How to wash Elastic Spandex/Lycra clothes

A guide for properly washing and caring for clothes made of elastic spandex or lycra materials.

can spandex leggings be washed?

When you look at Spandex clothing, most of them seem indestructible. The new-age all-cool form-fitting garments suitable for hard wear made of spandex – all of them have an aura of “do-whatever-with-me” “I will be fine”. They are the stuff that athletic wear is made of – the kind you expect to wear well and wash well.

But not so much. Spandex clothes are not the, ‘toss them into the washing-machine and they will care for themselves’ kind, like those made of synthetic fabrics like nylon and polyester because of one specialty that we all value – their stretchiness.

Spandex is a synthetic fiber with exceptional flexibility and is often referred to as elastane or lycra. Most spandex fabrics are lightweight, comfortable to wear, have a high degree of elasticity (according to the spandex fibers present), and have strength and durability.

If you are curious about other properties of spandex, you can check out this post – Spandex vs. lycra vs. elastane

The clothes you know that are made of spandex are usually made out of a combination of other fibers with elastane fibers. This gives us a combination of desirable qualities of flexibility and recovery along with the features of the other accompanying fibers like increased wicking capacity, breathability etc.

So which spandex clothing do you have?

spandex care

Everyone loves stretch denim jeans – what do you think gives this comfortable fit and flexibility?

The linen dress you have that does not wrinkle much – what do you think gives it this quality?

Your spandex legging may usually be a cotton/spandex blend and very comfortable. 

You may also have athletic clothing that stretches 4 way and give you all the flexibility that you need when exercising. It may be made of a fabric with a higher percentage of elastic fibers.

These are the ones you know of. 

Sometimes, you may not even know that you have spandex clothing in your wardrobe unless you check the clothing label particularly. Most of the lovely tops in rayon, cotton and other knits, that are very fitting on me have spandex or lycra content- it may just be a small percentage – say 2-3%.  But that changes a lot of things.

Due to the special properties of spandex, it does require special care. But that is a small price to pay for the better qualities of the fabric, don’t you think?

Here are some of the significant concerns regarding spandex:

  • How do we preserve the elasticity of spandex clothes?
  • Can the color of spandex fade with washing?
  • Can the clothing with spandex fibers be washed and dried with other garments?

How to care for spandex clothes like leggings

spandex washing label - hand washin cold water - do not use bleach ; do not tumble dry; line dry in shade; do not iron; do not dry clean

Spandex clothes are easy to maintain if you maintain respect –  respect for the other fibers present with spandex and also respect for the elastic nature of the fibers. 

The elastic fibers, though a little fragile, can be washed, unless the care label says otherwise. Spandex clothes can be washed again and again without any problem.

But the washing process depends on the accompanying fiber – if the fiber can be washed and dried, do the same with the spandex clothing. You can care for the garment according to the primary fiber in the blended fabric. Infact they are as good as the most dominant fiber – the fading of color, pilling and other characteristic features of these fibers will be inherited by your garment and so should be treated accordingly. 

5 rules in caring for spandex clothes.

care label for spandex - do not use high temperature in washing or drying or pressing

Gentle wash

Cold water wash in a gentle wash cycle is the best setting to clean spandex clothes in a washing machine, together with low-temperature drying. If the garment is very sweaty or dirty, you can wash in warm water.

Your garments won’t twist and overstretch if you wash them inside a mesh bag. Read this post on making a laundery bag for such clothes.

Wash with similar synthetic fabrics

Do not wash with natural fabrics. Cotton, linen etc. pills a lot and this can attach itself on your smooth spandex clothing  – they look a mess.

No 100% cloth Dryer 

It is better if you do not dry spandex clothes in a full-on tumble dryer. You can use the normal dryer.

But if you let your favorite spandex garments air dry on a clothesline whenever possible, this will retain its shape and help preserve elasticity over time. Do not wring the spandex fabric – you will damage the fiber.

No hot ironing

Use a low-temperature setting and ensure that the iron does not linger too much on one spot – elastic fibers melt or distort in high heat.

No extra chemicals

This includes chlorine bleach, fabric softeners and stain removers. Other than harsh detergents, these chemicals can reduce the special capacities of spandex clothing, especially if it is a technical fabric. Chlorine bleach can break down the fibers.

No exposure to light

If your spandex clothing is exposed to sunlight for long, it can degrade over time. Elasticity-lost clothing is no fun

No over-fitted clothes

Too tight spandex clothes can also result in loss of stretch in time

Some questions on washing Spandex material

How to remove Stain from spandex

Stain removal from spandex can be a little tough as you should not use chlorine bleach or other chemical stain removers as these can break down the elastic fibers.
If it is feasible, try to get rid of the stain immediately. Put the stain in cold water mixed with liquid dishwashing detergent and let it soak.  Finish by rinsing it well. This is your best bet.

How to wash spandex leggings in a washing machine?

To avoid overstretching of spandex, it is best to wash spandex clothes inside a mesh bag with a detergent. You can use lukewarm water. 

Can you machine-dry spandex?

You definitely can, but make sure it is not in a 100% fully automatic tumble dryer. Avoid using a tumble dryer to dry your spandex clothing – , the heat inside will ruin the structure and flexibility of your spandex garment.

Set the washing machine dryer for a slow spin in no-heat setting.
It is advisable to air dry your spandex clothing away from the sun and heat.

Can spandex be dry-cleaned?

Spandex should not be dry cleaned unless the label specifically says so. The fibers may briefly expand after dry cleaning, changing the garment’s shape. When washing or drying a garment on high heat, a polyester blend with more spandex is more likely to shrink unevenly. The spandex fibers can deform the garment’s shape, whereas the polyester fibers mostly maintain their original shape.
In addition, the garment often retains the smell of dry-cleaning agents.


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Author: Sarina Tariq

Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.
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