Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Chlorine Removal from Bathing Suits: Swimsuit Longevity

You know when your bathing suits start getting old. They become see through and you can see little white bits (disintegrated lycra) in the fabric, and when you come out of the water, the bathing suit droops, and the elasticity disappears. Ugh. What an environmental disaster, constantly buying new bathing suits before one season is over.

Solution? Buy a polyester-based fabric, such as Speedo Endurance, Tyr Durafast, Speedo Aquion, Arena Fabric Stretch 150, or H20Wear ChloroGuard. There are probably other proprietary names for fabrics that resist chlorine degradation--just check the material composition tag. The higher the percentage of polyester, the longer the suit will last. Unfortunately, polyester is just not as comfortable or stretchy as other fabrics so you have to be careful with sizing.  A polyester suit will feel tighter than a regular suit, so you might have problems with bulging flesh...

The great thing is that polyester (chlorine resistant) swimsuits will last you... I've had a $20 factory outlet polyester swimsuit from Sugoi last a year, swimming in it two hours a week.  Rinse your suit out right away in cold water and remove the chlorine as soon as possible.  Regular washing doesn't seem to take the chlorine out, as the suit still stinks of chlorine after a handwash in Zero.  I use anti-chlorine shampoo and wipe my shampoo hands on my bathing suit before rinsing, hoping that it will take some chlorine out.  My "fashion" $100 swimsuits from Swimco don't even last a season of casual use (once every few weeks) without losing structural integrity, getting the droops.  I guess they're good for nothing but tanning by the pool with some oversized sunglasses and a floppy hat!

The second thing you might want to consider is limiting the chlorine in the suit. You may want to shower and wet your suit before swimming to help prevent chlorine uptake... not sure if this really works, as suggested by another writer, but shame on you if you don't shower before you use a public pool! Ew! That is how harmful chloramines get formed, from unwashed bodies' sweat and urine mixing with the pool's chlorine. Chloramines create that "pool smell" and are also responsible for a possible link to asthma in children. Enough about that!

Some ways to remove chlorine after you have rinsed your suit in cold water after your swim:

1. Swimsuit Cleansers: Expensive, ranging from $6 to $18, and sold in small quantities of 4 oz or 8 oz. that last about 30 washes. You add a few capfuls of these to your washing water. There are many brands, including Speedo, Aqua Mate, Summer Solutions, Malibu Swim Wear Care Crystals. These work but the main complaint with these is their expense. Individual bottles are not expensive, but the quantities are so small. The main ingredient is usually sodium thiosulfate. You can buy these at any shop selling swimwear, as well as on online retailers like Team Aquatics or Swim Outlet.

2. Chlorine Remover: Heloise suggests adding to your wash water a few drops of chlorine remover available in pet shop stores. Now, I called a few local aquarium supply stores to find out what is available, and most have water conditioners, which have more than chlorine removing properties.

(Update July 2012:  The local Petsmart carries a substance for $9.49 that is added to ponds to remove chlorine.  The name sort of just rolls off your tongue:  "Aquarium Pharmaceuticals Chlorine & Heavy Metal Neutralizer".  I did not try this, but the price seems reasonable, given that it neutralizes 9,600 gallons of pond water!  I would be very careful using the product for a use not anticipated by its manufacturer: if you look at the technical information sheet, it causes skin irritation, serious eye damage, etc.  As I was warned by the pool chemical supplier, it is a hazardous product.  You need to store this locked up and covered.  This product is in concentrated form and contains 30.2% sodium thiosulfate and 9.8% EDTA tetrasodium salt.  I might gather up some courage and try some next time, taking caution to first mix a couple drops with water before I plunge my hands and bathing suit into it).

Walmart in the US sells Wardley's Chlor Out, which is used for aquariums. I could not find this product in Canada. I did find Haviland Chlor Out sold in 2 pound jars of crystals for $10 online. So I called some Vancouver pool suppliers, and they will not sell to anyone for any purpose other than as pool chemicals. Sodium thiosulfate is considered a hazardous product in its pure form. Another source of sodium thiosulfate is from photographic supply shops, as it is used in developing photos. I found a Canadian hand dye supplier for "Bleach Stop" (sodium thiosulfate) Harmony Hand Dyes, at a cost of $11 plus shipping of about the same for a total of $22 (includes shipping) for 500g.

There is some great stuff written at a hand dyeing site here, which was my source for the information below.

In addition to sodium thiosulfate, you can also use bisulfite and metabisulfite, called "Anti-Chlor" by dye suppliers. A good local source would be your local home wine brewing supply store, as sodium bisulfite is widely used for sanitizing the fruit juices to be used in wine, to stop yeast growth, and as a preservative. Locally, you can buy sodium metabisulfite at Wine Kitz, $12 for 1 kg.

You can also use hydrogen peroxide, which you can buy at pharmacies in a 3% solution. It is more expensive than the other options. I have tried using a small amount of Oxiclean, and it seems to work in removing most of the chlorine odour, but I am not a chemistry expert and I cannot attest to whether this actually works on paper, but I know that Oxiclean produces hydrogen peroxide when mixed with water.

Vitamin C

UPDATE January 2014:  There is a product called Swimspray which is used to neutralize chlorine in your hair and skin.  It is Vitamin C diluted with water.  After rinsing, you spray it on your skin and hair, then shampoo.  The cost runs you around $3.37 per ounce if you buy 12 ounces at a time, and at 0.3 ounces per use, that works out to $1 per use.

Naturopath Dr. Deborah McKay suggests making your own Vitamin C spray by dissolving 5 g or 1 teaspoon of crystals in 1 pint or about 500 mL of water.  Note that Vitamin C degrades upon exposure to UV light, so if you need to make the spray and store it, choose the right container.  Perhaps this solution could be used to soak swimsuits after rinsing in cold water first.  I could not find Vitamin C crystals in Canada for any less than $44 per kg, but Dr. McKay writes that Trader Joe's offers the crystals for less than half the cost at $10 per pound.

As a final note, do not add vinegar to neutralize the chlorine... it will may destroy the chlorine but it may also create more dangerous chemicals.


  1. Hmmm. I had been wondering if fish tank chlorine remover would work for swim suits. I guess I need to find out what else the fish tank solution does to the water/swim suit.

  2. I am a modest swimwear manufacturer in Israel and I am having so much trouble finding out how to neutralize chlorine out of swimwear - everyone has different suggestions and some not practical.. Some say soak in vinegar/water and you say DO NOT SOAK IN VINEGAR solution
    I want to tell my customers how long swimwear should last and how they can lengthen the life of their swimwear

    1. According to my source linked above (the dye site): "Whatever you do, never use vinegar or any other acid in an attempt to neutralize your chlorine bleach. It will destroy the hypochlorite that is the active ingredient of chlorine bleach, but only by turning it into much more caustic and dangerous chemicals, including hypochlorous acid, which is very damaging to textiles, and, if the pH gets low enough, deadly chlorine gas. Unlike stronger acids, vinegar is unlikely to produce a pH low enough to generate much chlorine gas, but hypochlorous acid is even more damaging than hypochlorite."

      As a swimsuit manufacturer, the best thing you can do for your customers is to choose a polyester based fabric as it will be more resistant to chlorine than the ubiquitous nylon spandex that is destined for the garbage can after one season. I would really love to see a fashion swimsuit manufacturer that offers such a thing--I would be the first customer in line.

  3. Since I swim almost every day, extending the longevity of my bathing suits is important to me. Can't afford to be buying bathing suits every couple of weeks/months.

    For several years now, faithfully, after every swim, I have been washing my suits with "Ultra Swim Chlorine Removal Shampoo."

    I swear by it. It works. Not expensive. 7 oz bottle about $5. Sometimes, but not always, available at Walgreens. Amazon.com always has it.

  4. I agree with Sally. This brand has sodium thiosulfate as a main ingredient and in the U.S. you can get it from amazon.com for $16 for a pack of four 7 oz. bottles.

  5. I also use Ultraswim and L'Oreal Swim shampoo for kids. I wear the suit when I'm showering, and I used to rinse with a little bit of shampoo in the sink. Thanks for reminding me of what I used to do!

  6. Thanks for being so thorough. A kindred soul

  7. I use Vitamin C crystals from Trader Joe's (11.99 for a pound). 1/2 tsp in a sinkful of water, add swimsuit, and soak for 20 minutes, rinse well. I also make a spray for my teen to use after swim practice - 1/2 tsp/16 oz water, spray before showering. Vitamin C immediately neutralizes chlorine, and it helps combat itchy, dry skin by doing so.

  8. Someone had a post wondering about Oxyclean so I thought I'd try it. While at the pool shower, I first soaked my suit in a bucket with a little liquid Dawn dish detergent. When I got home I put the wet suit into the sink with a little dawn and most 1/4 cup of Oxyclean. I let it sit for about 10 min, then rinsed out and hung in the shower to dry. The next morning, the chlorine smell was gone!

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  10. Thank you so much for this article... i have been researching for a while and you really pulled it together for me.

  11. I do a lot of swimming and then take a spin class afterwards, so quite often I do everything in a triathlon suit....these sporty outfits run $80 to $240 with my average suit costing about $125. Over the years I've tried EVERYTHING...pre-rinse, post rinse, all sorts of chlorine neutralizing chemicals, etc. In the end there is no escaping the damage caused by chlorine, you can only slow it down maybe 25%. Here's the thing: even if you do remove all the chlorine from the suit after you swim, you still have damage happening while you swim so, as I say, it's a sacrifice to the chlorine God. One day a manufacturer will make a poly tri suit or they'll develop a material that can withstand the corrosive nature. What should be more alarming is that our skin is the largest organ of our body and it absorbs stuff...so what are we doing swimming in chlorinated waters? Best to switch to a salt pool that generates natural chlorine, this doesn't break down in chloramines and is far less corrosive.

  12. The only thing I would earn about using the oxiclean is that soaking for extended periods of time (say longer than 20 mins)will result in discoloration or even breakdown of the hardware on your swim suit. Like a buckle or decorative item. So just keep an eye on that.

  13. And whatever you do don't put your suit in the water extracting spinner.