There’s also an environmental angle to swimsuit conservation: Most are made from petroleum-based synthetic fibers like nylon, polyester, and elastane (there’s a reason spandex has such an unnatural ability to stretch). Manufacturing these fibers exposes workers to hazardous chemicals, such as the heavy metal antimony, that can pollute surrounding air and waterways.
Save your swimsuit, the planet, and a little extra change with these seven simple tips:
1. Soak it in vinegar first. Before you wear a new suit for the first time, soak your swimwear for 30 minutes in a mixture of vinegar and water (1 tablespoon vinegar per 1 quart water). Vinegar helps set the color and prevent fading from chlorine and sunlight.
2. Rinse it before and after you swim. Chlorine weakens fibers and causes your suit to wear out faster. Running it under cool water before you swim will keep the fabric from absorbing too much chlorine, and rinsing it afterwards gets rid of the little bit it does. Avoid hot or warm water, which can weaken the fabric.
3. Don’t leave it piled up in the corner. No studies have found that a swimsuit can harbor waterborne illnesses, but it can breed other things if you leave it, damp, in a beach bag. “It could attract mildew, and it can attract mold spores from the air,” says Laurie Batter from the National Swimming Pool Foundation. “It becomes a good medium to grow things,” she says. Bacterial growth isn’t good for the fabric or the person wearing it. If you can’t take your suit home immediately, she suggests laying it across the backseat of your car.
4. Wash it with an ecofriendly soap. Body oils can cause suits to deteriorate just as much as chlorine can, and sunscreens (which, by the way, you should always apply underneath your suit, since it is possible to get burned through the fabric ) can stain them, as well. Depending on the suit, the manufacturer may recommend water only, but if it suggests washing with soap and water, use vegetable-based castile soaps or dish liquids, like those made by Dr. Bronner's or Seventh Generation. Petroleum-based chemicals and synthetic fragrances can cling to fabrics and irritate your skin.
5. Keep it away from the machine. The agitation and heat from washing machines and dryers will cause the fibers to break down more quickly. Stick to hand washing and line-drying.
6. Stay out of the hot tub. The heat can speed up wear and tear on your suit. As an added bonus, you won’t run the risk of “hot-tub rash,” one of the most common recreational waterborne illnesses, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The rash is caused by a common germ that proliferates in hot tubs because chlorine, which usually kills the germ in cooler water, evaporates more quickly in heat. [UPDATE: Can’t give up your hot tub time? Batter points out that when the chemicals are properly maintained there should be no risk of rash. So check that the owner is diligent about testing. And wear a less-favored swimsuit, or follow the advice in tip #7].
7. Go nude! The most natural swimsuit of all is your birthday suit—and it will last as long as you do. Give it a try at the next opportunity.