Hint: it's probably more often than you think.
When it comes to doing laundry, we generally stick to one basic rule: if we wear something all day, it goes in the hamper once we take it off. However, for some reason, we tend to hold bras — especially our favorite ones — to a different standard. It's not rare for us to rock the same strapless design every day for a full week, or slip our demi-cup back into the drawer instead of the pile of delicates. The answer for how often to wash bras has always been a bit fuzzy to us, but now, we're ready to set things straight.
There are, of course, benefits to washing bras regularly instead of, err...every so often. Aside from the more obvious factors, like odor and overall cleanliness, a regular laundry schedule will also help extend the lifespan of the undergarment. Ahead, experts weigh in on exactly how often to wash bras and share their best laundry tips.
How often should you wash bras?
"Because bras come in direct contact with skin during wear, we recommend washing bras every few wears," Tide Senior Scientist Sammy Wang, MSE, tells InStyle. "Our bodies secrete body soils like sweat, sebum, and skin cells throughout the day, which transfer to the clothes we wear that touch our skin. This includes bras. Sweat especially can get absorbed by bras, which can build up and turn into residues and odors."
Madeline Miller, a product specialist at The Laundress, agrees and recommends washing bras every two to three wears. "In general, fine lace lingerie can be laundered less often if it's used for 'special occasion' wear, while everyday synthetics and cottons can stand to be washed on a regular basis."
The only exception to this rule is sports bras, says Beth McCallum, a cleaning expert and writer for the website Oh So Spotless. "You should wash these after every wear since they will hold a lot more sweat," she tells us.
Can you re-wear bras?
The general consensus is that it's up to your and your own comfort level. "It's a personal preference and a little bit of a balancing act between washing bras frequently and re-wearing them between washes to extend their 'life,'" says Wang.
"Always check the manufacturer's care label before washing, but we recommend washing bras every few wears and using a delicates bag and air drying to help extend the life of the bra," Wang adds.
According to Jessica Pfiste, the vice president of lingerie brand Le Mystere, there is a small caveat to rewearing your bra — even if you've been sitting in air conditioning all day and haven't been sweating.
"Don't wear your bra two days in a row," she tells InStyle. "If you do, you won't give the fibers enough time to rest and pull back, which means your back band can get worn out before its time.
What happens if you don't wash bras as often?
"By not washing bras frequently, body soils like sweat, sebum, and skin cells can build up on bras, which can eventually lead to malodors and even residues and dinginess," Wang warns. And, according to Miller, any bacteria left on the bra can lead to annoying skin problems, such as "irritation or rash."
To ensure you don't run into these issues, Wang recommends regularly using a high-quality detergent, such as Tide Hygienic Clean Power PODs, to wash your bras.
Should you wash a bra after purchasing?
Not washing clothes after you buy them does have its consequences, and all of the laundry experts we spoke to say it's important to clean your bra even before wearing it.
"Manufacturers often use finishes on new fabrics for aesthetic reasons," Wang tells InStyle. "Plus if you're buying in-store, the item may have been tried on by someone else before you."
Not only that, Miller reminds us of just how many components are used to make each bra, from the straps to the mesh material, along with the labor-intensive process that goes into creating one whole item.
"This means that many people touch a bra during the manufacturing process," she says. "You'll want to ensure you wash off any potential germs your bra may have been in contact with before putting it close to your skin."
Any tips on what to do or avoid while washing a bra?
There are two tricks that pros say can help extend the lifespan of your bra: if you're putting a bra in a washing machine, use a mesh laundry bag that's meant for delicates. Then, instead of putting your bra in the dryer, hang it up and let it air-dry.
"If placed in the machine freely, bras and undergarments with lace details and trims can start to fray and unravel due to friction against other garments in the wash," says Wang. "They can get tangled, stretch out, and the elastic elements can start to break down, so your former favorite bra can be left feeling loose and ill-fitting. Putting bras in a delicates bag solves this problem by keeping your bras separate from other clothes, reducing damaging friction in the wash."
The temperature of the water also matters. "Hot or warm water can cause damage to delicate fabrics, so we recommend washing bras in cold water, which helps extend the life of your garments," Wang says. "Plus, it saves energy and money by lowering your electric bill."
Alternatively, Miller says you can always hand-wash your bras in warm water using a gentle detergent. But, she adds, "the washing machine isn't nearly as damaging as the dryer," which is a big no-no.
"A dryer will heat the elastics on your bra and break them down, wearing out the support even more quickly," she says. "The heat from the dryer can also shrink materials and make the cups of your T-shirt bras look like orange peel."