What Is a Swim Shirt? Everything You Need to Know

Are you tired of constantly reapplying sunscreen while swimming or lounging at the beach? Do you often experience skin irritation or sunburn after spending time in the water? If so, you’re not alone. Many people struggle to find a comfortable and effective way to protect their skin from the sun’s harmful rays while enjoying water-based activities. Fortunately, there’s a solution: swim shirts.

A swim shirt is a specially designed top that provides sun protection and comfort while swimming or participating in other water activities. Made from lightweight and quick-drying materials like nylon or polyester, swim shirts shield your skin from harmful UV rays. With various styles and designs available, swim shirts are a practical and fashionable addition to any swimwear collection.

In this article, we’ll explore everything you need to know about swim shirts, from the materials used to their unique features. You’ll discover the different types of swim shirts available, how to choose the right one for your needs, and how to properly care for and maintain your swim shirt. By the end of this article, you’ll have all the information you need to stay comfortable and protected while enjoying your time in the water. So, let’s dive in!

What Are Swim Shirts?

Swim shirts are specifically designed tops to be worn while swimming. These shirts are crafted to provide protection against harmful ultraviolet (UV) damage, which can lead to sunburn or skin-related issues.

Unlike rash guards, which are typically tight-fitting to prevent rubbing, swim shirts often have a more relaxed fit, resembling a regular t-shirt in style. This enables swimmers and beachgoers to move comfortably and look stylish at the same time.

However, swim shirts are made of unique materials that allow them to dry quickly and resist damage from saltwater and chlorine, making them more suitable for aquatic environments than traditional cotton t-shirts.

Swim shirts are a practical and fashionable choice for anyone who loves spending time in the water or lounging under the sun. Their unique combination of style, comfort, and sun protection makes them an indispensable part of your swimwear wardrobe.

Benefits of Swim Shirts

Sun Protection

One major advantage of swim shirts is their ability to provide extra UV protection. These shirts are made with Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) technology, which helps to block harmful UV rays from the sun.

Swimming outdoors exposes your skin to direct sunlight, so wearing a swim shirt reduces the need for constant sunscreen application, allowing you to focus more on enjoying your time in the water.

Comfort and Fit

Swim shirts are designed with comfort in mind, making them suitable for various water activities. These shirts are available in a range of sizes, styles, and materials to suit your preferences.

Many swim shirts have a loose fit, offering maximum comfort while keeping you cool in hot weather. Others, like rash guards, have a more snug fit with compression features, which help to maintain muscle warmth and enhance performance in water sports.

Rash Prevention

Another key benefit of swim shirts is their ability to prevent skin irritation and rashes. Wearing a swim shirt can protect your skin from friction caused by contact with surfboards, sand, and other water sports equipment.

The shirt’s fabric also has quick-drying properties, which reduce the chances of developing rashes that are common when wearing wet clothing for extended periods.

Types of Swim Shirts

Loose Fit and Fitted

Swim shirts come in two primary fits: loose and fitted. Loose fit swim shirts offer a more relaxed and comfortable experience, allowing for easy movement in the water.

Fitted swim shirts, on the other hand, provide a snug fit that hugs the body, offering a sleeker and more streamlined appearance.

Long Sleeve, Short Sleeve, and Sleeveless

Depending on your preference and the level of sun protection desired, you can choose between long sleeve, short sleeve, and sleeveless swim shirts.

Long sleeve shirts provide maximum coverage and protection from the sun, while short sleeve and sleeveless options allow for more freedom of movement and a cooler feel on hotter days.

Rash Guards

Rash guards are a specific type of fitted swim shirt designed to protect the wearer’s skin from irritation caused by friction while swimming, surfing, or participating in other water-based activities.

These shirts are typically made of a high-performance, moisture-wicking fabric that ensures comfort and durability.

What Materials Are Swim Shirts Made Of?

The best material for a swim shirt depends on personal preference and intended use. However, there are some general characteristics to look for in a high-quality swim shirt material.

Firstly, the material should be lightweight and breathable to keep you cool and comfortable in the water and sun. Nylon and polyester are both good options for this.

Secondly, the material should be quick-drying so that you don’t feel weighed down or uncomfortable after getting out of the water. Look for materials that are designed to dry quickly, such as polyester, spandex, or elastane.

Thirdly, the material should provide UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) sun protection to help prevent sunburn and skin damage. A good swim shirt should have a UPF rating of at least 30, but ideally 50 or higher.

Lastly, the material should be durable and able to withstand exposure to saltwater, chlorine, and other harsh elements. Look for swim shirts that are made with high-quality materials and construction, and follow the care instructions carefully to help prolong the life of the garment.

Swim Shirt Sun Protection (UPF Rating)

snorkeling sun protection

When considering swim shirts, it’s crucial to understand the role of UPF ratings in providing sun protection. UPF, or Ultraviolet Protection Factor, indicates how much UV radiation a fabric allows to pass through.

For example, a UPF rating of 25 means that the material allows 1/25 (4%) of UV radiation in, while a UPF 50 garment lets in 1/50 (2%). Higher UPF ratings offer better protection against harmful UV rays.

Fabrics with a UPF of 30, 30 – 49, and 50+ are classified as having good, very good, and excellent protection, respectively. The Skin Cancer Foundation requires a UPF rating of 30 or higher for a garment to qualify for their Seal of Recommendation.

Various factors contribute to a fabric’s UPF rating, such as:

  • Color: Darker colors absorb more UV radiation, offering better protection
  • Weave: Tighter weaves or knits result in less space for UV rays to penetrate
  • Composition: Synthetic materials like polyester or nylon generally provide higher UPF ratings than natural fibers
  • Weight: Heavier fabrics usually offer better sun protection

While some swim shirts are made from materials that inherently possess sun-blocking properties, others may be treated with chemical UV absorbers or reflectors. It’s essential to pay attention to care instructions, as the UPF rating might diminish with repeated washing or exposure to chlorine and saltwater.

Choosing the Right Swim Shirt

When looking for the perfect swim shirt, it’s essential to consider a few factors to ensure comfort and functionality. In this section, we’ll discuss how to choose the right swim shirt based on size, style, and color.


Finding the right size swim shirt is crucial for both comfort and effectiveness. A well-fitted swim shirt should neither be too tight nor too loose. It’s essential to check the size chart before purchasing a swim shirt, as sizes can vary between different brands and styles.

Additionally, some swim shirts are designed with a more snug fit, while others offer a loose, relaxed fit. Depending on your preferred level of comfort and activity, choose a swim shirt that fits your needs.


Swim shirts come in various styles, such as short-sleeve, long-sleeve, and even sleeveless options. Your choice should depend on the activities you’ll be engaging in and the level of sun protection you require.

For instance, short-sleeve swim shirts are a popular choice for casual swimming, while long-sleeve swim shirts provide added sun protection and are ideal for activities like surfing or paddleboarding. Ultimately, the style you choose will depend on your specific needs and preferences.


Swim shirts are available in a wide range of colors and patterns, making it easy to find one that appeals to your personal style. In addition to aesthetics, color can play a role in sun protection.

Light colors, like white or pastel shades, may not provide the same level of UV protection as darker colors. To maximize sun protection, consider opting for a swim shirt in a dark or vibrant hue.

By taking the time to find the right swim shirt based on size, style, and color, you’ll be better prepared for any water-based activities while staying both comfortable and protected from the sun.

Care and Maintenance

Proper care and maintenance of your swim shirt will help prolong its lifespan and keep it looking good. Start by rinsing the shirt in cold water after every use to remove chlorine or saltwater, which can damage the fabric over time.

To clean your swim shirt, fill a sink with cool water and a mild detergent. Submerge the rash guard in the cleaning solution, gently swish it in the water to loosen any dirt, and let it soak for at least five minutes.

Gently squeeze the solution through the fabric, drain the sink, and refill it with clean cool water to rinse the shirt. Repeat the rinsing process until no more soapy residue remains.

Avoid using harsh chemicals, such as bleach or fabric softeners, as they can break down the fabric and reduce its effectiveness. Also, never iron your swim shirt, as the heat can damage the material.

For drying, gently squeeze out excess water, but avoid wringing or twisting the shirt, as it can distort its shape. Lay it flat in a shaded area to dry. Do not use a dryer, as the heat can compromise the fabric’s integrity and elasticity.

By following these care and maintenance tips, your swim shirt will remain functional and comfortable for many swimming sessions to come.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Makes a Shirt a Swim Shirt?

Unlike regular clothing, a swim shirt is specifically designed for use in water activities, like swimming or surfing. These shirts are typically made of water-resistant, quick-drying materials like polyester or nylon that protect you from the sun and help keep your skin comfortable.

Swim shirts are also called rash guards because they protect against skin irritation from rubbing against surfboards or other equipment.

Do You Wear Anything Under a Swim Shirt?

It is common to wear a swimsuit, particularly a bikini or sports bra, underneath a swim shirt for women. This provides extra support and coverage while swimming.

For men, it depends on personal preferences, but many don’t wear anything under a swim shirt. And if they did, then it would also have to be appropriate swimwear like a more fitted rash guard or swim shirt.

Can Athletic Shirts Be Swim Shirts?

While you can technically wear an athletic shirt for swimming (at least at public beaches, swimming pool staff will take exception to that), it may not provide the same benefits as a swim shirt.

Athletic shirts often absorb water and can become heavy, while swim shirts are made of materials that are more water-resistant and lightweight. For this reason, shirts not designed for swimming are a drowning risk.

Additionally, swim shirts provide better sun protection and rash protection compared to regular athletic shirts.

Can You Wear Swim Shirts for Everyday Wear?

Although swim shirts are designed for water activities, they can also be worn for everyday wear. Swim shirts generally have a casual look and can easily be matched with shorts or other casual outfits.

The sun protection and quick-drying qualities make them suitable for outdoor activities not related to swimming, such as hiking or picnicking.

However, it is important to remember that swim shirts are not as breathable as regular shirts, so they may not be as comfortable for prolonged wear in hot climates.

What Are the Differences Between a Rash Guard and Swim Shirt?

Rash guards are designed for higher intensity water sports and provide a compression fit to protect against the sun and skin irritation from contact with surfboards or other equipment.

Swim shirts, on the other hand, have a looser fit and are primarily designed to protect against UV rays while being comfortable.

Rash guards can come in long sleeve, short sleeve, or ¾ sleeve lengths, while swim shirts typically have short sleeves.

Additionally, rash guards are typically made of a stretchy, quick-drying material, while swim shirts can be made of various materials including cotton.