Having a swimsuit that not only feels comfortable but also looks good is important for anyone planning to lounge at the pool or beach.
While we often try to get the most life out of our bathing suits, they often become discolored and faded. Discoloration can be caused by multiple factors, including exposure to chlorine, UV damage, and even natural buildup of body oils and sweat.
Fortunately, discoloration does not always indicate the end of life for your favorite bathing suit!
We’ll explore how to fix a discolored bathing suit using a variety of household materials. We’ll also look at what causes the discoloration to begin with, and provide tips to keep your swimsuit looking new.
Let’s hop in!
Why Your Swimsuit is Discolored
Understanding why swimsuits become discolored is just as important in determining the best method to fix them. There are several common reasons why swimsuits may lose their luster:
Chlorine is the most common sanitizer used to keep pool water clean. Unfortunately, this chemical is harsh on swimsuits and can cause discoloration after repeated exposure.
Chlorine can also cause swimsuits to lose their elasticity, which may cause them to become baggier rather than form-fitting.
You can help prevent swimsuit discoloration by ensuring chlorine levels are not too high in the pool when you dive in. Shortly after the pool has been shocked, chlorine levels are likely to be higher than usual and will increase the amount of damage to your bathing suit.
Even at normal chlorine levels, you can reduce potential damage by rinsing your swimsuit in cool water immediately after getting out of the pool. There are also cleaners specifically made for chlorine removal that can help negate those effects on your swimwear.
The UV rays coming from the sun will cause most swimsuits to fade over time, an effect known as sun bleaching. The sunlight can break down fibers in the bathing suit, causing it to weaken and lose color.
Wearing a cover up or sitting in the shade can help prevent sun damage to your swimsuit. If hanging your bathing suit outside to dry after a nice swim session, trying to find a shaded spot to help protect it from the sun.
Natural Body Oils
Our bodies naturally produce oils and sweat. Both of these can build up on your bathing suit over time, which as you probably guessed, can cause discoloration and fading of your swimsuit.
While it’s difficult to fully prevent exposure of oils and sweat while wearing the swimsuit, rinsing it out after use will limit the damage.
Reducing the amount of time you’re actively wearing the swimsuit when not in the pool can also help prevent damage. Or, if you’re spending an entire day at the pool, consider bringing an extra swimsuit to switch into midday.
Sunscreen and Tanning Lotions
Unsurprisingly, bathing suits are often exposed to sunscreens and tanning lotions. Both can cause their own set of staining.
Sunscreens may leave a yellow-ish residue, whereas tanning lotions could leave a brown discoloration.
You can reduce the risk of these products staining your bathing suit by applying them to your body prior to changing into your swimsuit. Although some of these lotions may still contact your swimsuit, it’s more likely to be on the interior fabric and less noticeable.
High concentrations of minerals, such as calcium, can cause hard water. Hard water can be used to describe your household water or even pool water.
Normally, household water should be maintained at 3.5 to 7.0 grains per gallon (gpg). Pool water should be maintained with a calcium hardness (CH) level of less than 400 ppm.
The minerals that cause hard water can build up on your swimsuit over time causing it to discolor. Furthermore, the hard water can cause it to feel stiff and less comfortable.
If your house has hard water, consider installing a water softener to avoid swimwear and other clothing from being exposed to these minerals. A softener can also protect other household appliances from the buildup of these minerals.
If you don’t have a water softener, you can hand wash your swimsuit using distilled water to prevent discoloration from hard water.
If your pool has hard water, you’ll want to rinse your bathing suit out with cold soft water after swimming.
Depending on the region, some pools that are filled with well water may have high concentrations of iron. This could cause rust stains for not only the pool’s surfaces, but also to swimming suits.
You can reduce the staining properties of iron through use of a sequestrant or chelating product. These chemicals will bind to the metal and prevent oxidation from causing the stains.
Unfortunately, it’s difficult to fully eliminate iron from the pool without a special filter. Normally, you’ll need to add periodic maintenance doses of the sequestrant to keep the iron at bay.
If swimming in a pool with high iron content, it’s best to rinse the swimming suit out with clean (iron-free) water afterwards.
How to Fix a Discolored Bathing Suit
If your bathing suit is already showing signs of discoloration, it may not be too late to rescue it! Here are a few easy fixes you can try before giving up:
1 – Vinegar Solution
Vinegar is a common product around the house that has tons of different uses in both cooking and cleaning applications. Its acidic nature allows it to cut through minerals, dirt, oils, and other grime.
With vinegar being a proven cleaner for many things, it should be one of your top options if trying to fix a discolored bathing suit.
You can whip up a quick cleaning solution using one part white distilled vinegar and three parts cool water. Allow your swimsuit to soak in this mixture for 30 minutes before rinsing with cool water and allowing to air dry.
2 – Baking Soda Mixture
Baking soda has a plethora of uses around the house similar to vinegar. But, somewhat opposite to vinegar, baking soda is mildly alkaline with a pH of around 8.5.
The alkalinity of baking soda allows it to dissolve dirt and grease with ease. Washing bathing suits in baking soda can help eliminate discoloration.
You can add ½ cup of baking soda alongside your usual laundry detergent when washing your swimsuit.
Alternatively, you can create a cleaning paste by mixing three tablespoons of baking soda with one tablespoon of water. Gently rub the paste onto the discolored areas of your swimsuit and allow it to sit for 30 minutes before rinsing with cool water, and allowing to air dry.
3 – Hydrogen Peroxide
If neither baking soda or vinegar have restored your bathing suit, you may want to consider something a bit stronger, such as hydrogen peroxide.
Hydrogen peroxide can be effective at removing stubborn discoloration from your bathing suit, as it acts as a mild bleach. There are varying concentrations of it, the most common being 3% –higher concentrations of 10% or more could cause its own level of discoloration to clothing.
Prepare a solution of one part hydrogen peroxide with two parts cool water. Test a small area of your swimsuit first to ensure the hydrogen peroxide doesn’t cause its own set of damage, as it can discolor some types of synthetic fabrics.
Once you’ve confirmed that the cleaning solution is safe for your swimsuit, proceed with soaking it for several minutes. Rinse the swimsuit with water and allow to air dry.
You can start with the mild 3% hydrogen peroxide, and work up to 10% concentration if needing a bit more oomph during the restoration process.
4 – Club Soda and Salt
This method has come up periodically in pop culture (see ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’). If you have a new stain or discoloration in your swimsuit, give this a go rather quickly since time is of essence.
Apply a generous amount of table salt onto the stain. Then, pour some club soda or seltzer water onto the salted portion of the bathing suit, and allow to sit for several hours before rinsing off with cool water.
5 – Commercial Swimsuit Restoration
If your swimsuit discoloration can’t be remedied by normal household solutions, then it may be time to consider a commercial product. Several products are designed specifically for restoring swimwear to their original vibrant colors.
Before purchasing a product, ensure that the manufacturer’s instructions indicate compatibility with your bathing suit material. Some products could cause damage to certain fabric types.
Follow the manufacturer’s instructions when using their product for your swimsuit. Some may require you to add it to a sink of cool water, and then soak the swimming suit before allowing it to air dry.
6 – Fabric Pen
Fabric pens are often used to create custom designs on clothing. But, there are some that can actually be used to help reduce discoloration of your swimsuit.
The key is to find the proper color match for the section of your swimsuit you’re looking to fix. Fabric markers come in permanent and temporary –you’ll want to ensure you grab the permanent ones to prevent the discoloration from returning.
Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to touch up the bathing suit colors. After applying the marker, you’ll likely need to wait at least 24 hours before getting the fabric wet, so you’ll want to plan ahead.
7 – Rust Removers
If your swimsuit has the bronzy-looking iron discoloration, it could be somewhat tedious to remove them.
If you have a light-colored swimsuit, you can start by soaking it with a homemade concoction of lemon juice and salt. Otherwise, to avoid the bleaching properties of lemon juice you can substitute with vinegar.
If that fails, you can consider trusty ‘ole WD-40 to get rid of the rust stains. Before going full bore, test it on a small patch of your bathing suit. Once you’ve confirmed it’s compatible with your bathing suit fabric, you can apply it throughout the discolored area. Allow the fabric to sit in the sun for at least 10 minutes before proceeding to wash it out.
How to Prevent Swimsuit Discoloration
After reviewing causes and fixes for swimsuit discoloration, you may wonder if there’s a way to be proactive. Here are some preventative measures you can take to keep your swimsuit always looking its best:
Rinse Your Swimsuit After Use
Rinse your bathing suit with cool water after use is one of the best ways to help prevent discoloration. This simple step will help get rid of chlorine, body oils, and lotions that your swimsuit may have been in contact with.
You can even do this simply by taking a shower with your swimsuit on after swimming! This will not only clean your swimsuit, but also can get rid of those same contaminants from your skin!
Once you’ve rinsed it, gently squeeze out excess water and allow it to air dry. Avoid wringing out the swimsuit too hard as this could actually damage the fibers.
Lock in the Color
Pretreating a new swimsuit can help lock in the colors to help prevent fading. You can do this by allowing your suit to soak in a quart of cold water mixed with two tablespoons of vinegar for about 30 minutes.
This process will penetrate the fabric and seal in the colors. Once soaking is complete, rinse with cool water and allow to air dry.
Avoid Hot Water and Harsh Chemicals
It’s key to follow the swimsuit manufacturer’s washing instructions. Many often specify washing with cold water, since hot water could lead to damage of the fibers and discoloration of the fabric.
The wash instructions may provide caution of certain chemicals, such as bleach or fabric softeners. Using mild detergents designed for swimwear will help reduce discoloration while still removing chlorine and other unwanted substances.
Also, when handwashing your swimsuit avoid using abrasive materials such as brushes. These can damage the fabric and cause the swimsuit to dull.
Limit Sun Exposure
As mentioned earlier, lots of sun exposure can cause your swimsuit to fade. This doesn’t mean you can’t swim while it’s sunny though!
Just be mindful of how long your bathing suit is being exposed to the UV rays. You can moderate effects from the sun, by taking breaks in the shade, using a cover-up, or by changing into a different swimsuit mid-day.
When you’re done swimming, avoid hanging your suit out to try in the sun. Instead, find a shaded spot outside or somewhere inside to protect it against the sun bleaching.
Time to Say Goodbye?
Despite our best efforts, sometimes a discolored swimsuit is too far gone for restoration. At this juncture, you’ll need to assess whether you can live with the faded look, or maybe it’s time to pack it away as an emergency swimsuit.
Here are some tell-tale signs when a swimsuit can’t be brought back to its original self:
Wear and Tear
If your swimsuit has started to lose its elasticity or has loose threads, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to fully resurrect it. These are indicators that the fabric is damaged beyond repair.
While you may still be able to reserve it as a backup bathing suit, take care to ensure it still fits well enough to avoid an embarrassing wardrobe malfunction.
Extreme Fading and Discoloration
While some fading and discoloration can be eliminated, there comes a point when the damage is just too great to be repaired.
If the entirety of the fabric has lost its original color, it may be difficult to restore it back. Or, if large sections of the fabric have changed by several shades of intensity, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to capture its original vibrancy.
Before pitching the bathing suit to the curb, it’s still worth trialing at least a couple of the simple methods discussed above to see if they can improve the condition –just don’t hold your breath for any miracles!
Discoloration of your swimsuit doesn’t always mean it’s the end of the road for it. There are multiple ways to restore it back to its original appearance using common household supplies.
Equally as important, knowing what causes the discoloration –chlorine, sunlight, body oils, etc– can help you become more conscious in protecting your bathing suit. One of the best things you can do to preserve its coloration is to rinse it out with cool water after each use, even during a post-swim shower.
Taking these appropriate cautions and remedies will help extend the life of your favorite swimsuit for hopefully years to come!
Husband and father of three (actually, four if you include the pool). I’m an avid DIY-er and weekend warrior that enjoys taking up new projects around the house to help us maximize leisure right at home. I enjoy researching and sharing various tips, tricks and knowledge to help others make their home an oasis.