How to Wash Cosplay Costumes Without Ruining Them

How to wash your cosplay costumes (without ruining them)

You had a blast wearing your costume to the latest anime convention or comic con, but now you realize that your costume stinks. In fact, most of the time the dreaded con-funk that you hear of isn’t actually from people who don’t practice good hygiene, it’s actually from costumes that have not been washed after sweating in them all day. 

But costumes are not like normal clothing. They tend to be made of different materials and don’t always come with washing instructions. Or if you made the costume yourself, you may have no idea what kind of washing is okay.

Most cosplay costumes can be washed in the gentle or delicate cycle of the washing machine. Delicate fabrics and costumes with non-fabric accessories attached will need to be hand washed or even dry cleaned.

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1. Using the washing machine with costumes

Costumes that are made with a durable material that do not have fragile or non-washable attachments (such as styrofoam pieces) can usually be washed in a machine as long as you are careful. This includes most store-bought costumes. which are typically made from polyester fabric, as well as hand-made costumes that are made with common fabrics (such as cotton). 

Materials that you typically want to avoid putting into the washing machine include silks, leather, rayon, and wool. You also typically want to handwash anything that has complex details or fragile designs. 

When washing your costumes in a machine, you generally want to:

  •  Use cold water (to avoid shrinkage) 
  • Always use the gentle cycle on the machine. 
  • Wash your costume separate from any other clothing (especially if the costume is white or light-colored)
  • Turn the costume inside out (to keep any designs or decorates from getting caught on anything)
  • Use a gentle detergent (that won’t stain or stress the fabric)

In most cases, you do not want to dry your costume in a machine. Instead, it’s best to hang-dry them or lay them on a flat surface (for delicate fabrics) to dry. Scroll down to learn more about how to dry costumes.

2. Hand washing costumes 

Hand washing is the best option for washing cosplay costumes. This is a much gentler way to wash clothing and is less likely to cause damage than even the gentle cycle on a machine. Hand washing your costume may seem a little intimidating if you’ve never done it before, but it’s not as difficult as it seems. 

All you need to hand wash clothes is:

  • A wash basin or clean sink (you can also use a bathtub for large costume pieces)
  • A gentle detergent (such as Woolite)
  • A large towel
  1. Fill the basin or sink with cool water and add a small amount of detergent. Include about a teaspoon of detergent for smaller garments and basins, and a tablespoon for larger loads.
  2. Submerge the costume piece in the basin. Let it soak through and swirl it around in the water for a few minutes being careful not to stretch the fabric.
  3. Let the garment soak for 5-10 minutes. If it’s particularly dirty, you may want to repeat steps 2 and 3.
  4. Rinse off the fabric in running water until the detergent is washed off. Be careful not to stretch or wring the fabric in the process.
  5. Gently squeeze the fabric to remove excess water.
  6. Place your costume piece on a dry towel. Gently roll the towel with the garment inside to release some of the water. Then unroll the towel and allow the costume to dry naturally.

It’s best to only hand wash one piece of clothing at a time and then set it aside to dry while you wash the next item. Once they have finished drying, you will probably have to iron or steam the costume to remove the wrinkles.

3. Spot cleaning costumes

If your costume has elements that cannot get wet without destroying the costume, then you will need to spot clean the areas of your costume that accumulate dirt and smell. You also might need to spot clean costumes that are made of different colored materials that are not colorfast to prevent the dye from one fabric bleeding into the other.

For the most part, you can clean the costume based on how it looks, but areas like the armpits, crotch, or clothing that directly touches high-sweat parts of the body should be washed frequently.

What you will need:

  1. Mix about ⅓ cup of white vinegar with 1 cup of water. Add it to the spray bottle and shake to combine. You can also add a few drops of your favorite scented oil to make the solution smell better.
  2. Turn your costume inside out and lay it on a flat surface. You’ll want to place a towel underneath your cosplay.
  3. Spray the vinegar solution onto the areas that are dirty or smelly. It’s okay to be generous with the amount that you spray as long as you avoid the spots that cannot get wet.
  4. Gently rub those areas with the towel to help remove the dirt and sweat from the fabric.
  5. Blot the area to help it dry, then let the costume sit until it dries naturally.

In the future, try to make any non-washable accessories detachable so that you can remove them from the costume and wash the fabric like usual. This way you can avoid spot cleaning.

4. Dry cleaning for costumes

If your costume is highly detailed and you’re afraid water will stain or destroy the costume, you have the option to dry clean your costume as well. This is obviously the most expensive option since you’ll have to pay for the dry cleaning service, but you’ll end up with a garment that is clean and wrinkle-free with no effort on your part.

Dry cleaning is often the best option for wool, leather, silk, and rayon. I also do not recommend getting any kind of synthetic material (such as polyester) dry cleaned. While uncommon, it’s possible for these fabrics to melt a bit in the heat during the dry cleaning process.

How to dry your costume

Before you leave your costume to dry, it’s best to try to remove as much excess water as you can without stretching the garment out. Gently squeeze the garment in the sink (do NOT wring it) then lay it flat on a towel. Roll up the towel like a jelly roll and gently squeeze more of the moisture out of the garment. Then set the costume to dry overnight.

The best way to dry your costume is to lay it on a flat surface on top of a towel. This will prevent the fabric from stretching when it’s hung since the weight of the wet garment can cause distortions, especially along necklines.

If the piece of clothing is highly structured, like a coat, then hanging it to dry will work well too. Skirts can also often be hung dry as long as they have a structured waistband instead of a loose elastic one.

How to remove wrinkles from the costume

When hand washed and dried, garments tend to collect wrinkles. After the costume has dried completely, you’ll need to take the time to iron or steam all the pieces before you wear it again. 

Always test your de-wrinkle method on an inconspicuous part of the costume first before using it on the entire garment. This will prevent you from burning or melting any part of your costume. Remember, polyester fabrics (most store-bought costumes) need to be ironed at a low temperature. Otherwise, you risk melting the fibers of the fabric.

You can also try using a de-wrinkle spray. These are meant to be sprayed onto a garment. Then you pull the fabric taught to let the spray work. After a few moments, it’s supposed to remove the wrinkles. I’ve had mixed results using this method, it doesn’t work with all types of fabric. But it’s worth a shot if you don’t want to iron everything.

Emily Joice

My name is Emily, and I have been cosplaying since my very first convention in 2008. Over the years, I've experimented with all different kinds of cosplay costumes, especially loving the process of creating props and styling wigs. I also delved into cosplay photography, and love exploring how to optimize costumes so they look excellent in photos. Most of the photos you find on this site were taken by me over my years at anime conventions.

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