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Credit: William Abranowicz

Because it is worn so often and loses elasticity over time, a bra generally lasts no longer than two years. But proper laundering can help ensure that bras and other intimates age gracefully. So how delicate do you need to be with delicates? Perhaps not as delicate as you think.

Everyday Bras and Lingerie

Most lingerie can be put through the machine’s gentle cycle, even if the labels say “hand wash.” Use all-purpose detergent with cotton and synthetics; opt for mild detergent with lacy fabrics. Pretreat yellow perspiration stains by rubbing them with mild soap and warm water; let soak for 30 minutes. Protect hosiery, bras, bustiers, camisoles, slips, and any other garments with straps or underwires by placing them in zippered mesh bags, which will keep them from twisting or snagging; fasten clasps to prevent them from catching on the netting. Use a bag with fine mesh so hooks can’t get through, says Steve Boorstein, author of The Clothing Doctor’s 99 Secrets to Clothing Care (Boutique, $5, amazon.com); try the Woolite Fine Washables bag ($4, containerstore.com). Wash undergarments in light loads, and never throw them in with heavy items, as these can cause wires to bend or break, says Chris Allsbrooks, a textile analyst at the Drycleaning & Laundry Institute, in Laurel, Maryland. Or use a handy contraption like the BraBall ($25, braballs.com), a plastic sphere that holds up to three bras and can be tossed in the washer. Air-dry to prevent damage to underwires and straps; invest in a drying rack like the Compact Accordion dryer by Polder ($20, bedbathandbeyond.com).

Fine Bras and Lingerie

Hand washing is often the best way to care for ornate pieces and those made of delicate fabrics, like silk. Try Woolite fabric wash (from $4 for 16 ounces, walmart.com) or the Laundress Delicate Wash ($19 for 16 ounces, containerstore.com). Let the pieces soak for a few minutes in warm or cool water, then gently squeeze the suds through the fabric; rinse and roll in a towel to absorb excess moisture before hanging them to dry. Bras, nightgowns, and the like are not apt to be heavily soiled, so “hand washing gets them cleaner than you might think,” says Allsbrooks. Her advice: Clean lingerie while you’re in the shower. Get the article wet, lather a pea-size amount of mild shampoo or baby shampoo in your hands and wash, as suggested, then air-dry.

Baby Clothes

The skin of an infant is often too sensitive for the chemicals in many detergents and bleaches, so textile analyst Chris Allsbrooks advises introducing these products gradually. She followed this timeline with her son: For the first six months, she used Dreft, a very mild detergent formulated for babies (from $9.50 for 100 ounces). When he started eating solid foods, she moved on to Ultra Cheer Free & Gentle ($6 for 100 ounces), which is “a little stronger and better at getting out stains from pureed spinach,” she says. Once he was eating regular food, it was “straight on to the Tide.” Wash with warm water and tumble dry on low. “Using the lowest heat setting will minimize static electricity, lessening the need for dryer sheets,” says Sandra Phillips, a cleaning consultant and the author of A Clean Break (Live-Right Books, $10, amazon.com).


To ensure thorough cleaning, wash underwear in light loads. Use the gentle cycle with warm water and all-purpose detergent, unless the label specifies “mild.” Tumble dry items that contain spandex on low or air-dry them to prevent shrinking. Hand wash delicate items, as with fine bras and lingerie.


Rinse them well when you get home from the pool or the beach to remove chlorine or salt water, which can cause fading or changes in color; chlorine can also damage elasticity. Launder by hand or in the machine, as with everyday bras and lingerie. Air-dry.


In most cases, wash as for underwear. If the item has underwires, use a mesh bag. Since shapewear typically contains spandex, air-dry or tumble dry on low.