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How to wash bras without damaging them

Fed up of shrunken or saggy bras with torn lace or lost underwires? A few tweaks to your laundry routine will help to keep your delicates in tip top condition.

Updated

A selection of bras on top of a laundry basket in front of a washing machine

Whether you’ve invested in a little lacy designer number or you’ve found that uber-rare gem – a comfy bra, you’re going to want it to last as long as possible. And that means washing it correctly.

Bras are very delicate, especially those with underwires or lace. They’re easy to damage and often end up shrinking or going saggy (or somehow both at the same time).

It’s best to hand wash bras if you have the time. While hand washing is rarely high on anyone’s list of favourite ways to spend 10 minutes, it does help to protect delicate items like lacy bras.

You’re also less likely to end up with a rogue underwire causing havoc in your washing machine (or worse, poking you in the chest, ouch).

(Really can’t face hand washing? Scroll down the page for our step-by-step guide on how to wash bras in the washing machine. )

Top tips for washing bras

  • Before you begin, do check the care label on your bra. It’ll tell you the maximum temperature you can wash the bra at, and other nuggets of wisdom.
  • Separate your bras into lights and darks.
  • Hand wash if possible. Otherwise, choose a low spin cycle and low temperature (max 30º).
  • Use a laundry liquid designed for delicates. If you don’t have one, you can get away with a non-bio detergent.
  • Reshape your bras while they’re still wet.
  • Leave them to dry naturally.

How to wash bras by hand

1. Soak your bras

Before you start, separate your bras into three piles: lights, darks and colours. Fill a sink or washing up bowl with warm (not hot) water. Add a mild laundry detergent, ideally one for delicates or hand washing if you have it. Check the bottle to find out how much you need. Fasten the clasp on each bra in one of your piles, pop them in the water and leave them to soak for up to an hour. Don’t soak light coloured bras with dark coloured ones or you’ll end up with dingy whites.

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A bra soaking in sudsy water.

2. Wash your bras

Gently wash each bra in turn (you might want to wear rubber gloves if you have sensitive skin). Repeatedly push the bra down into the water and let it rise up again  – this creates air bubbles, which will do a lot of the work for you. 

You can also gently massage or rub your bras, but be careful not to bend the underwire. 

Pay particular attention to the bottom of the cups and the areas that sit by your armpits. These are likely to have soaked in a bit of sweat, which can attract bacteria. (Washing other delicate items? Read our easy step-by-step guide to hand-washing clothes.)

A bra being gently washed.

3. Rinse your bras thoroughly

Empty the water out of the sink or bowl and refill with clean, cool water. 

Push the bras to the bottom of the bowl and let them rise to the top, then repeat several times. You might need to change the water a few times to get all the detergent out of your bras.

4. Squeeze excess water out

Empty the sink of water and gently squeeze each bra to get the water out. Don’t wring (twist) them or scrunch them up as that risks damaging the underwire or stretching the bras out of shape. When you’re done, you’ll need to reshape and dry them (skip down to the How to dry bras section below). 

Excess water being squeezed out of a bra.

How to wash bras in a washing machine

1. Prepare your bras for washing

Check the care label before you start, as not all bras can be machine washed. It’s also important to make sure you wash different colours separately to avoid your favourite white bra going a dingy grey. 

Always fasten the clasp before putting a bra in the wash. If you don’t, the clasps can snag and tear lacy material. Ideally, pop your bras into a mesh laundry bag. 

Don’t have a bag? A pillow case can work if you knot it closed (just don’t knot it too tightly as it’ll be more difficult to unknot when it’s wet).

Whether you use a mesh bag or a pillow case, don’t stuff it too full. Your bras need space to move around. Plus, the more bras you wash together, the more likely they are to get in a tangled mess.

 2. Load your washing machine

We recommend using a laundry detergent that’s designed for delicates, or a mild non-bio like Persil. Add fabric conditioner if you like. 

You can wash your bras with other clothing, but don’t overfill the machine – we know it’s tempting to squash everything in together so that you don’t need to do two loads, but your clothes won’t get as clean and your bras are more likely to get stretched out of shape. 

So just put a few light garments in with your bras – avoid adding heavy towels, bedding or jeans. You’ll find more tips about washing lingerie in a washing machine here.

3. Choose the setting

If your machine has a delicate or hand wash setting, that’s the one to go for. Otherwise, choose a lower spin setting (around 600) and cooler temperature (30 degrees). 

Hot water can increase the risk of the colours bleeding, leaving your sexy red bra a dull shade of pink.

How to dry your bras

First off, as soon as your bra comes out of the washing machine or sink, use your hands to gently reshape it if needs be, paying particular attention to the cups. 

You may also need to untwist the straps. Don’t worry if you can’t get it looking completely right – any minor changes in shape should naturally work themselves out as you wear the bra.

Never dry a bra in a tumble dryer. The vigorous motion of the machine could cause the bra to become misshapen, and the heat will set the bra into that new shape. 

Instead, hang each bra over a clotheshorse or the washing line, and allow it to dry naturally. It’s best to drape them over the line, rather than hanging them by a strap, unless you’re a fan of the saggy bra look. 

Don’t worry if you’re in a rush – the lightweight nature of bras means they dry pretty quickly. 

Freshly washed bras hanging to line dry outside.

Washing bras – your questions answered

How often should I wash my bra?

You’ll probably want to wash sports bras after every wear. Other bras can usually be washed every three or four wears, as long as they’re not dirty or smelly.

How can I get sweat stains out of my bras?

Sports bras, in particular, are prone to getting yellow discolouration around the armpits. You may think that washing them in hot water is the best option for stain removal, but think again. 

Hot water is likely to damage the bra and could make the colours run. Instead, use a stain remover and then soak them for up to an hour in warm (not hot) water. You can read more about removing sweat stains here.

Can you wash bras in the washing machine?

It’s best to wash them by hand, but if you really don’t have time, use the delicate or hand wash setting on your machine. Stick to 30 degrees and a low spin cycle (eg 600).

Can I wear the same bra every day?

It’s best to alternate bras to give the elastic a break, which will help your bras last longer.  

How often should I replace my bra?

It does depend on how often you wear them. If you wear the same bra regularly, it’ll probably need replacing after six months to a year. In general, just use your common sense though. Look for signs of wear and tear, such as the bra losing its elasticity or becoming misshapen. Knowing how to wash bras correctly helps them to last a heck of a lot longer.

Can you tumble dry bras?

Nope. The heat is likely to damage the elasticity and the tumbling action could affect the underwiring.

How can I dry my bra quickly?

Hot date planned and just discovered your favourite bra is in the laundry basket? Let it soak while you’re getting ready. Then give it a rinse and blow dry it with your hair dryer on a warm (not hot) setting. It’s best not to dry it this way too often, but now and then won’t hurt.

Can you bleach bras?

Liquid or powder bleach can damage the elastic so is best avoided. If your white bra has gone really dingy, try bleaching it naturally, by hanging it on the line in full sun for a couple of hours.

Is it OK to wash cotton bras on a high temperature?

While the material itself would be fine, the elasticity could be affected by a high temperature. So it’s best to stick to 30 degrees.

What detergent should I use to wash my bra?

Ideally, you want a detergent for delicates; however a general non-bio should be fine. Avoid anything with bleach or alcohol, as both can damage the fabric or elasticity.

Can you wash bras with baby shampoo?

Yes if you’re hand washing them. Laundry detergent is better though! 

Should I wash different types of bras the same?

Yep (though you might want to be extra cautious with designer lacy numbers). Even a non-wired cotton bra needs washing with care as the shape and elasticity can be affected if you wash on too high a temperature or on a spin cycle.

How should I store my bras?

Place them one on top of each other, so that the cups of one bra sit inside the cups of another. This will help to protect their shape. 

It’s best not to fold them to fit one bra cup inside its partner. To do so, you’d have to turn one cup inside out and you also risk damaging the middle of the bra where it’s folded. 

Help, my bra smells musty!

Musty smelling clothes usually mean that your washing machine needs the filter unclogging and a good clean or that the garment is taking too long to dry. 

Check out our full guide to rescuing musty clothes here. 

How should I wash other lingerie?

Most lingerie can be washed using the techniques above. You may want to read our full guide to washing lingerie first though.

Originally published