Bras can be many things—sexy, supportive, confidence-boosting, confidence-crushing, liberating, restricting—but one thing they’re not is unmentionable. This week, ELLE.com is exploring all things bras, from how we wear them (or don’t) and how we take care of them (or don’t) to how we feel about them and how they make us feel. Earlier, we confessed how infrequently we launder these items. Here, an expert lays down the official guidelines.
For a garment that half the population wears almost every day from puberty to old age, bras are pretty confusing for people. And when it comes to cleaning these undergarments there’s a lot of mystery involved with our boulder holders. But there are actually clear instructions on how and how often they should be washed. And to get that first question out of the way: Yes, you do need to wash them.
My Bra Needs to Be Washed How Often?!?
The frequency with which to wash a bra is based on the number of times it’s been worn. For some women, that may translate to a once-a-month bra-washing, and for others, it will be more like once a week. That’s because some women have a large collection of bras that they rotate, while others have only two or three bras that get regular wear. Regardless of how many bras you own and/or regularly wear, your bras should be washed every three-to-six wearings. It’s also a good idea to rotate bras in between wearings, which will give the elastic a chance to rest.
OK, We Never Wash Our Bras
Do I Really Have to Hand-Wash My Bras?
Good news: You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do! Bad news: Truly, the best thing for your bras is to wash them by hand. There are alternatives, but if you’re a woman who spends a lot on your bras and/or wears a hard-to-find size that makes extending the lifespan of these foundational garments a necessity, you’ll want to seriously consider hand-washing. To the uninitiated, hand-washing sounds like a chore, but it’s actually an operation that will take up only about 15 minutes of your time.
The things you’ll need to perform this operation are: A delicates detergent, or a regular scent- and dye-free liquid laundry detergent; water and a space large enough to fill with water and submerge the bras with enough room to get your hands in there and move things around; a clean, dry towel. A drying rack or sturdy hangers are optional, but recommended.
Presuming you’ll be working in your kitchen sink, here are the steps you’ll take:
- Fill the sink about a third- to half-way up with cool water;
- Add a small amount of detergent, being careful not to use too much, which will result in a lot of rinsing work down the line;
- Put the bras into the wash water and, using your hands, submerge and agitate them so that they become fully saturated by the detergent solution;
- Allow them to soak for 5-10 minutes, longer if they’re stained or haven’t been washed in some time. The soaking will help to coax out dead skin, sweat, deodorant buildup, and so on;
- Drain the wash water, wipe any soap residue from the sink and refill it with cool, clean water to rinse the bras, repeating at least two times to ensure that all the suds are rinsed free, as soap residue will cause a bra’s elastic to break down over time;
- Gently squeeze water from the bras, being very careful not to wring the fabric, which can cause stretching, then place them on a dry towel and roll it up to extrude more water;
- Air dry the bra either by laying it flat or hanging it by the center gore on a drying rack or a sturdy hanger — never hang a bra to dry by its straps.
If that sounds like too much, but you’re still keen on the idea of hand-washing, opt for a no-rinse detergent like Soak Wash or Eucalan Delicate Wash, which will allow you to skip right from soaking to drying.
Are You Sure I Can’t Just Wash Them in the Machine?
No, not at all! You can absolutely machine wash your bras, and you can even do so without totally mangling them. Machine washing is a perfectly fine option for women who are short on time, or who don’t have a pricey bra wardrobe that needs special care, or who simply don’t mind if their bras aren’t in the best shape.
However, if you are going to machine wash a bra, there are some best practices:
- Use the gentle or delicate cycle, which will reduce the amount of friction;
- Wash in cold water, which is better for the elastic;
- Use a mild detergent, either one formulated for use on delicates or a free-and-clear detergent;
- Place the bras in a zip-top mesh laundry bag, which will help to keep straps, hooks and embellishments from becoming damaged by other garments in the load;
- Wash bras with other delicate items and avoid including bulky items such as jeans, sweatshirts, or towels in the same load, as they can cause damage to more delicate items.
What About the Dryer? Am I Allowed to Use That?
No. Nope. No way.
Here’s the problem with the dryer: The elastic, which is so important to a bra’s functionality, simply does not react well to heat. Even the use of a low-heat setting is too much. While using a no-heat setting would address the issue, the tumbling action of a dryer is also far too much for the underwire, which can become easily bent. So, stick with air-drying your bras if you do decide to machine wash them. They will thank you for your kindness.