Here’s What Happens If You Don’t Wash Your Bra
How often should you wash your bra? You might be surprised.
Bras are our BFFs: breast friends forever. Despite being supportive and uplifting, however, these bosom buddies are often neglected when it comes to cleaning. Many of us wear our bras a bunch of times before washing them—and then wonder why they are stretched out and less than fragrant. It begs the question: How often should you wash your bra?
We asked brassiere pro Antonia Gladney, director of team development for Bra Genie lingerie boutique in Southeast Louisiana, for advice. She knows the best bras for every body type (from bralettes to sports bras and beyond), plus how to wash a bra so it stays good as new. We told her that we’re up to date on how to do laundry and how often to wash jeans but are puzzled when it comes to how to hand-wash clothes and, in particular, how often you should wash your bra. She answered all our questions and went on to reveal the cardinal sin of bra care: “Do this,” she told us, “and you’ll degrade the elastic so your bra wears out super fast.”
Curious? Then read on for Gladney’s tips for caring for your bras, as well as the advice of a board-certified dermatologist on skin-care issues that can arise from wearing dirty bras. You’ll be surprised by what she has to say. (No, she’s not going to talk about what happens if you don’t wash your feet. But you really should look into that.)
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What happens if you don’t wash your bra?
How often should you wash your bra? We’ll get to that, but first, you’re going to want to learn what happens when you skip a washing (or a dozen). The info below will be the motivation you need to launder your favorite T-shirt bra, stat.
It gets smelly
Unless you’re wearing the wrong bra size, your bra should fit snugly against the body. This causes a buildup of body heat, which produces sweat. And let’s face it: Sweat stinks, especially if it stays on a piece of clothing for repeated wearings. Talk about a great reason to pay attention to how often you should wash your bra.
Dead skin piles up
Humans can lose 500 million skin cells a day. Some cells, like those on the hands, fall off when washing. Those on the breasts, however, don’t have any place to go but onto the bra that supports them. They cling to the fabric, which accumulates more layers with each subsequent wearing. Ick! Knowing how often you should wash your bra is getting even more important.
As sweat, dead skin cells and body oils build up, bacteria grows. That’s as good a reason as any to give your strapless bra a good wash after dancing the night away in it at the club.
“It’s important to wash bras frequently to prevent the growth of yeast and bacteria that thrive in dark, moist environments,” says Christel Malinski, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Lacombe, Louisiana. “Especially in the summertime, sweating and heat can trap moisture in the breast/bra area and cause infections and rashes.”
You develop skin issues
Washing athleisure sounds like a pain, but boy is it essential—as is ditching your sweat-soaked clothing as soon as possible. So make sure you change out of a wet bra after exercising or outdoor activities. “Prolonged moisture and friction can break down skin and create easy access for yeast and bacteria,” says Dr. Malinski.
While there are topical products that reduce sweating and create a protective barrier on the skin, your best bet is making an appointment with a pro. “Seek dermatologic care if a problem arises,” she says. “Avoid self-diagnosis and treatment, as this can often further compound the problem. A board-certified dermatologist can write prescriptions to help treat and prevent future skin problems.”
You wear out your bra faster
If you find yourself constantly replacing stretched-out bras or new bralettes, heed Gladney’s advice: “You don’t want to wear the same bra two days in a row,” she says. “When you wear your bra, you’re stretching it out, so you want to give it at least a day of rest in between wears so it can conform back to its original shape.”
Does that mean you always have to wash your bra after wearing it? Not necessarily. But it does make a good case for avoiding back-to-back wears of an unwashed bra. “Obviously, the more bras you have in your rotation, the longer your bras are going to live because you’ll wear each of them less frequently,” Gladney says.
How often should you wash your bra?
A good rule of thumb is washing your bra every three to four wears, according to Gladney. (A wear usually means a full day or most of the day.) “The exception being if you are participating in an activity where you get extra sweaty or dirty,” she says. “Then, you want to wash it immediately following that.”
How often the average person washes their bras is a matter of debate, but in a Slate writer’s (very informal and unscientific) survey, about a third of respondents said they washed their bras every two weeks.
Should you hand-wash bras?
“As bra fitters, we always recommend hand-washing,” says Gladney. “It is the way to give your intimates the longest life possible.”
If you insist on machine-washing some of your bras, that’s fine. But don’t toss molded or underwire bras in with your load—you should always hand-wash and air-dry those. In a washing machine, molded bras can become misshapen, and underwire bras can get bent, twisted or moved in ways that make them uncomfortable to wear.
When it comes to washing products for bras, Gladney recommends using those specifically made for lingerie (although anything that is gentle enough for baby clothes is OK for lingerie). She is passionate about Soak, a no-rinse product for hand-washing lingerie, and Forever New, which you can use for both hand-washing and machine-washing bras.
She advises clients to stay away from Woolite when washing lingerie. “It’s for wool, for natural fibers, and your bra is synthetic,” she says. “Also, shy away from some of the best laundry products, like Tide and Gain, which could be harsh and too perfumey for bras.”
How to wash your bras
Washing recommendations vary depending on the type of bra, so check the laundry symbols on the care label and follow the directions. Though Gladney recommends hand-washing all bras, you can get away with machine-washing bras that don’t have molded cups or underwires. (Remember, those need hand-washing!)
When you’re done washing, resist the urge to toss your bra into the dryer. To make your bras last, you need to air-dry those puppies.
Step 1: Fill a basin (or small wash pan) with cold water. You can also wash your bras in the sink, provided you’ve cleaned it first; just plug it up and run some water.
Step 2: Add your laundry detergent. Swish the water to distribute the washing product.
Step 3: If the bra has a stain, work a small amount of laundry product into the stain.
Step 4: Allow the bra to soak according to the directions on the label. This should take about 15 minutes, but more soaking won’t hurt anything.
Step 5: Empty the wash pan or drain the water out of the sink.
Step 6: Fill the wash pan or sink with cold water. (Skip this step if you’re using a rinse-free product like Soak.)
Step 7: Gently squeeze the water through the bra to rinse it.
Step 8: Let the bra dry completely. “Always air-dry bras,” says Gladney. “Hang the bra to dry or lay it on a towel on a flat surface.”
Step 1: Fasten the hooks on the bra.
Step 2: Place the bra in a mesh bag to prevent the hooks from catching on other clothes and to keep the bra from winding around the cylinder (if your washer has one).
Step 3: Set the washing machine to the delicate cycle and the cold wash-and-rinse option.
Step 4: For a top-load washer, add the laundry product when the tub is filled with water. For front-load washers, add it to the automatic detergent dispenser as usual.
Step 5: Place the mesh bag into the washer and start the wash cycle.
Step 6: At the end of the cycle, take the mesh bag out of the washer and remove the bra.
Step 7: Let the bra air-dry, either hanging it or laying it flat. “The No. 1 cardinal sin is to put a bra in the dryer,” says Gladney. “It is going to degrade the elastic, which will wear it out super fast. It can also cause molded cups to dimple.”
How to store your bras
It’s not enough to ask “How often should you wash your bra?” or even “How do you wash a bra in the first place?” You need to understand proper storage if you want to keep those cups looking like new. That may mean rethinking your organization strategy for certain types of bras.
“Non-molded, lightweight bras can be folded without causing any problems,” says Gladney. “Molded bras, however, should be stored flat, stacked one on top of the other, or hung from a hook or even a doorknob. Never invert the molded cups to store one cup inside the other. It will cause a crease to form in the inverted cup, malform the cup and form an outward-leaning lip at the top line of the bra that shows under your clothes.”
- Antonia Gladney, director of team development for Bra Genie lingerie boutique in Southeast Louisiana
- Christel Malinski, MD, board-certified dermatologist in Lacombe, Louisiana
- American Chemical Society: “The skinny on how shed skin reduces indoor air pollution”
- Slate: “Bras Are the Demons of the Laundry Pile—So Wash Them as Infrequently as Possible!”