Polyester vs. Lycra – How to choose the perfect swimsuit!

November 26, 2013 in Swimming

You spend a lot of time in the pool, and you want a swimsuit that works just as hard as you do in the water. But there are so many options out there – how will you know which to pick? Let us guide you through this important choice!

What makes traditional swimwear deteriorate so quickly in chlorinated water? Unfortunately, the culprit is also the reason why traditional swimwear is so stretchy and comfortable – Lycra, spandex or elastane fiber. Lycra (a brand name of spandex owned by Invista) is a wonderful elastic fiber that allows fabric containing it to stretch and conform to the body. When you first put on a swimsuit made with the typical blend of nylon and Lycra, it fits wonderfully – but once you’ve swam with it in chlorinated water for a few weeks or months, it no longer fits well and shows considerable color deterioration. There’s nothing wrong with your suit! It’s simply what happens when Lycra comes into prolonged contact with chlorine.

Luckily, in this day and age we have more options than just nylon/Lycra blends. For a slight upgrade, you can look for a swimsuit that has Xtra Life Lycra instead of standard Lycra, spandex or elastane. Here is what Invista has to say about this fiber created especially for swimwear:

As well as addressing common problems in swimwear quality, such as thinning material and shape loss, one key area where XTRA LIFE LYCRA® fiber makes a notable difference to performance and lifespan is in combating the effects of chlorine. Swimming pool chemicals rapidly deteriorate fibers and fabrics, affecting the longevity of swimwear, but XTRA LIFE LYCRA® fiber resists chlorine and other pool chemicals 5–10 times longer than unprotected elastane, allowing garments to keep their shape.

However, even Xtra Life Lycra will begin to fade and bag too quickly for the most serious water enthusiasts. For those who demand the longest life and most consistent fit out of their swimwear, we recommend suits made of 100% polyester. Polyester is extremely chlorine resistant and colorfast, and you can usually expect a polyester swimsuit to last at least 2-3 times longer than a Lycra suit. “100% polyester” usually means a near equal blend of polyester and PBT – a special type of polyester that has the stretch needed for swimwear. These blends will give you the best chlorine resistance over time.

So are there any drawbacks to 100% polyester swimwear? Because it doesn’t stretch as much as Lycra blend suits, polyester swimwear does not offer the perfect second-skin fit brand new Lycra suits do. However, polyester suits have a more consistent fit over the life of the garment and resist bagging, unlike Lycra suits that soon do not fit like a second skin. Another possible drawback to polyester swimwear is the texture. Most swimmers think Lycra with its slick, soft texture is more comfortable than the rougher feeling of polyester. If comfort is your first priority, 100% polyester swimwear may not be the right choice for you.

There is a third option for those who want the benefits of both types of fabric – polyester/spandex blends. These mixed blend suits offer the comfort and stretch of Lycra suits while also offering chlorine resistance. Since any suit with spandex, elastane or Lycra will deteriorate with exposure to chlorine, the best polyester/spandex suits will have the least amount of spandex possible – somewhere between 5% and 10%. Any higher spandex content than that and your polyester/spandex blend suit will likely not last any longer than a nylon/Lycra blend.

Of course, proper care of your suit will extend the life even further, no matter the fiber content! Always rinse your suit out in clear cool fresh water after a swim in a chlorinated pool. Do not wring excess water out as this abuses the fabric – you can hang it up to dry or pat excess water out with a towel. You can also use a swimwear cleaning solution once a week to remove most traces of chlorine from the suit. And remember – never put your suit in the washing machine!