How to Wash Underwear and Lingerie

lingerie drying on a hanger

The Spruce / Fiona Campbell

Bras, panties, legwear, and shapewear can be a costly investment and you want them to last as long as possible. Although most lingerie contains fibers that stretch and can lose elasticity over time, the right laundry care can keep them looking fresh and fitting properly longer. How you wash your bra can keep you looking young or even age your look.

The main supplies you need for lingerie care include gentle laundry detergent and a mesh lingerie bag.

How to Wash Bras

bra drying on a hanger
The Spruce / Fiona Campbell

There are two schools of bra care—the hand-wash only school and the toss-in-the-washer crowd. There is room for both. If you have a very delicate bra, it is best to hand-wash. However, sturdier bras can safely go through the washing machine.

A delicate bra is usually sheer, lacy, or has lots of ornamentation and is best washed by hand with a gentle detergent. Fill the sink with tepid water and a bit of detergent. Soak the bra for a few minutes, and then gently work the suds through the material. Rinse with cool water. A good way to get excess water out is to roll the bra up in a towel before air-drying. Reshape the bra cups, and allow to air dry. Never put a bra in a clothes dryer.

Bras that contain underwire shaping are best washed by hand. The wires can break if twisted too much. If a wire breaks but is still encased by fabric, harsh detergents can cause the metal to rust.

It is also important to hand-wash bras that have any type of gel padding. Harsh wringing can cause the gel inserts to leak and ruin the shape and fabric of the bra.

For sturdier, everyday bras, hook the bra together to avoid snagging it on other clothing or use a mesh lingerie bag. Simply place the bras in the bag and zip or close tightly before placing in the washer. If necessary, you can pretreat perspiration stains with mild soap and water and gentle rubbing, and then let soak for a few minutes. Wash on delicate cycle in cool water; hot water can break down fabrics and elastic. Use a gentle detergent. Again, never put your bras in the dryer. Heat breaks down the spandex and elastic. Air-dry on a drying rack away from direct heat and out of direct sunlight.

When washing a sports bra, remove the pads and wash and dry separately. This will help ensure that the fabric gets well-cleaned and holds its shape.

How to Wash Shapewear

shapewear being placed in a mesh bag
The Spruce / Fiona Campbell 

Shapewear works by using humanmade elastic fibers to create resistance against bulges on your hips, legs, and torso. To keep these fibers from overstretching and losing their effectiveness, your best bet is to wash shapewear by hand even if the label says it is machine washable. If you are using the machine, put the garments in a mesh bag to prevent snags from other others and use cold or warm water. Never use chlorine bleach in the wash. Chlorine bleach destroys spandex or any elastic fiber. Air-dry away from direct heat.

How to Wash Panties

panties in a mesh bag
The Spruce / Fiona Campbell

Follow the same rules for hand-washing and machine-washing panties as you do for bras. If the panties are very sheer or ornate, hand-wash. Nylon or silk panties should be machine washed in a mesh bag to prevent stretching and tangling. Use warm water and a cold rinse with a delicate detergent. If you prefer, cotton panties can be washed in hot water but the life of any elastic waistbands and leg bands will be shortened. Always air-dry all types of panties.

Any stains from blood, lotions, or medicine should be treated before washing.

How to Wash Legwear

hosiery hanging on a chair to dry
The Spruce / Fiona Campbell 

All legwear—stockings, pantyhose, and tights—should be washed by hand. Fill a sink with cool or tepid water; add a gentle detergent, and gently squeeze the stockings or tights. Let them soak for at least 30 minutes. Rinse in cold water. Wrap in a towel to absorb excess moisture. Hang to dry.

Tips for Washing All Lingerie

lingerie hanging to dry
The Spruce / Fiona Campbell

Every type of lingerie will last longer by following these tips:

  • Hand-wash in cold or warm water.
  • Never wring or twist lingerie to remove water. Use a towel to blot dry.
  • Always use a detergent made for delicate garments.
  • Use a mesh lingerie bag if machine washing.
  • If machine washing, wash the delicates with other delicates. Avoid heavy fabrics that can tangle and damage delicate fibers.
  • Never overload the washer or the mesh bag. Give items plenty of room to move.
  • Avoid washing lingerie with lint-producing fabrics such as terry cloth or fleece.
  • Separate light and dark colored garments when washing by hand or machine.
  • Always air-dry lingerie. If you must use a dryer, choose the cool setting.