Spoiler: It’s probably more often than you think.

By Hana Hong
Updated February 26, 2021
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When it comes to clothing hygiene, bras top the list of things you know you should be washing more frequently than you do. I'll be the first to admit that it's something I forget—or intentionally overlook—when laundry day rolls around. One, the process of washing them isn't as easy as tossing them in the washer, and two, it's almost impossible to tell how dirty they really are.

That leads us to another laundry debate: How often should you wash your bras? Surely bras aren't like jeans, where you should wait as long as possible before washing them. But they're also not like underwear, where daily washing is a no-brainer.

Danny Koch, brassiere expert and fourth generation owner of New York City's Town Shop, recommends every other wear, or by the third, maximum. The reason? "The main thing you're trying to do is keep the integrity of the bra for as long as possible," Koch says. "When you're strapped in for 10 to 12 hours a day, the garment not only collects oils from your skin and deodorant, but the elastic stretches and loses its form through wear. And when you're investing anywhere from $50 to $100 for a quality piece, you need consistent care to maximize your investment." Val Oliveira, founder of Chicago-based Val's Services, agrees, noting that your bra will unavoidably soak in the moisture and bacteria, causing bad smells, irritation, and possibly infection. 

Now, let's get real: Most people probably aren't doing their laundry that often. And it's true that over-washing can also damage the elasticity, which is essential for providing proper support. Unless you're really sweaty, Gwen Whiting, co-founder of The Laundress, says that you should wait every one to two weeks as a general rule. "Washing frequency is really dependent on climate and physical activity," she says. "Just be sure to wash immediately if you've worked out or sweated significantly to avoid funky smells from setting."

So how is it possible to wait that long between washing and stick to a bi-wear wash? For full return on investment, opt for rotating through multiple bras a year (Koch recommends at least four). Alternating will also allow the bra to regain its shape and elastic to breathe between wears.

What's the best way to wash an underwire bra?

Although such frequent bra-washing sounds overwhelming, Koch assures that routine cleaning quickly becomes second nature over time. And as for methodology: "There's only one way," says Koch, a hand-wash purist. Unlike most other clothing, bras contain 35 to 40 pieces, as well as metal, which can quickly weather in the washing machine. Instead, he tells clients to opt for a low-suds detergent, like The Laundress Delicate Wash ($19; amazon.com) or the customer-favorite Soak ($16; amazon.com), and gently wash—not wring—in the bathroom sink for four to five minutes before hanging on the shower rod or towel rack to dry overnight. 

However, you can machine-wash bras on a gentle cycle if you have a mesh washing bag to protect them from snagging and tears (remember to use cold water and close the clasps first!). But no matter what, never machine-dry: "Most damage to the fibers and elasticity actually happens in the hot dryer since the high heat will reduce the fabric's elasticity and distort padding and straps." says Lindsey Boyd, co-founder of The Laundress. "Always hang-dry instead."

If you're dealing with stains from body oils, self-tanner, or makeup, you're going to need to give your bra a little extra TLC. Whiting recommends treating stains before washing with something like The Laundress Wash & Stain Bar ($7; amazon.com). "Wet the bar and work the bar into bra straps, underarm areas, and any other stain marks," she says. "To treat dinginess and yellowing, presoak in a basin filled with warm water and add a capful of The Laundress All-Purpose Bleach Alternative ($15; amazon.com) for up to 30 minutes."