Swim Caps Part I - Cloth or Fabric Swim Caps

Cloth Swim Caps

Japanese Mesh Fabric Swim Cap
Rie Kaneto of Japan wearing a mesh fabric swim cap. Adam Pretty/Getty Images

The swim cap. Good at keeping hair out of your eyes, protecting your hair, helping to keep you warm, and sometimes making you a little more hydrodynamic. A swim cap could help keep water out of a swimmer's ear - which helps prevent swimmers' ear problems! Swim caps come in as many colors as you can think of, and are often customized by teams, countries or races. Water Polo swim caps are special, made of fabric with a strap that ties under the chin, and they have the players number and a set or ear protectors built in to the swim cap.

Many, many swim caps are customized or have artwork on them. This is great for team spirit, advertising to help offset the costs of events, or adding some fun to a swim (if the cap has a funny saying on it).

What are the basics of swimming caps? Each type of swim cap - fabric, latex, and silicone - have slightly different characteristics. Caring for each type of swim cap is not very different - wash, dry, and store out of the sun.

Swim caps are usually made of one of three types of material, either latex, silicone, or fabric. Each type has some pluses and minuses, and some may be more popular by region or country. Where I live - Japan - cloth caps are probably the most popular type of swim cap. When we go to swim meets in China, almost everyone is wearing a silicone cap. When I was last in the USA coaching, most swimmers used latex caps.

Cloth Swim Caps

Lycra is the most popular fabric used in a cloth swim cap, but they could also be made of any other non-water absorbent fabric. A firm mesh fabric is used for the majority of the cloth caps in Japan.

Fabric caps are resistant to ripping and tearing, but like swim suits, they slowly break down as a result of exposure to pool chemicals and/or sunlight. Depending upon the fabric used, a cloth swim cap might last 4-8 weeks.

Fabric caps are usually very easy to put on and are comfortable to wear. They are not "sticky" the way a latex or silicone cap might be, so they don't pull a swimmer's hair. Because they are porous, water moves in and out, which can help keep a swimmer cooler.

Fabric swim caps must be rinsed in cold water, air dried between uses, and stored out of the sun, just like you would wash a swim suit. If they are not cleaned, the pool chemicals they have been exposed to while in use will keep breaking down the fabric even though the cap is no longer in the swimming pool.

Fabric swim caps can be more expensive than latex, but often less expensive than silicone swim caps. Like other caps, ordering them in bulk will lower the price. Compare Prices on Fabric or Lycra Swim Caps

Fabric caps are great for casual swimming and for wear under a latex or silicone cap to help make a better fit or add a layer for warmth (I use them that way and once the layer of water trapped in the space between the cap and my scalp warms up I am good to go). The type of caps used in Japan, made of less stretchable (compared to latex) mesh are used by many swimmers even in swim meets (health regulations require all swimmers to wear a swim cap).

Want to learn about silicone swim caps or latex swim caps? Check Swim Caps, Part II - Silicone and Latex Swim Caps

Updated by Dr. John Mullen, DPT on October 28, 2015.