The convenience of a washer and dryer revolutionized the daily chore of laundry when they began making it into homes in the mid-’50s. But with convenience comes discoveries like the fact that not all garments are made the same and therefore can't necessarily be machine washed and dried. How to wash bras and other delicate undergarments is not as simple as throwing it in the spin cycle if you want to make your bras last. As far too many people have learned, the spinning mechanisms within these machines have a way of twisting and turning underwire and delicate fabrics to make them unrecognizable.
So what’s the best way to wash your bras and intimates? Not only does proper washing and drying techniques keep them usable as long as possible, but in some instances, they can even help restore and the bra’s structure.
The best way to wash a bra
How can you avoid destroying your delicates? There are tricks to getting bras clean and it all comes to down to caution, the right tools, and a little bit of elbow grease.
“The first step to extending the life of your bra is through proper washing — hand washing, that is,” Suzanne Macbale, CEO and founder of intimates brand LoveSuze, tells Romper.
Look at what kind of bra you need to wash. Does it have underwire? Is it made out of something that’s not cotton? Is it vividly dyed? Is it covered in fragile lace or sheer fabrics? If you answered yes to all of the above, it’s definitely best to hand wash.
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While hand washing is the best way to extend the life of your bras, there are exceptions. Many sports bras and simple bralettes, for example, can be washed in the machine (as many care tags and brands will tell you) and even machine dried on a low tumble setting.
How to wash a bra by hand
Go to any lingerie store and you’ll likely hear the staff encouraging shoppers to hand wash their bras. Reason being? It’s the most delicate way of cleaning and protecting expensive undergarments. While the idea of hand washing bras may sound cumbersome, in practice it’s a relatively simple and quick process.
You’ll want to find a delicate detergent or one specifically made for lingerie. Luckily, there are plenty of options on the market, for instance Ovación or The Laundress Delicate Wash. The best products will have instructions on the bottle. In most cases you can use your kitchen or bathroom sink (make sure it’s clean and doesn’t have any bleach products in it), or, a simple wash bin will do. Fill it up with cold water and whatever measurement of detergent the bottle suggests.
Next, dampen your bra in the sudsy water, then submerge and agitate the water to let the soap start working into the fabric. In most cases, it’s best to leave the garment to soak. “After gently massaging the dirt out, I recommend letting them soak for 10 to 15 minutes depending upon how dirty the items are,” recommends Macbale. Or if you have a particular spot or stain, you can work that with your hands to try to remove it.
How to wash a bra in the washing machine
If you throw a bra into the washing machine, the chances of a snap or hook catching on something are high and, as we know, once those fasteners are broken, a bra is basically useless. (Shout out to the seamstresses mending the hook and eyes in their bras. You’re the real heroes.)
“If you don't have the time to hand wash your bras, throw them into a lingerie bag and wash them with your delicates on your machine's gentle cycle,” says Macbale. Megan Giltner, owner of lingerie boutique Derriere de Soie in Charlottesville, Virginia, seconds this statement.
“If you have something a little bit sturdier, an athletic fabric or heavier stitching, machine in a mesh delicates bag,” Giltner says.
Sold online, in department stores, and in lingerie boutiques, a linens bag is basically a mesh bag you can zip your bras into so they’ll get clean but won’t snag on anything.
Of course, you’ll also want to select delicate mode on your washing machine and likely want to choose cold water as well. If you don’t have a mesh bag, at the very least fasten your bra before tossing into the laundry pile. This will help avoid those hooks getting caught on anything.
Don't have a lingerie bag? Macbale says you've got options. Use a pillowcase. “A pillowcase works as a great substitute for a lingerie bag. Toss your bras inside, tie a loose knot, and wash with lukewarm water on a gentle cycle,” says Macbale. Or, wash freely with delicates. “If you're washing your bras with your delicates — without a bag or pillowcase — make sure the back band is hooked and closed so it doesn't tear any other items or get twisted in the machine,” she says.
How to dry a bra
Drying is a whole other ballgame when it comes to cleaning your delicate intimates, and the dryer, though convenient, can do a whole lot of damage.
“The heat from the dryer actually makes the elastic in bras dry out. Then the elastic can crack and fray,” explains Giltner.
Macbale advises letting your bras air dry by laying them flat or hanging them on a rack or hanger. “While your bras are enjoying their siesta, the elastics and functional parts recover and return to their original state. So, when you slip that bra on again, it'll feel like new.”
That said, if steering clear of the dryer just isn’t an option due to time or any number of things, you have some options:
- Remember the aforementioned mesh beg: it can go into the dryer, but that won’t ensure your bra keeps its shape. Underwire can still get mangled.
- If you’re OK with risking that a bra may get disfigured by throwing it in as is, just be sure you use the lowest heat setting to prevent shrinking.
- Keep dryer usage to a minimum. If you can try to air dry in between dryer uses, you’ll still help preserve your bra for longer, Giltner says.
Bras that can go in dryer
If you have a wireless cotton bra that needs a wash, by all means, throw it in dryer, Giltner says. Just be sure the fabric was pre-shrunk to avoid suddenly having a bra two cup sizes too small. She adds that sports bras too can often go in, but in every case, review the garment’s tag for specific wash and dry instructions.
Remember, sometimes even the most casual undergarments require a bit more attention.
Bras that can’t go in dryer
Bras that truly should not go in the dryer, as stated before, are garments that are made up of delicate lace or other materials or have embroidery details as well as highly constructed pieces (think push-up bras with thick padding, bras with thick straps, any kind of strapless bra with intricate underwires, heavily adorned bras with bows or rhinestones). Look at it less like a piece of clothing and more like a piece of equipment. You wouldn’t throw all the parts of a blender like the motor into a dishwasher. The same goes for a well-made bra. To keep it in working order, it deserves care and attention.
How often should you wash your bras?
It depends on your lifestyle and the type of bra you need to wash. “Most women don’t wash their bras after each wear — they wear them for a few times before washing them. However, if a woman engages in strenuous or vigorous physical activity and sweats a lot in her bra, perhaps she should consider washing it after that wear. It also depends on how long a woman wears the bra for — did she wear it all day or just a few hours. I would base the washing cycle of how much potential dirt, sweat or body oils have been absorbed by the bra,” says Macbale.
For bras worn often, once or twice a week in cold water is a good approximation.
Making your bras last longer
Hot tip: Give your bras a day off.
“Just like you, your bras need a day or two for some R & R after each wear — especially if you want your bras to last longer. Besides, after all they do to support you, it's the best way to thank them,” says Macbale. “Ideally, you want to have at least 3 to 4 of your favorite everyday bras in rotation. Alternate between wearing your daily or favorite bras to give them the time they need to return to their original shape. I would let a bra rest for 24 hours before wearing it again.”
Save yourself the headache of having to replace your brassière sooner than necessary by following these how to wash a bra tips. Your pocketbook will thank you for your patience.
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