How to Wash Lingerie and Shapewear

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

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 10 - 15 mins
  • Total Time: 1 - 2 hrs
  • 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.

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

How Often Should You 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.

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

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

How to Wash Panties

  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.

    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

How to Wash Bras

  1. Sort by Type of Bra

    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 bra  Hand-wash
     Embellished bra  Hand-wash
     Underwire bra  Hand-wash
     Gel-padded bra  Hand-wash
     Wireless cotton or synthetic fiber bra  Machine-wash
     Sports bra  Machine-wash
    Tan, brown and white bras separated by fabric types before washing

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  2. How to Hand-Wash a Bra

    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. How to Machine-Wash a Bra

    • 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 that 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 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

How to Wash Shapewear and Legwear

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.

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 like a bra and air-dried.


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

Be sure that lingerie is completely dry before storing to prevent problems with mildew. 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.


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.

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 five or 10 minutes before washing the garment.

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