Sure, it’s easy to look at the tag on your bra and read the manufacturer’s suggested cleaning method. I’m guessing, though, that we all — at least, occasionally — ignore these instructions in favor of tossing our bras in the washing machine and calling it a day. Unfortunately, this is probably the worst way to clean these delicate clothing items.
Whether it’s a gorgeous lacy thing or your favorite t-shirt bra, it was designed with both aesthetics and structural integrity in mind. The former makes it look good; the latter provides support. Ruining one or both of these means either throwing money down the drain (when you toss a bra because it’s degraded after too many wash cycles), or sacrificing support and risking breast health issues like stretch marks and skin abrasions.
To help you avoid these outcomes, we gathered expert tips for bra-washing the right way. (Spoiler alert: While bras come in many different shapes and sizes, there’s a good chance yours will require hand-washing.)
Meet the Expert
Mary Gagliardi is an in-house scientist and cleaning expert for Clorox known as “Dr. Laundry.” She has encyclopedic knowledge about how to keep your clothes as clean and spiffy as possible.
Why should you hand-wash your bras?
While some bras — like those made with sturdy fabrics and without underwire, or certain sports bras — can be put in the washing machine, that isn’t the case for most of them. Many bras are made of fragile material like lace or silk, as opposed to plain old cotton; their tags will likely recommend hand-washing, so don’t overlook this guidance. Dr. Laundry agrees hand-washing can be a good idea, pointing out that the design of a bra, which often has underwire, hook-and-eye closures, strap adjusters, or embellishments, “may have poor dimensional stability when machine-washed.” Even if you put your bra in a mesh laundry bag before tossing it in, the harsh machine-wash process may distort your bra’s shape or damage the fabric (due to friction from rubbing against other garments) — and it might not last as long as it would have otherwise.
How often should you wash your bras?
That’s up to you. If you’re not getting sweaty, you don’t necessarily need to wash your bra after every wear — and I’m betting most of don’t, anyway. Wirecutter, The New York Times’ product recommendation service, suggests most bras should be washed after four wears.
What’s the best method for washing your bras?
Dr. Laundry has tips for both hand-washing and machine-washing your bras. Hand-washing is usually ideal, but we’re all busy — so it helps to know that in a pinch, machine-washing can also be an option.
- Some bras can be machine-washed, provided the bra is placed in a mesh laundry bag for safe-keeping first. As Dr. Laundry explains, “when you put a bra in a mesh bag before washing, not only are you protecting the bra from getting caught on other items in the laundry load, you are also preventing the straps from getting twisted and tangled around the rest of the laundry, which can stretch them out of shape.” Not only do these bags give your bras some extra protection, they also prevent your bras from potentially damaging other clothing items along the way: the straps of loose bras can “entangle other items in the laundry, preventing those garments from tumbling freely through the wash solution,” says Dr. Laundry.
- If the bra has a hook-and-eye closure, close it before adding it to the mesh laundry bag. Only put one bra in each bag.
- Wash your bra using the machine’s delicate cycle, with cool water.
This is the safest bet! Here are the steps:
- Fill a plastic dishpan with about a gallon of cool or lukewarm water.
- Add a tablespoon of liquid laundry detergent.
- Use a large plastic or stainless steel spoon to stir the solution and help the laundry products disperse into the water.
- Add your bra, gently stirring it in the cleaning solution.
- Let it soak for 10 minutes, then rinse thoroughly. Do not wring or twist the bra.
- When finished rinsing, roll the bra in a clean, dry towel and squeeze. This will remove a lot of excess moisture.
Whether you machine-wash or hand-wash your bra, you should avoid putting it in the dryer. Instead, Dr. Laundry recommends reshaping your bra and laying it on a clean towel to air dry. She warns that hanging your bras to dry can stretch out the straps, so drying them flat is ideal.
Do different fabrics require different washing techniques?
While Dr. Laundry’s guidelines provide a helpful template for bra-washing, she cautions that “with so many different possible fabrics, it’s difficult to generalize care instructions, even for the same fabric type. You could have a bra made from a polyester satin, which would be much easier to care for than a bra made of silk satin.”
As one of the most delicate fabrics, silk is more likely to require hand-washing, while polyester is a synthetic material that can be more easily put into the washing machine. Dr. Laundry also notes that due to their textures and delicate material, lace bras can snag in a machine. She urges you to look at both the care instructions and the fabric components on your bra’s tag and follow their recommendations accordingly. When in doubt, it’s smart to treat your bras gingerly and assume it’s best to hand-wash them.
The Bottom Line
Next time you want to clean your bra, don’t throw it in the washing machine with reckless abandon. Consider the material and structure of the piece, and either put it in a mesh bag on a delicate cycle, or hand-wash it. Bras can be expensive, and we all want to get our money’s worth. Luckily, Dr. Laundry’s advice should help keep your bras looking good as new — which might just give you a well-earned confidence boost the next time you put them on.