avoid laundry all you want — anyone with kids or an actual life won’t judge you for putting off the chore as long as humanly possible. It’s tedious even if you’ve developed your own laundry practices and routine. And, honestly, it’s kind of expensive. Plus, you know as soon as you decide to throw something in the wash, that’s exactly when you’ll need it again. That’s especially true for items you don’t necessarily collect en masse, like bathing suits. But considering we’re in the hottest month of the hottest summer on record in years, your family‘s swimsuits are likely in high rotation right now… and you may be starting to wonder how often you’re *supposed* to be washing them.
Since you don’t have an unlimited supply and you’re hitting the pool, lake, ocean, or sprinkler practically every day at this point, it’s tempting just to give those suckers a light rinse and hang them somewhere to dry. However, if we’ve learned anything from the rules of washing your bed sheets and linens or laundering your pajamas, things that touch our bodies get pretty gross.
So, what’s the proper protocol if you take a dip in a well-maintained pool? How about going for a swim in the ocean? If you only wore it sunbathing? Do you need to wash it then, too? According to Cheryl Nelson, laundry connoisseur, lifestyle expert, and founder and owner of PreparewithCher.com, you should wash your swimsuits after all those wears. And she’s got the scoop on exactly how to wash ’em, too.
How often should you launder bathing suits?
If you grew up somewhere temperate year-round or spent vacations near water, you know the routine: swim, hang your suit over the tub before dinner, and pull on the same freezing cold, half-wet bathing suit the following day to swim again. But is that the best move?
“Personally, I wash my swimsuit after each wear,” says Nelson. “This is especially important if you wore it but didn’t go in the water (think of your swimsuit like underwear, which you wash after each use).”
Does the water you swim in change whether you wash your swimsuit?
“If you go in the ocean or a pool/hot tub, you will want to rinse your bathing suit after emerging from the water to remove some of the salt, sand, or chlorine chemicals, and then wash it with detergent once you’re able,” suggests Nelson. “It’s also important to launder your swimsuit after wearing it because the chemicals and minerals from salt water and chlorine can actually break down the polymers in the fabric. This breakdown can lead to more stretching of the material than you might want.”
Her directions change only slightly for fresh water.
“If you swim in unchlorinated or freshwater and put on and take off your swimsuit immediately after swimming, you should be OK to re-wear it without laundering it. If you hang out in a wet swimsuit (which I don’t advise as the dampness can cause yeast infections), definitely wash it afterward.”
What’s the best way to store your wet swimsuit?
Mamas across the globe carry wet bags on vacations for wet suits and wet underwear. While those things work in a pinch while out and about, they’re actually doing quite the disservice.
“Do not stuff your wet swimsuit into a bag or hamper because this will encourage the growth of mold and mildew, causing odors,” says Nelson. “Hang your swimsuit up to dry after wearing it.”
Absolutely set on getting in one more swim before you catch a flight and plan on leaving your suit in the wet bag until you get home? Those wet clothes should be your first priority when you get home. Wet bags don’t do anything to keep your suits from mildewing or molding; they only ensure the dampness doesn’t spread to the other clothes near your bag. The longer your suits stay crammed into a wet bag, the more likely they are to be super gross, stinky, and unsafe.
Should you use detergent when you wash your swimsuit? What about the dryer?
“Always follow the directions on the swimsuit’s label when washing it,” says Nelson. “I always hand wash my swimsuits (or put them in the washing machine on the hand wash/delicate cycle) inside-out in cold water with a mild detergent. If you have a swimsuit with bra cups or a lot of straps, you will keep your swimsuit safer from tangles by washing it in a mesh laundry bag. Always tie any strings and clasp any hooks prior to washing to avoid unwanted pulls in fabric.”
If you’re already keen on washing your swimsuit between wears, you most likely rely on the dryer to ensure your suit is ready for your next day’s swim. But is that material really dryer-safe? Check the tag!
“It’s best to let your swimsuit air dry laying flat or on a drying rack if you can’t lay it flat,” says Nelson. “Unless your swimsuit is put in the dryer on air only or air fluff mode, putting it in the dryer will damage the stretchy synthetic fabrics that your swimsuit is made from.”
What about swimsuit stains?
Stains are inevitable, especially if you have kids. Barbeque sauce, popsicle drips, Kool-Aid… they all leave gross spots. According to Nelson, though, one big staining factor you probably aren’t considering is your sunscreen.
“Try to avoid getting oil-based sun protectant products on your swimsuit as swimsuit polymers love to retain oil!” she says. “Also, note that a common sun protectant, avobenzone, reacts with iron present in hard water — this can leave brownish or yellowish stains on your swimsuit.”
So you avoided the oily sunscreen but then dropped your strawberry marg down the front of your new suit. What do you do?
“When treating stains, always follow the instructions on the swimsuit’s label,” Nelson reminds us. “Pre-treat stains with a gentle detergent and wash your swimsuit in the warmest water allowed to help get the stain out.”
What’s the best way to store suits between seasons?
If you hit the end of summer and your bathing suit has held up well, how should you store it through the colder months so it’s ready for next year’s hot mom summer?
“During the off-season, store your swimsuits in a cool, dry location, such as a bin or drawer,” suggests Nelson. Warning: “Do not store them in a hot attic or a moisture-ridden basement. Hot, humid environments or humid environments will encourage the growth of mold/mildew and could damage the fabrics. Placing silica gel packets to absorb moisture will help preserve your swimsuits during storage.”
Not sure if you can make your suit last another season? While kids’ bathing suits rarely last from one year to the next, thanks to growth spurts, adults can often wear the same suit for many seasons without sizing issues.
How do you know when it’s time to replace it?
“This depends on how often you wear your swimsuit,” says Nelson. “If you wear it multiple times per week, you may need to replace it after a few months. However, if you only wear it occasionally, a swimsuit can last for years as long as you take good care of it. If the fabric becomes too stretchy, saggy, or thin, the color fades, it has a weird odor that won’t go away, or you notice pulls in the fabric, it’s time to replace it.”
It looks like it’s time to dig that trusty black one-piece from the back of your drawer and give it a good once-over in the daylight so you don’t find your suit in disrepair while you’re already on the beach. After all, nothing can ruin a vacation faster than swimsuit shopping. *cringe*