Lycra Swimsuits, Chlorine Damage, & How to Extend Swimsuit Lifetime

December 16, 2013

Chlorine Chemically Damages Lycra Swimsuits

I’ve always found Lycra swimsuits to be the most comfortable.  They fit, feel, and look better.  In competition, they perform better.  Most of my fellow swimmers—from age group up to masters—prefer Lycra.  

My friend Sasha runs a swimwear company in Hawaii called Honeygirl.  She told me that all of their suits are Lycra.  Why?  Lycra looks better and feels better.

When I compete, I always wear a lycra suit.  Although looks are less important to me while racing, Lycra suits are faster and more comfortable.  Although swimsuit technology has come a long way since I competed at Princeton, the best suits are still Lycra.  For example, Speedo’s most advanced racing suit (The Fastskin LZR Racer® Elite 2) is made of 35% Lycra spandex and 65% Nylon.  The less expensive Aquablade jammer is 20% Lycra and 80% polyester.

Lycra is More Sensitive to Chlorine than Polyester

Unfortunately, Lycra is far more sensitive to chlorine than suits made of Polyester, for instance.  Why is that?  

The answer is simple when you look at the underlying chemistry.  I should add that it took me about 10 years of studying to “look at the underlying chemistry.”  So don’t feel bad if the mechanics of Lycra degradation don’t seem immediately apparent.

Lycra is made of a polyurethane-polyurea copolymer.  This polymer has nitrogen in its molecular structure.  Polyester is made by polymerizing ester molecules with alcohols.  Polyester does not have nitrogen in its molecular structure.

Pool chlorine reacts with many different kinds of materials.  In particular, it bonds to materials with nitrogen in their molecular structure.  For example, chlorine reacts with the nitrogen in hair and skin proteins.  (That’s why swimmers smell like chlorine).  Chlorine also reacts with the nitrogen in Lycra.

When chlorine reacts with Lycra, it chemically bonds to it forming chloramine (aka "lingering chlorine").  Over time, that lingering chlorine eats away at the swimsuit. It weakens the Lycra and makes it see-through.  The suit may sag or appear “tired” after only a few uses.  When I was an age group swimmer, I would often wear two or three Lycra suits in practice to avoid exposing myself.  I think Lycra suits came out when I was about 10 years old.  My parents hated that day because all of a sudden I needed to buy 5 times more suits to get through the season.  The Lycra addiction became worse when I needed a new race suit for each big meet.

Now, with the benefit of a PhD in chemistry, I have been studying chlorine’s effects on swimmers for about three years.  I think it is important for people to realize that much of chlorine’s damage happens away from the pool.   Even though a swimmer only uses the suit while swimming, chlorine bonds to the material and eats away at t

Chlorine Chemically Reacts with Lycra Spandex

he suit in between swims.

Since inventing SwimSpray, I have noticed that my suits last much much longer.  I swim with a masters group at lunch.  Afterwards, while I’m getting the chlorine out of my hair and skin, I also spray SwimSpray on my suit.  I can tell the difference right away become my suit doesn’t smell like chlorine.  I have been wearing the same Lycra suit for a few months now and my wife still hasn’t told me that it’s time to replace it.  (She is pretty good about noticing when my suit is getting a little bit too revealing).

Extend the Life of Lycra Swimsuits by Eliminating Lingering Chlorine

Based on my observations and chemical reasoning, one way to extend the life of a Lycra suit is to eliminate the chlorine from the suit immediately after swimming.  Then, the Lycra suit will only encounter chlorine in the pool—not in between swims.  Plain water does not eliminate chlorine because the chlorine is bonded to the Lycra molecules in the suit.  Likewise, “chlorine removal” soaps and shampoos like UltraSwim don’t have the right ingredients to neutralize the chlorine bonds.  They are really designed to wash dirt and oils away.  But they don’t do anything about eliminating chlorine.

One warning about eliminating chlorine from your suit.  It becomes very important to dry the suit after swimming.  Although chlorine eats away at a Lycra suit, it also keeps it free from microorganisms like mold and bacteria.  Accordingly, if you eliminate the chlorine from your suit, be sure to dry it.  I use the suit drier at my club and then hang the suit on my office door during the afternoon.  That works well.

SwimSpray is an excellent way to eliminate chlorine from Lycra.  Just wash your Lycra suit with SwimSpray while you are showering.  Use SwimSpray on your suit the same way you use it on your hair and skin.  See Video.  Test that it works by giving your suit a sniff.  It will not smell like chlorine because SwimSpray eliminates chlorine.

Washing your Lycra suit with SwimSpray should make it last longer.  The effect is almost identical to how SwimSpray prevents damage to hair and skin.

About the author: Dr. Andrew Chadeayne is a life-long swimmer. He created SwimSpray in 2010 to help fight chlorine’s side-effects on swimmers’ hair and skin. He holds degrees from Princeton (B.A.), George Washington (J.D.), and Cornell (Ph.D chemistry).  He is an inventor on numerous patents, including surface science, pharmaceuticals, and dechlorination.  Dr. Chadeayne lives in Bellevue, Washington where he works as a chemical patent consultant at Chadeayne LLC.  Here's a link to a video of Andrew telling his story of inventing SwimSpray.

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