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How to Wash Lycra & Spandex Clothing

May 22, 2023

Have you ever wondered about the difference between regular clothes and activewear?

The answer lies in the type of fabric used. Workout clothes are typically made of synthetic fibers such as nylon and polyester as they’re much more durable than natural materials such as cotton.

Spandex, aka ‘Lycra’ is another example. Like most technical fabrics, it has a moisture-wicking finish, which pulls sweat away from the skin, keeping you cool during your workout.

What’s the best way to wash spandex fabric? Should you use a gentle detergent? Is spandex machine washable or do you have to hand wash them in the sink?

For the answers, be sure to keep reading. We’ll be going over everything you need to know about how to wash Lycra below.

What is Spandex/Lycra?

what is spandex materialSpandex 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 make it an excellent choice for sportswear. In addition to that, it’s breathable, moisture-wicking, and abrasion-resistant.

As for the difference between spandex and Lycra, They’re essentially the same thing.

Lycra is a specific type of spandex made by the DuPont Corporation (it’s their registered trademark). Chemically, however, it’s identical to fabrics that are known as spandex; they have the exact same attributes.

How to Wash Spandex Garments

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 – that will determine 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.

Unlike regular detergents, it’s specifically designed to remove sweat, 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:

how to wash spandex clothingIf 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.

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 the Garment Contains Up to 20% Spandex:

spandex clothing washing instructionsIt’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, but that doesn’t change the fact that you want to wash it according to the dominant fiber type.

If you’re using the washing machine, you want to set it to a delicate cycle. Turn your spandex garment inside out and place it in a mesh laundry bag – this is especially true if you’re washing it with other delicate fabrics.

Add an appropriate amount of ACTIVE Detergent and run a cold water cycle. Make sure to skip the fabric softeners.

Remove the garment from the washer once it’s finished washing and hang it up to dry.

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 Fabrics:

Undergarments such as bras and underwear can contain up to 70% of spandex fibers. 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 protect them from the movements inside the machine.

safe spandex washing instructions

Use a delicate or gentle cycle with cold water; never use hot water.

Add some mild detergent such as 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: Your spandex garments will last longer if you hand wash them in the sink.

Simply fill a basin with cold water and add in some ACTIVE Detergent. Submerge the spandex garments for 15-20 minutes before scrubbing the fabric gently with your hands.

Rinse thoroughly with cool water afterward and gently squeeze to remove 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 Clothing?

Generally speaking, it’s perfectly fine to iron the 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 that 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 containing 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:

Dry Cleaning is a No-No

how to wash lycra clothingSpandex-containing clothes should not be dry cleaned. The harsh chemicals used in the process can swell the fibers, which can cause the garment to become misshaped.

Not to mention that it can retain the smell of the solutions.

Removing Stains From Spandex

Remove the stain as soon as possible. Start by soaking the problem area with cold water. Don’t use hot water as the heat will set the stain, making 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

Fill a large bowl with lukewarm water and mix in a cup of the powder.

Once it’s dissolved, place the piece of spandex clothing in and let it soak for several hours (overnight if necessary). Afterward, 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 discoloration, 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).

Washing spandex garments and fabrics can be done safely if you know how to do it properly. As you can see, it all depends on the fabric composition.

When in doubt, hand wash the item with ACTIVE Detergent and cold water – that’s the best way to maintain spandex fabric so that it lasts a long time. The same goes for other synthetic fabrics.

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Sophia Grant

Sophia Grant brings her extensive knowledge of laundry and clothing care to the masses with her intensive cleaning guides. Her thorough understanding of fabrics, detergents, and washing techniques helps readers master the art of maintaining their wardrobe. Sophia's advice ensures that anyone can achieve professional-level results at home, keeping their garments looking pristine and lasting longer.

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