Bra Care: How Often, and How, To Wash Your Bras

How often do you wash your bras — and how do you care for them? Which bras are best for under work clothes? Reader C wonders:

Could you please do a post on best bras for under work clothes, and also on how often one ought to be replacing bras? I have switched to (what I thought, at least) were high quality bras from Natori (size 32D), which I really like and also take moderately good care of (handwashing only; hang to dry; washing every 1-2 wears; rotating every day among 7-10 total bras). But they still only last about 1 year. Is this the normal lifespan? Or is there something I’m doing wrong in my purchasing and/or care? Many thanks!

We haven’t talked about this in a few years (here: a few of my favorite t-shirt bras, a poll on readers’ favorite lingerie brands), and we’ve never talked directly about how to wash your bras — so let’s discuss. (Pictured: Nothin’, as per previous reader requests on our lingerie discussions…)

For my $.02, the best bras for the office are t-shirt bras — my favorites have always been from Fantasie and Le Mystere. Look for:

  • FIT! FIT! FIT! This is the primary concern.  Get thee to a specialty lingerie shop that carries many sizes (so: not Victoria’s Secret) or a spot like Nordstrom or even Dillard’s and ask for a fitting.  (Here in NYC, Bra*Tenders, La Petite Coquette, or TownShop all have a huge selection and the staff has always been super knowledgeable; I’ve also heard good things about Linda the Bra Lady.)
  • Light padding so there are no concerns about, ahem, headlights
  • Avoid lace (or seaming) that will make lines under clothes and be noticeable/distracting
  • Avoid demi-cups or other overly sexy bras where, ahem, “bounce” is a problem.

Finally: Be aware of problems and possible fixes.  If your bra straps keep sliding off your shoulders, that may be a fit problem – can you tighten the straps any further? If not, ask your tailor if she or he can help you by shortening the straps.  If your bra keeps digging into your shoulders, it’s probably a sign that you’re wearing the wrong size — most of the support should actually be coming from the band.  If your band keeps digging into you, this may be a sign that the underwire has warped, the sizing is wrong, or that this just isn’t the bra for you.  If your bra results in a quadraboob look, it’s time for a new fitting (check out other tips for dressing professionally if you’re busty).

I’m sure there’s a huge discrepancy between how often people wash their bras.  Real Simple suggests to wash your bra every 3-4 wears; Jezebel recently suggested every 3-6 wears (but noted that sometimes “rinsing” is more beneficial than “washing” for bras with light padding). The Lingerie Addict suggested a longer timeline, noting that in fall and winter she only washes her bras every 2-3 weeks.  I’m curious to hear from the readers — how often do you wash your bras?

(I was going to try to set up this as a poll, but there are a lot of variables here — different fabrics are going to wear differently; different sizes of bras will wear differently (I’m guessing a 32A is going to look different after 6 months than a 32F, even assuming the owner is wearing the right size of bra), and different ways the bra will wear on each person (depending on how you stretch/move throughout the day.)  I also suspect that women would have a huge discrepancy between the number of bras they own based on price/availability — my bra size is hard to find and is usually expensive ($50+ for a single bra), so I tend to only have a few bras that I like at any given time. When I wore a more normal size (whether I was that size or not) I had a huge lingerie drawer that didn’t turn over a lot because I could get them super cheap.  (Fine, fine, fine: in my youth I thought I was a 36D or 36DD.  Then I lost some weight and got a proper fitting and started wearing a 30F or 32E.  I’ve gained some weight (and — joy! — my breasts are different after nursing), so now I wear around a 36G.)

Some best practices for bra care:

  • never, ever, put your bras in the dryer — let them air dry
  • give your bras at least 24 hours “off duty” — don’t wear them day after day.  Let them air out somewhere more open than a lingerie drawer.
  • In terms of washing them: I kind of view this as a continuum.  If you want to handwash them, great.  Personally, I just close the hooks, stick them in a lingerie bag, and put them through the regular wash.  (I used to do delicate cycle and Woolite, but even that’s fallen by the wayside now!)  Definitely close the hooks (to protect the bra as well as other clothes in the wash with them), and I do feel like the lingerie bag helps them avoid getting tangled around the washing machine parts.  Because of the spin cycle they come out “dryer” than they would if I were to handwash them.
  • Signs it’s time to pack it in for a bra: When the back of the bra gets stretched out or starts puckering.  When the underwire is poking out (or digging into you even if it isn’t poking out).  When there are any holes or other obvious imperfections.

Readers, what is your favorite bra to wear to the office?  How do you care for your bras — and how often do you wash them?  (Do you have different methods/standards for workwear bras versus, ahem, playtime bras?)

(L-#)

Comments

  1. This is such an interesting question! I go much longer than what they recommend between washings. That makes them last longer too. Of course, if they’re getting icky or stinky or whatever, I wash them, but otherwise I’ll go several weeks. That is not true now that I’m nursing, though.

    But I’ve always wondered if I’m an ickmeister so I’ll be interested in others’ replies.

    • I’m with you. It’s not like they have to get up and walk away to get into the wash, but it’s close.

      Also: I have no shoulders and have had bras altered to move the straps in closer. Even when wearing my correct band size. It’s not terribly fashionable, but I am in a coobie the moment I get home from work largely b/c their straps are set in more narrowly and it’s soft (but they come up high on me and don’t work with a lot of non-winter shirts).

    • Small Town Attorney :

      One of the funniest cards I’ve seen has a glaring cat on the front and says “Taco knows how long it’s been since you washed that bra you’re wearing” then inside “you disgust Taco.” So yeah, I could probably stand to wash my bras more often too.

    • anonforthis :

      My bras get washed far more often now that my husband does the laundry because he thinks it’s gross that I only wash them like once per month.

      • Anon bra non-washer :

        Yes! me too!

        He asked me how often I washed them and I was able to answer with ‘periodically… when they need them I guess”

        Sports bras get one wear and a washing but regular everyday bras are probably once every 2-3 weeks, rotating between 3 or 4 bras. I’ve always been sized at a 34DD but keep thinking maybe a 32E might provide more band support.

    • +1 I used to try to wash them at least once a week which was probably close to the wash-per-wear suggestion but I gave up a while ago. I think I have one that has gone like 3-4 weeks (granted I only wear it 2-3 times most weeks).

    • Anonymous :

      I’m in this camp too. I wash them on the hand wash cycle in a mesh bag, with Sport Wash, and lay them flat to dry with tennis balls or rolled up towels under the cups to keep the shape, so not really anything too different than Reader C. But some of my Natoris are hitting the 3 year mark, and other than the band stretching to where I’m now on the middle hook (so still have one more to go) they don’t look any worse than the day I bought them. I often have trouble telling the older ones apart from the two I just bought in December. I’m sure it’s because I just don’t wash them that often.

    • This is so interesting. I wash mine after 4 wearing’s in the winter and 3 wearing’s in the summer b/c it is sweatie. I remember in college this girl from France never washed her sweater’s and also did NOT wash her bra’s so after a while she smelled REALY bad as soon as she warmed up her sweater’s. She was otherwize VERY pretty, but she was NEVER abel to get a guy to date her b/c of the ODOR. FOOEY! So men do and can smell you if you do not wash your clotheing. The sad thing was she DID take alot of shower’s but NEVER washed her sweater’s. DOUBEL FOOEY!

  2. Less a comment and more of a rant–it is incredibly frustrating that so few bra makers offer bras with fully adjustable straps, and that we should have to go to a tailor to have straps shortened on otherwise perfectly fitted bras when we are already paying $50-80 on a single bra (I note that I am 100% certain that this is not a proper size issue, and is an issue having to deal with the fact that the correct band and cup size for me NEVER corresponds with a correct strap length, given my particular anatomy). I frequently fantasize about poaching designers from the better bra makers and forming a new company that makes bras that are actually designed to fit correctly and have options that make them adjustable to fit all women the right way.

    I could also rant for days about the fact that the bra makers for the DDD and above sector almost always make their bras out of scratchy synthetic fabrics (WHY??), but I’ll leave that for another day…

    • Ugh, I’m with you on that last paragraph especially. I get that large sizes need more support, but must it look/feel like grandma’s girdle? How come the smaller sizes come in fun colors, but get up to the Fs and Gs and suddenly, the options are only EVER beige, white and black?? I’d kill or a blue, purple or red bra or *heavens* polka dot or stripes. (I could go on for at least 5 paragraphs…but I won’t.)

      • Apologies if this is a double post; I got a message last time that I was posting too fast, which was certainly not true.

        I’m delurking because I’m actually wearing a purple bra in size 32FF right now. Exciting bras in larger cup sizes are hard to find in-store, but if you’re willing to look online it opens up a lot of doors. I would search for brands like Freya and Curvy Kate on Amazon and see what comes up. A lot of women also like brastop.com, if you don’t mind having things shipped from the UK.

        Here is the bra I have, which is still available in F-GG cups in a variety of band sizes: http://www.amazon.com/Freya-Honey-Firecracker-Moulded-Plunge/dp/B00AMBU48U/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1395342850&sr=8-1&keywords=freya+deco+honey

      • But the small sizes DON’T come in fun colors. I wear 32B and that size is mostly beige, white, cream, and black. And that’s if I can find my size. It’s actually the medium sizes that have all the fun.

        • Indeed—my 30AA bras are all in beige and black, although I did find one black-velvet-flocked polka-dot one in a 32A at the Gap once (the size I often have to “make do” with). It’s hard to find any bras at all in my size. I struggle mightily to fill my 30AAs. I love my size—no problem there—it just doesn’t seem to exist in the minds of bra designers. Online purchases are the only way to go.

      • Hey, that’s interesting :) I just have the opposite feeling – I’m a fairly small cup woman, and I barely see colorful bras in my size. Cleo by Panache, a British brand, makes so lovely colorful bras, but their smallest size is actually 28D and I barely fit into one (and ignore the gaping). I really envy the bigger cup ladies who could wear them because I love them!

    • Silvercurls :

      Some of us are untroubled by owning bras in only white or (occasionally) black or beige.
      That’s because I don’t enjoy bra-shopping. When I find ones that fit well, it’s mission accomplished!

  3. Love this topic :

    I’m a 32DDD and exclusively wear a Betsy Johnson style of bra from Nordstrom that I feel in love with. Nothing else adds up. I have it in 4 colors. I leave them draped on my hamper after I change out of my work clothes. When I go to bed it goes back in the drawer. I was them when I wash my regular laundry so once every few weeks. They go in the regular wash and hang to dry. This means one doesn’t get washed usually each wash cycle. They have held up remarkably and I have worn them for years. I only replaced my last set b/c I went from DD to DDD. My washing cycle may be gross to some but it works for me. They have a white liner and it never looks dirty and I regularly give them a smell test and beyond faintly smelling like my deodorant they have no smell.

  4. I think I probably wash every 3-4 wears, but I’m also not afraid to pull a particular bra out of the laundry if an outfit requires it. I use the handwash cycle on my front loading washer (dry on a rack) and they generally last a decent amount of time (but I also have a lot, so I probably don’t wear each onethat often). I need to be better about hooking them before they go in the washer.

  5. On the hunt for 36aa, demi or balconet, unpadded/unlined underwire bras, with cups that are not transparent lace. I used to have something identical from J. Crew when I was an A or B and even from GAP back in the day. Many hours of searching later, including many small-bra specialty sites and children’s departments, coming up with NOTHING. Starting to feel like a freak of nature!

    • Small Band Size :

      Have you tried a 34A (the sister size to a 36AA)? There may be more inventory.

      • Felina used to have a lot of things like that in my former size (32B). I think they’d have a lot in the 34A range if not your actual size.

      • That is me, I’m a 34AA but I wear Target 34A bras and they basically fit.

        • I think 36As that were not lined/molded would work okay, but Target 36As are all lined/molded and not quite right (so you can see the outline of the bra through my clothes, where it gaps). 34 is definitely too small! Thanks everyone though.

          • Love this topic :

            How about 34 with the bra extender thing. They sell them at Target. It adds like 5 larger clip settings to make the bra almost a whole size larger in the band.

          • Genius!!!!!!

  6. I wash mine rather seldom. I don’t get very sweaty and if they don’t smell, I’m good with it. I hang ‘em on a hook if they’ve been worn, don’t shove them back in the drawer, and I have enough to wear a different one every day; so it seems like I can go quite a few weeks without washing them.

    Someone gave me the suggestion of rinsing them out in the shower, which I think is genius. However, have I done it? No I have not.

    Sports bras are another matter. I have four and I can really only get away with wearing them twice. If that. I should probably get a couple more.

    • That goes for me as well. I don’t know how many times I wear them, I just go by smell. I do hang them on hooks, and don’t usually wear the same one each day; but it could be weeks or even months as long as they pass the smell test. That would mean in the summer, they’re washed more frequently than winter…
      Sports bras rarely make it past a couple wearings.

    • This is how I usually wash my bras since the washing machines in my apartment building charge you and I typically take my laundry to SO’s house. Just easier to wash them in the shower (when I think of it! This is making me wondering the last time it was – eek!) and then just throw them over the bar to let them drip a little.

  7. I am 36A. So I can get my bras pretty much anywhere! I find that Victoria Secret’s t-shirt bras are super comfortable. As for washing I wash when I do laundry. (1 a week), and I just toss them in the wash and dryer. I replace when they start to fall apart (usually after about 8 months or so).

  8. Small Band Size :

    I am a 28DD or 30DD depending on the manufacturer. Once I finally got properly sized, I started buying better (i.e., more expensive) bras. Because they are so expensive, I never machine wash them. My favorites are Chantelle and Simone Perele and they usually run anywhere between $80 – $100. I hand wash using The Laundress or Forever New and then dry flat on a rack. I probably have 10-12 total but only like 8 of them at any given time. I’ll wear one more than once but not in consecutive days. Obviously all bets are off in hot/humid weather.

    Sports bras are also pricey but get washed after every wear. I also hand wash and dry flat on a rack.

  9. Sooooo anon for this :

    This is really embarrassing, but I have not once washed my current fancy-ish bras since purchasing them last July. Similar to Parfait, I don’t do much of anything active in them (um, I sit at a desk all day) and I don’t sweat much. However, I just recently noticed that they are a tiny bit stinky…. I was planning to wash them this weekend, but had no idea everyone else did this so frequently!

  10. I have a really sensitive sense of smell so if I can smell humanity on them or they don’t specifically smell fresh and clean, even if they don’t stink, they get washed. Which is basically every other wear. I have a large chest so I buy pricey bras that support well and never have all that many so I usually end up washing every week, maybe every two weeks. I have experimented over time with washing more or less often, different types of bras, etc. But no matter how many I have or how often or little I wash, they always seem to be done at around the year mark. I am okay with that. I just feel like I am asking a lot of them since I have a very large cup size and I wear them a lot so the elastic wears over time. I usually have one “pretty” bra that I wear on dates for my husband and that one lasts a long time since I only wear it a few hours at a time, no more than once a week. It works for me. I do feel like using forever new makes the elastic hold up a bit better, but I machine wash on delicate in a lingerie bag and I prefer that to handwashing because I think they smell fresher when they come out. I learned only a couple years ago that I was breaking my bras by putting them on upside down and flipping them. My mother taught me that when I was 11, but she never wore underwire. Since I stopped doing that, I have gone from losing a bra or two a year from broken underwire to never having it happen again, so that is something I wish I knew a long time ago.

    • Really? That’s interesting, I’ve never heard that before (about putting them on upside down). I always do that with my non-padded bras but I’ve never had a broken underwire.

  11. I’m really small (32A) so I can also get my bras from pretty much anywhere but I wear almost exclusively padded pushup bras (I like VS ones but have never really tried any other ones). I don’t know that I let my bras air out enough though because while I have a bunch, I really only wear 2-3 (and really just like one right now).

    Also, reading this made me realize I lost a really nice bra and have no idea how/where it is…

  12. Once I found a bra I liked, I replaced my entire collection with 5 of the same ones over the course of about a year. I wear the same bra for a week and then it goes in the hamper. For washing, I close the hooks on mine and wash them with other delicates then lay flat to dry. I probably replace, on average, 1 per year. My preferred bra isn’t actually totaly smooth, but I wear a cami most of the time so it hasn’t been an issue.

    I find that my bras tend to get the dirtiest on the wire that’s flush against my chest right under my actual bust, but this seems to be an issue for me no matter how often I wash.

    • I also wear a cami most of the time – actually, just about every day. Do others do this? I think, personally, it stems from when I was about 30+ lbs heavier and self-conscious about people seeing rolls/bulge/back fat under my shirts.

      Re: bras – I am 34C, and I loooove tshirt bras. I usually alternate 2-3 over the course of a week, and then they go in the hamper. I will do a “bra” wash every 3ish weeks, and put the clean ones behind any that are still left in my drawer. I use lingerie bags and the Nordstrom lingerie wash, on delicate cycle. I usually buy Gap Body brand, and always on clearance, and I feel like I get my money’s worth out of them! For sports bras, if I am just doing a DVD at home (weights, Jillian Michaels, etc) I will usually air dry and try to get three wears out of them. Anything super sweaty (spinning or running) gets air dry then right in the hamper to be washed. I love Moving Comfort for sports bras. I have four, that I bought about 18 months ago, and they are still holding up pretty good!

  13. Mimi in Pittsburgh :

    I’m a 30F, which is no picnic. For the last several years I’ve worn this Fantasie bra exclusively and replenish on the rare occasion it’s in stock: http://shop.nordstrom.com/S/fantasie-4520-smoothing-underwire-balconette-bra/3030013?origin=category-personalizedsort&contextualcategoryid=0&fashionColor=NUDE&resultback=804&cm_sp=personalizedsort-_-browseresults-_-1_2_B

    It holds me in, boosts me up, isn’t too hideous looking, and it’s molded, so I have never had to worry about being cold. :)

    When I’m feeling adventurous, or maybe just masochistic, I pop an extra anti-anxiety med and visit Nordstrom for a re-fit and to see if there is a new miracle bra out there. So far, no luck.

    Last month I was in NYC and made an appointment at Linda the Bra Lady…I can’t even tell you how excited I was, to the point where I worried I would spend TOO much money on bras in the heat of the moment. Can you believe they had NOTHING IN STOCK in my size? Apparently they only refresh their inventory seasonally, and I was visiting at the end of the winter season. I almost cried, seriously. The fitter was very nice, however, and she did sell me a product called Dimr’s, for an “around the house” bra I own but never wear b/c it’s not padded enough for cool temperatures. I tried them out and they worked like a charm, so I guess that was one bright spot (ha). But seriously–it was a major disappointment to visit a place that is like a freaking bra mecca and leave empty handed due to their inadequate inventory.

    • Anonymous :

      the strapless version of that one is also the only strapless I’ve ever felt comfortable in! I wish that whole line from Fantasie came in more colors.

  14. Love this topic! My favorite bras are Natori Feather and some random VS bra that actually fits well and is flattering. I have about 4 bras of those two styles that I wear the majority of the time, even though I have approx 10 regular (non-sports or strapless) bras. I generally wash every 3-4 wears, in a laundry bag on delicate (regular detergent), then hang dry. Between washes I hang them (from 1 day to next time I wear, depending on how messy I am). I don’t have a set washing schedule, but I’ll definitely wash more often in sweaty situations (summer, nightclubs, etc.). With this routine, my bras last me years.

  15. Honestly, my go to has been (i had to look it up) “Self Expressions by Maidenform” from Target. I wore Maidenform for years, purchasing from Kohls or Macys but the Target version is the EXACT SAME I swear and <$20. It has smooth sides for minimal bra bulge in the back. I'm a 34C which is probably the most common size but it also means stupid Target is always out of my size. They have THE most amazing nude t-shirt bra push up but I'm not sure if they're stocking it.

    I feel like I never wash mine and it's terrible. Maybe just because it's been so cold in Chicago for so long it hasn't been an issue. In the summer if I sweat, I'll make sure to wash it because it will probably make me break out.

    A little unrelated, but Target also had my go to strapless push up and stopped making it a few years ago and I'm so bummed. I haven't found any replacements that have met my standards.

  16. Senior Attorney :

    The lady at the fancy bra store (Jenette Bras for those of you in Los Angeles — love it!) recommended hand washing or machine “hand wash” cycle using Johnson’s Baby Shampoo, of all things. I use the Target brand baby shampoo in the washing machine and it seems to be working great. My expensive bras are more than a year old and still look new.

    One of the things I do to make them last is have a bunch of them so I don’t have to wear any given bra very often. I have ten nice bras and try not to wear any particular bra more than once or twice a week. It was a big outlay at first but I got several of them on sale and I’m so happy to have such nice undies.

    • Senior Attorney :

      Oh, and lingerie bags really help. I wash all my delicates together and this way I can separate the bras from tights and other things that might get snagged if the hooks come undone in the wash.

    • Seventh Sister :

      Do you think they’d be any help with a D, sort of D-minus (thanks for the stretch marks, nursing children)? I’m super-curious about the store, but generally terrified of anything on Melrose.

    • IDoNotLiketheConeofShame :

      Nordstorm’s bra lady told me the same thing yesterday – use baby shampoo, not woolite, ok to do in the washer in a bag. Never heard using baby shampoo before!!

  17. If anyone is a small cup (I’m a 34A), my favorite daily bra of all time is actually a wireless bra from Victoria’s Secret. I know…VS?! But it is so flipping comfortable, washes well (I air dry it), and the nude color really disappears under clothing for me. I get no lines from it, so it’s the perfect t-shirt bra. I also get NO GAPPING in the cups, which is a first for any bra for me.

    They’ve changed the design a little bit from when I last purchased it, but cup and band look close to identical. My straps aren’t adjustable to racerback, and my bow is on the strap, not the center, but otherwise looks about the same. Highly recommend.

    http://www.victoriassecret.com/bras/wireless/wireless-bra-cotton-lingerie?ProductID=165559&CatalogueType=OLS

  18. Just to skew the results, I’ll post here that I wash my bras after every wear, or after two wears at the most. Yup. I throw them in the washing machine, and then the dryer. They don’t go in special bags (stockings and tights do but I don’t bother with bras). They are also not super expensive bras, and I have at least 7 of them so I can go at least a week without running out.
    This was standard practice when I was growing up and that’s what the women in my family did as well.

  19. shortperson :

    If you’re having trouble finding bras that fit try True & Co. They do a survey on your body and then mails you bras (different brands) that fit.

  20. Swimsuithelp :

    While on the bra subject, can anyone offer advice for swimsuit support? I am a 34C (“34 long”) and most suits that have underwire or molded cups end up pulling down too low. If I tighten the shoulder straps they dig in too much. Has anyone tried the adhesive type bras?

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