How to wash bras and underwear so that they last longer and fit better.
#1: Relying on a machine washer
Ask anyone in the undergarment business, and they’ll tell you: To preserve their life cycle, bras and underwear should be laundered with care — hand-washing and air-drying is best. “Lingerie uses very delicate fibers and elastics—it has to because it’s laying against sensitive areas of the body all day,” says Cora Harrington, founder and editor-in-chief of The Lingerie Addict. Harsh detergents and vigorous motion from the washing machine can both shorten the lifespan of your intimate apparel.
#2: Throwing loose, unhooked bras in the washer
Sometimes, you just don’t have time to hand-wash your unmentionables, and that’s okay. Experts agree that the gentle cycle of the machine set to cool or warm water will do in a pinch, but haphazardly tossing them in the machine is a no-no. “If you put bras in the washing machine with other items, they can get tangled,” says Stephanie Salardino, Brand amBRAssador Manager at Bare Necessities online lingerie store. “The main thing you’re trying to avoid is stretching out the elastic.” Once a bra is stretched out, it will never fit—or shape you—properly again. Plus, bra hooks can easily get snagged on other clothes and become bent or misshapen. If you must use a machine, always clasp your bras and safely stow them in a mesh lingerie bag for washing.
#3: Putting bras or underwear in the dryer
The heat of the dryer is murder on the elastic in your bras and underwear, whether you’re talking lace panties or cotton boxer shorts. Air-drying is the only good option for undergarments. “Hands down, the worst thing you can do is use the dryer,” says Salardino. “It’ll destroy the elastic, which means your bras (and underwear) won’t have as long as a lifespan. Also, underwire that gets heated excessively is more prone to pop out of its casing, she adds.
#4: Washing bras too often
The proper window for washing your bras is every two to five wears, depending on how much you sweat and whether you have sensitive skin. “If you tend to sweat, washing your bra after every wear would be appropriate,” says Harrington, who also recommends immediate washing for people who have eczema or easily irritated skin. “However, many people, especially when it’s colder outside, find they can wear their bras two to four times before laundering. This helps to preserve the shape and elasticity of the bra, which means it can do its job for longer.”
#5: Not washing bras enough
Your bras may not look dirty after extended periods of use, but the oils from your skin are doing a number on the fabric, we assure you. “Oil degrades elastic over time, which means that naturally occurring skin oils do contribute to the breakdown of your bras,” says Harrington. “This process can be exacerbated by perfumes, moisturizers, sunscreen, and the like.” Perspiration and dead skin cells are also mucking up your delicates, the same as any other garment, she adds. Stick to the two-to-five-wears rule to keep your bras in tip-top shape.
#6: Bleaching your white underwear every time
While white underwear has a nasty tendency to get dingy, bleaching it with every wash will send it to the underwear graveyard before its time. “You can use bleach every now and then,” says Salardino. “If use bleach too often…it will destroy the elastic.” To keep white underwear as white as possible, wash it with whites only on the gentle cycle. Find more ways to keep white clothes whiter here.
#7: Hand-washing too vigorously
Scrubbing fabric together or, heaven forbid, against a washboard, is way too aggressive for lingerie and underwear of any kind. Simply soak bras and underwear in lukewarm, soapy water for 15 to 20 minutes. “I’ve seen some guides recommend as little as five, and others say up to an hour, but unless your bra is very soiled, a quarter of an hour should be plenty,” says Harrington. “For areas that require more attention, a washcloth or soft bristled toothbrush can be used.” Lukewarm, room temperature, and slightly warm water are all acceptable, but always be sure to use a specialty lingerie wash, such as Soak, Eucalan, or Forever New. Baby shampoo is also effective if you don’t have specialty wash, adds Harrington.
Final Tips on Proper Care
Harrington and Salardino offer a few pieces of advice to make your bras and underwear last longer:
- Sports bra should be laundered after every use. (In the machine, use warm water, gentle cycle, and air dry.)
- For contour bras with molded cups, never store them with the cups folded into each other. “It’s okay to do it a few times, but storing that way all the time will cause ripples and destroy the integrity of the cups,” says Salardino.
- Premium-brand bras cost more, but they last longer—especially the models made for full-busted women. “They cost more for a reason,” says Salardino, who estimates the average bra’s life cycle at six months.
- “Knowing when your bra is at the end of its lifespan is always useful,” says Harrington. “Stretched out elastic, misshapen cups, stains that won’t go away, and poking wires are all signs that your bra may need replacing.”