How to Wash Lycra & Spandex Clothing

Are you someone who works out regularly? If so, you must have a bunch of activewear in your closet. After all, it’s not like you can exercise in a pair of jeans! Have you ever considered the fabric that your clothes are made out of, though? As it turns out, most if not all sportswear are cut from synthetic fibers—things like polyester and nylon. The reason is simple; they have certain properties that make them ideal for exercise.

Why Synthetic Fabrics Make Good Workout Clothes:

  • Most of them have a moisture-wicking finish, which pulls sweat away from the skin (aka you stay dry when you’re exercising)
  • They are much more durable than natural fibers such as cotton
  • Sweat dries quickly—you won’t have to worry about the shirt getting heavier when it’s wet
  • It’s comfortable and lightweight, which makes it ideal for a range of movements
  • Synthetic materials can help keep your body temperature lower

Popular Materials For Activewear 

Nowadays, there are a variety of synthetic fibers that you can choose from. For instance, polyester is often used in activewear due to to its moisture-wicking abilities. Not to mention that it’s cheap to make! Other popular options include nylon and rayon, the latter of which is actually made from regenerated cellulose. 

On this page, however, we’ll be focusing on spandex aka Lycra. Chances are, you have several items in your closet that are made from this fabric. If anything, it’s one of the most commonly used fabrics for activewear—and for good reason. Curious to know why? Then you’ll want to keep reading!

What is Spandex/Lycra?

Spandex, is a man-made fiber that’s recognized for its elasticity. To give you a better idea, it can be stretched more than 500% its length! When released, it will quickly go back to its original length. Not only is it durable, but it’s also lightweight and smooth, both of which makes it an excellent choice for sportswear. In addition to that, it’s breathable, moisture-wicking, and abrasion resistant.

What’s the difference between spandex and Lycra? Nothing, really. They’re essentially the same thing. Put it simply—Lycra is a specific type of spandex that made by the DuPont Corporation (it’s their registered trademark). Chemically, however, it’s identical to fabrics that are called spandex; they have the exact same attributes. Since we’re talking about this, it’s also worth mentioning that elastane is the same thing as spandex—it’s just a term that’s more often used in Europe.

Clothes Made From Spandex or Lycra

Spandex is used in a wide range of sportswear including compression garments, leggings, yoga pants, swimsuits, jerseys, and shorts. Not only that, but it’s often incorporated in other garments such as gloves, socks, underwear, and tights. Unlike other synthetic materials, however, it is usually mixed with other fibers as opposed to being used by itself. For example, it’s not uncommon for spandex to be mixed with polyester or cotton. While it depends on the item, it typically only accounts for a small percentage of the final product. Because of this, it retains the feel of the other material.

Care Tips for Spandex/Lycra

Clothes containing spandex or lycra is no different from other garments—that is, they need to be washed regularly. Set them aside and odors will develop. After all, it’s not like the fibers are capable of killing bacteria. At the end of the day, you’ll need to give them a good wash with detergent. If anything, that’s the only way to keep them fresh and clean.

Keep in mind, however, that these fabrics have their own set of properties. In other words, you might need to wash them differently from those that are made from other materials. When in doubt, read the care tag label—it’ll tell you exactly what to do with the garment.

How to Wash Spandex/Lycra Properly

The first thing that you want to do when you’re washing spandex is to check the percentage.  Find out how much spandex there is in the garment. After all, that determines the proper washing method. Usually, you can find this information on the composition label, which is on the back of the neck or waistband.

Pro-tip: Consider using Active Detergent if the spandex is mixed with polyester or another type of synthetic fiber. Why? It is specifically designed to remove bacteria, oil, and other icky stuff from man-made fabrics. Sure, you can use regular detergents but they won’t be nearly as effective. They’re formulated with natural fibers in mind, after all.

If the Garment Contains Less Than 5% Spandex:

If the item that you’re washing contains less than 5% spandex, you can wash it according to the dominant fiber type. For example, if you’re dealing with a shirt that’s 4% spandex and 96% cotton, you would want to wash it according to the directions for cotton (e.g. cold water, no bleach). As far as the actual washing method goes, most spandex-containing garments will do just fine in the washer. Avoid using fabric softener if it’s combined with other synthetics as it will minimize its ability to pull sweat from the skin. For the best results, however, you might want to wash it by hand in the sink.

The same thing goes for when you’re drying the garment—you want to do it according to the dominant fiber type. With that said, you can never go wrong with letting it air dry. If anything, that’s the best way to dry most clothes.

If the Garment Contains Up to 20% Spandex:

It’s not uncommon for some clothes to contain up to 20% spandex. More often than not, the other 80% will be polyester. Given the amount of elastic fiber present, these items will be much stretchier than others. That doesn’t change the fact that you want to wash it according to the dominant fiber type, though. In other words, wash these garments as if they’re made from polyester.

Assuming that you’re using the washing machine, you’ll want to set it to a delicate cycle. Make sure to use a cold rinse as heat can cause the fibers to warp and deform. Do not use fabric softeners for the same reason mentioned earlier. Add an appropriate amount of Active Detergent and let the cycle run. Consider putting the item in a lingerie bag if you feel that it’s necessary.

Remove the garment from the washer once it’s finished and hang it up to dry. As it is, these types of items tend to dry fairly quickly and evenly. Consider hanging them up with hangers as that’ll help to prevent wrinkles (though polyester itself is quite wrinkle-resistant). Never use the dryer for these types of clothes.

Note: Hand washing is an option too. Remember, just because a shirt is machine washable, doesn’t mean that you have to rely on the washer! You can just as easily do everything in the sink.

If the Garment Contains Up to 70% Spandex:

Undergarments such as bras and underwear can contain up to 70% of spandex. More often than not, the other 30% will be another type of synthetic fibre such as polyester or nylon. Given that they tend to stretch more easily, you’ll want to place them in a lingerie bag—that will prevent them from the movements inside the machine. Use a delicate or gentle cycle with cold water; never use hot water. Next, add a proper amount of Active Detergent (depending on the size of your load) and allow the cycle to run. Hang the items dry when it’s finished.

Pro-tip: Consider washing your spandex undergarments by hand if you want them to last longer. Simply fill a basin with cold water and add in some Active Detergent. Submerge the garments for 15-20 minutes before scrubbing the fabric gentle with your hands. Rinse thoroughly with cool water afterwards and roll it up in the towel to press out the extra water. Finally, put it on a drying rack to dry. Never twist the item as the spandex can stretch out.

Can You Iron Spandex/Lycra Clothing?

It depends on the composition of the garment. Generally speaking, it’s perfectly fine to iron fabric if it contains less than 5% spandex. To be on the safe side, though, you’ll want to use the lowest setting. Too much heat can cause permanent ripples to form.

Clothes than contain up to 20% spandex may require touch-up ironing. In cases like that, you’ll want to use the recommended setting for nylon with your dry iron. It’s important that you move it smoothly along the fabric at all times. Let it sit for too long at one place and it can damage the item.

Garments contain more than 20% spandex should not be ironed.

Other Tips For Cleaning Spandex/Lycra Clothing

Here are a few additional things that you might want to keep in mind when you’re washing spandex clothing:

Do Not Dry Clean

Spandex-containing clothes should not be dry cleaned. The solvents used in the process can swell the fibers, which can cause the garment to become misshaped. Not to mention that it tends to retain the smell of the solutions! And anyway, there’s really no reason to dry clean them as they’re perfectly safe to wash in water.

Removing Stains From Spandex

Remove the stain as soon as possible. Start by soaking the problem area with cold water. It’s important that you do not use hot water as the heat will actually set the stain, which will make it more difficult to remove. Apply a small amount of Active Detergent to the stain and rub it gently with a soft-bristled brush. Avoid scrubbing it as that can cause the spot to spread out. Wash as normal once the stain is removed.

Use Baking Soda to Remove Odors  

You can remove strong odors from spandex with baking soda. Fill a large bowl with lukewarm water and mix in a cup of the powder. Once it’s dissolved, place the garment in and let it soak for several hours (overnight if necessary). Afterwards, rinse it thoroughly with clean water. The smell should be gone by the time the item is dry.

Do Not Use Chlorine Bleach

Avoid using chlorine bleach with spandex garments. Not only can it lead to discolouration, but it can stretch and break the fibers over time. Other types of bleach, however, are acceptable as long as the proper amount is used (follow the directions on the bottle).

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