Stories from Bras and Undies

Okay, how long can you *actually* go without washing your bra?

Mary Grace Garis

Mary Grace GarisMay 18, 2020

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Photo: Getty Images / Justin Case

If you haven’t quit them altogether, chances are you’ve been wearing the same bra every day. Admit it—it’s fine. It doesn’t matter if you’re so gross you’re fully eating Oreo crumbs out of your cleavage, you’ve invested in one comfortable beige bralette, and that will happily take you into this new world order. But sometimes you’ll find a cream-covered cookie half in there and wonder: how long can I actually go without washing your bra?

Well, the quick answer is “more than you probably do.” Quarantimes or not, not washing your bra is one of those open secrets of being feminine, right up there with period sheets. My colleague was guessing she washed hers “once a month,” which was better than my bra-washing frequency of “‘LMAO wut.'” You think my New York apartment is lined wall-to-wall with laundry machines for everyday bra-washing? Child, please. So mind you, I’m not wondering “how often should you be washing your bra” but rather I’m asking: “How long can you go without washing your bra before you need to wear Biohazard stickers over your nipples like pasties?”

According to Phoebe Kunitomi, the founder of Okko, it’s not an exact science. She recognizes that yes, bacteria, oil and sweat can accumulate if you don’t wash frequently, but doing laundry every day can become massively inconvenient when trying to juggle work, family, and the like (“the like” for me is just “grotesque laziness”). Likewise, if you have delicate lingerie, you want to avoid over-washing it to preserve the quality (and these pieces should be handwashed).

“Our general rule of thumb: wash your bra for every three wears, assuming that you’re wearing the bra only for ‘normal’ activity—that is, sitting at your desk as opposed to exercising,” says Kunitomi. “Activity level is a key input to your bra-washing decision. You should wash bras every time after working out or doing other sweat-inducing activities.”

That’s fair—if you chose to exercise in your bra (for whatever reason), it feels pretty intuitive that it’s not the time to rewear. Even I have my boundaries when it comes to perspiration; if I spent all day sweating my tits off during my commute on the subway, then yeah, I won’t be recycling that push-up.

To that end, Katie Brown, owner of Rytina Fine Cleaners, echoes that during the colder months, washing your bras after about three days is acceptable and “saves on the wear and tear on bras and their built-in fasteners and support wires.” But if we actually emerge from our cocoon this summer and get sweaty, that’s when you can’t just live in one bra.

“During the summer months we all perspire and the padding contained in bras needs to be washed to prevent stains, with self-tanning products are the worst offenders and body odor buildup,” says Brown. “I recommend washing daily or every other day in a net lingerie bag on a delicate machine setting using warm water and a mild detergent, and hanging up to dry.”

That said, definitely check the label to see what settings your bra would best thrive in when you finally give them a cleaning so they can retain a long, healthy life. To sum it up: you should wash after one use if you’re sweating really hard. However, if you’re living a low-activity quarantine life, give yourself a good three wears before you need to switch.

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