How to Wash and Care for Lingerie and Shapewear

Striped panties next to brown bra with soap suds and cleaning supplies

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 15 - 30 mins
  • Total Time: 1 hr - 1 day
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $5-10

Lingerie—bras, panties, legwear, and shapewear—is usually worn beneath outer garments to protect the skin from more abrasive fabrics and to help protect outer garments from body oils and fluids. Today's garments also help support and sculpt the body. Lingerie can be made from functional or luxurious fabrics, but all types should be treated as delicates for washing and drying—washed by hand or on a gentle washer cycle, then air-dried.

Most lingerie contains synthetic fibers that stretch and lose elasticity over time. However, if cleaned properly, you can keep lingerie looking fresh and fitting properly for longer.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Washer, sink, or plastic tub
  • Drying rack
  • Mesh delicates bag


  • Gentle detergent


Materials and tools to wash lingerie and shapewear

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

Instructions: How to Wash Panties

Detergent  Gentle detergent
Water Temperature Cool to warm
Cycle Type  Delicate
Drying Cycle Type Air-dry only
Special Treatments Hand-wash or use mesh delicates bag in washer
Iron Settings Do not iron
  1. Sort by Type of Fabric

    Panties should be sorted by type of fabric and level of delicacy. Separate silk or nylon thongs from cotton briefs.

    Striped, patterned and laced panties separated by fabric types

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  2. Decide on Hand Washing or Machine Washing

    Thongs and panties made from sheer fabrics or trimmed with embellishments should be hand-washed. Cotton, nylon, silk, and lace briefs like the ones from Bloomers can be machine-washed by placing them in a mesh delicates bag to prevent tangling and stretching.

    Striped and patterned panties folded and placed in mesh delicates bag

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  3. Pretreat Stains

    Before washing by hand or in a machine, any stains from bloodlotions, self-tanners, or medicine should be pretreated. Use gentle detergent and scrub it in with soft-bristle brush or by rubbing the fabric together at the stain location. Give the stain 15 minutes or so to work on the stain before continuing with washing.

    Striped panties with stain scrubbed and pretreated with small brush

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  4. Use the Correct Water Temperature, Cycle, and Detergent

    Select the cold to warm water temperature and delicate cycle on the washer. Add a gentle, mild detergent suitable for synthetic fabrics. Place the panties in a mesh delicates bag and add it to the washer.

    Use the same water temperature and detergent if hand-washing the panties.

    Washing machine adjusted to delicate cycle

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  5. Skip the Dryer

    Air-drying on a drying rack is the best method for panties to keep the elastic flexible and prevent shrinkage or damage to the fabrics. If you must use an automatic dryer, chose the lowest heat setting and do not overdry the fabrics.

    Striped and patterned panties placed on rack to air dry

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

Instructions: How to Wash Bras

Detergent  Mild
Water Temperature Cold or lukewarm
Cycle Type  Hand-wash or use delicates washer cycle
Drying Cycle Type Air dry only
Special Treatments Hand-wash any embellished or delicate fabrics; use mesh delicates bag to wash non-wire cotton or synthetic bras in washer set to delicates cycle
Iron Settings Do not iron
  1. Sort Bras by Type

    Not every bra is equal. Some should always be hand-washed while others can easily be added to a mesh delicates bag and tossed in the washer.

    • Sheer lacy bras, embellished bras, gel-padded bras, and all underwire bras should be hand-washed only.
    • Sports bras, and wireless cotton or synthetic fabric bras should be machine washed in a mesh delicates bag.
    Tan, brown and white bras separated by fabric types before washing

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  2. Hand-Wash Delicate and Underwire Bras

    Fill a sink or large plastic tub with tepid water and about 1/2 teaspoon of a gentle, mild detergent. Add one or two bras and allow them to soak for five to 10 minutes. Gently work the suds through the material. Do not wring!

    Empty the sink and refill with cool water. Rinse until no more suds are visible. Squeeze out the excess water gently. Reshape the bra cups, and hang the bra on a drying rack to air-dry. Never put a bra in a clothes dryer.


    To speed drying, roll the bra up in a thick, terry cloth or microfiber towel to absorb excess water before air-drying.

    Brown lacy bra placed in sink with soapy water while hand washing

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  3. Machine-Wash Other Bras

    Hook the bra together to avoid snagging. If the bra has any removal pads, remove them. Place the bras and pads in a mesh lingerie bag and zip or close it tightly before placing it in the washer. Wash with lightweight, synthetic fabrics. Do not wash bras with lint-producing fabrics like cotton, which can cause pilling. Select the gentle or delicate cycle and cold water setting. Add a mild detergent.

    After the cycle is complete, remove the bras from the bag, reshape the cups and hang them to air-dry. Allow any pads to dry separately and reinsert once the bra and pads are completely dry.

    White mesh bag filled with bras and placed in washing machine

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

Instructions: How to Wash Shapewear and Legwear

Detergent  Mild
Water Temperature Cold to lukewarm
Cycle Type  Hand wash or gentle washer cyle
Drying Cycle Type Air-dry only
Special Treatments Never use chlorine bleach
Iron Settings Do not iron

Shapewear uses elastic fibers to create resistance against bulges on your hips, legs, and torso. To prevent the fibers from overstretching and losing their effectiveness, wash shapewear by hand even if the label says it is machine washable. Follow the same guidelines for hand-washing bras (above).

If you decide to use the washer, use a mesh bag and follow the same guidelines for bras—cold water, gentle cycle, and mild detergent. Never add chlorine bleach. Chlorine bleach destroys spandex or any elastic fiber. Always air-dry shapewear.

All legwear—stockings, pantyhose, and tights—should be washed by hand and air-dried.

Treating Stains on Lingerie and Shapewear

If necessary, you can pretreat any stains with a few drops of a mild detergent. Apply the detergent and rub it into the stained area gently with your fingers. Allow the detergent to work for about 15 minutes before washing the garment.

Care and Repairs

Unless you are an excellent seamstress, most rips or repairs on lingerie fabric are difficult to repair without leaving more visible damage. Loose hook and eye closures on bras can often be restitched with a needle and thread.


Lingerie and shapewear should not be ironed. The high heat can cause fibers to burn or melt. If a garment is severely wrinkled, hang it in a steam-filled bathroom to help the fabric relax.

Storing Lingerie and Shapewear

To prevent problems with mildew, be sure that lingerie is completely dry before storing. Ideally, it should be stored in a lined drawer to prevent snags or in specially-designed fabric bags.

Hook the closures on bras to prevent unwanted snags. Bras should be laid flat in a drawer or container and the cups should not be crushed.

Panties and shapewear can be laid flat in a drawer or loosely rolled. Legwear should be loosely rolled and stored separately by type.

How Often to Wash Lingerie and Shapewear

Because they are worn in direct contact with the body and subjected to body fluids, panties should be washed after every wearing. Unless you are working out or perspiring profusely, bras can be worn three to four times between washings. However, they do need a 24-hour break after each wearing for the elastic to recover.

Perspiration wears down the elastic, so washing extends the life of the bra. Bras worn for workouts or in hot sticky weather should be washed after each wearing. Follow the same guidelines for most shapewear and compression garments.

Tips for Washing Lingerie and Shapewear

  • Choose hand-washing when possible.
  • Never wring or twist lingerie to remove water.
  • Always use a mesh lingerie bag if machine washing.
  • Always air-dry lingerie. If you must use a dryer, choose the cool setting.
  • To brighten dingy lingerie, soak in a solution of water and oxygen-based bleach for several hours
  • Should I wash bras clasped or unclasped?

    It is best to fasten the clasps before washing so that they do not cause abrasion to fabrics.

  • Can you wash lingerie with regular detergent?

    It's best to use a gentle detergent formulated for delicates when washing bras and other lingerie. Standard laundry detergent will hasten the breakdown of the delicate fabrics used in most lingerie items.

  • Can you wash lingerie with other clothes?

    Yes, but avoid adding cotton or other fabrics that pill. If washing by machine, it's best to place lingerie with other items suited for washing in cool water using gentle detergent and a delicate wash cycle.