Delicate matters: how to care for bras and lingerie

From washing in the shower to frequent rotation, experts share tips for making underwear last

It was Jane Birkin’s mother who suggested: “When you’ve got nothing left, all you can do is get into silk underwear and start reading Proust.”

It’s a sentiment that rings true after 18 months of stay-at-home orders, though I’m sure I’m not the only one who could replace silk underwear with soft-waisted pants and Proust with, well, news headlines.

Either way, silk underwear, delicate bras and lingerie need to be cared for, so here is some expert advice on how to look after them.

Wash frequently – ideally by hand

Araks Yeramyan, the creative director of the lingerie brand Araks, recommends taking your bra and underwear into the shower with you at the end of the day. “Rinsing your bra after every use lengthens the longevity as the salt in your sweat can break down the elastic over time,” she says. She suggests using a natural shampoo or soap like Dr Bronner’s lavender soap (which is suitable for people as well as undergarments), before rinsing and gently squeezing out the water.

Belinda Everingham, chief executive of the cleaning product company Bondi Wash, also recommends handwashing delicates but her advice is more conventional. She says to fill a bucket or sink with warm water and add detergent while the tap is running. Then, drop your delicates into the soapy water and swish them about for a few minutes before rinsing them under a cold tap and gently squeezing out excess water, taking care not to pull the fabric.

Special laundry bag for washing bras in washing machine
When handwashing isn’t an option, putting bras in a delicates bag can stop them being damaged, or damaging other clothes. Photograph: anmbph/Getty Images/iStockphoto

If handwashing is not an option, Everingham says you can wash them on a delicate cycle and use a laundry bag to prevent hooks from bras catching on other items in the machine. Detergent choice is important as delicate fabrics contain sensitive fibres that can be damaged, she says.

“Avoid detergents with synthetic enzymes or optical brighteners,” she says – opt instead for a liquid detergent that is pH neutral and labelled for delicate fabrics.

Never put them in the dryer

Bras and underwear should never be put in the dryer. Kate Nixon, the creative director behind Kat the label, recommends laying a towel down somewhere in the shade and placing each piece flat on top of it.

“This will ensure the longevity of trims or elastics last in your garment,” she says. “For less delicate items like a cotton brief, you can hang on a clothes horse in the shade.”

The right fit can help bras last longer

“Bras that are designed with a non-stretch centre gore – the piece between the cups – generally have the best fit,” Yeramyan says.

A bra on a hanger
When buying a bra, look out for zigzag stitching, as this is generally a sign of quality and durability. Photograph: Poh Kim Yeoh/Getty Images/EyeEm

She advises that you look for high-quality materials that have a bit of stretch so the bra can mould to your body, give you the right support and enhance the fit. The type of stitching used can also be a sign of quality – “what’s best is a zig-zag stitch”.

When figuring out the fit, Yeramyan recommends trying on a bra with a T-shirt to make sure you like the look. In addition to this, she says, you should never be falling out of the cups and the band across your back should be straight and parallel to the floor – even when you lift your arms. Adjust the straps so you can slide two fingers underneath them – otherwise they are probably too tight.

Change it up

Nixon recommends mixing up the lingerie and underwear in your collection, so you don’t have to be handwashing all the time. She says to have “a mixture of the pretty lace bras that are more delicate as well as the more simple cotton-style bras or underwear that you can throw in the wash again and again”.

Everingham suggests opting for a range of natural fibres, like cotton, linen or silk, that will be longer lasting if cared for properly. She says stains come out of these fibres more easily, and they are less likely to go yellow with age.

Most women I know wear their favourite bra for days in a row, but Yeramyan says this is ill advised. She says bras should be worn on rotation because “the elastic needs time to relax between wears. In general, no matter what you do, elastic has a shelf life, but the better you take care of your pieces, the longer it will last.”

Don’t leave them lying around

A bra drawer with drawer dividers
Storing bras with their hooks done up, and ideally in separate laundry bags or compartments, will prevent their hooks from tearing at other delicate fabrics. Photograph: Bosca78/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Although it’s tempting to leave pretty bras hanging on door knobs or chairs, be sure to carefully put them away. According to Nixon, storage is something easily overlooked: “The way you store your delicate lace bras in your drawer is really important.”

Before you put the item away, do up the bra clasps and, if you have one, place the item in a mesh laundry bag within the drawer. “This means no other bra clasp can hook on to the delicate fabric and rip when you’re searching for a specific item.”


Lucianne Tonti

The GuardianTramp

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