Your undergarments are often the unsung heroes of your wardrobe. While your jeans and dresses turn heads, things like bras and underwear stay hidden while making you look (and feel) incredible. How you wash these behind-the-scenes superstars can create a big difference in how long they last. “If you really take care of delicate, special items, you can have them for years,” says Jenny Altman, Wolford’s brand expert. Read on for exactly how to clean your pretty little things.
The Smartest, Most Time-Saving Way to Wash
What you’re about to learn is that, when it comes to undergarments that aren’t made of durable cotton, hand washing trumps all. That doesn’t mean you can’t be as safe as possible if you’re turning to the washing machine, though!
It’s best if you’ve got a front-loader washing machine rather than one that opens from the top because that spinning drum in most top-loaders can give your clothes a beating, says Amelia Allen, a designer at Cosabella.
Get a laundry bag that’s specifically for delicates, which will protect your undergarments from getting roughed up by other clothes (and will especially keep your bras from snagging other items). “Hook the bras in the back before you put them in the bag so they don’t all tangle together,” says Allen. To make it even quicker, you can put various undergarments in the same laundry bag as long as everything is a similar color.
Be sure to choose a delicate cycle with cool water and use a gentle detergent. Some detergents are even formulated for hand wash or gentle cycles, says Allen, so keep an eye out for that on the labels.
When your undergarments are clean, you can pop them in the dryer for a quick spin if you absolutely have to wear them ASAP, but know this: The dryer is your worst enemy when it comes to keeping any kind of undergarment fitting well in the long term. “Not only does the heat shrink things, it literally breaks down the fabrics and bends wires out of shape,” says Altman. That means doom for your bras’ underwire and saggy elastic for your underwear, tights, and shapewear.
What’s better—and almost as quick—is putting your items on a drying rack. Close the bras’ hooks, and drape them instead of leaving the sides hanging down. Hang your underwear and shapewear any which way you please!
As for your tights, take an extra second to make sure you’re not accidentally stretching them out. “You don’t want them to end up six feet long,” says Altman. “When you put them on the drying rack, don’t just let the legs and feet hang down. Bring them up, and loop them around.” If you separate the legs when you loop them up, they’ll dry faster.
Okay, okay. Now that all that’s been said, if you’re feeling extra motivated, here’s…
The Absolute Best Way to Wash
Your underwear: If you’ve got a few really nice things and want to upgrade your lazy-girl cleaning game, hand washing underwear that has some silk and/or lace elements is queen. “Silk is such a fine fabric, so you should hand wash all of those,” says Allen. “And lace garments are so delicate, you don’t want them to pull or rip.” Plus, you want the elastic that makes it all hug your curves so nicely to keep its shape. If you’re dealing with jersey, many items offer laundry directions that say you can put them in the washer. If you’ve got time, hand wash them instead. “I generally never wash jersey because it can twist the yarn,” says Allen.
First, be sure to separate undergarments by color, just like you would for a normal load. “Like colors go together because dark will always run,” says Altman. “If you do your light colors before your dark, you can probably use one sink full of water for an entire load.” If you’ve only got a few things to wash, there’s an even easier alternative: Take them into the shower with you!
When you hand wash underwear and other delicates, go for room-temperature or cool water, and stick with the recommended amount of detergent. “If you use too much, that can leave a slick residue on top of the garment,” says Allen. As for the actual washing process, make sure to treat each item gently. “If you want the elastic recovery to stay, don’t twist or scrunch too much,” says Allen. “You can put them in the water, swirl them around a bit between both of your hands, and leave them there to soak for a few minutes.” The point is to get them clean without too much effort.
You can lay your underwear on a drying rack, but if you want to go the extra mile, use a few towels to your benefit. “You can put them on a towel to let the excess water drain away instead of wringing it out, then pat them on top with another towel so they dry flat and don’t lose their shape,” says Allen.
Your bras: Again, hand washing is key unless you’re dealing with a bra made of a sturdy cotton with no wires, like a bralette. Those can go in the wash on a normal cycle. Otherwise, to the sink you go. “The structure is quite integral to fragile garments,” says Allen. “When it comes to bras, you don’t want your wires to become misshapen after going through a machine.”
Although in general you’ll want to be very gentle when hand washing, you can use a bit more strength with your bras. “Give areas that have a lot of sweat build-up, like the bust-line and the straps, a good rub,” says Altman.
As for drying bras, you can either put them on a drying rack or in your closet. “Not only can you see them more clearly, but it lets the bras air out and get their shape and support back between wears,” says Altman.
In general, bras that you wear a lot won’t be in stellar shape for much longer than six months, no matter how gentle you are while cleaning them. “A bra is a support garment,” says Altman. “They do a lot of work!”
Your tights: Tights are especially in danger of stretching and losing their shape when they’re not treated well. Hand wash them as you do your other delicates, focusing on the crotch and feet, then use that looping technique when you put them on the drying rack.
Your shapewear: Same goes here. Hand wash to preserve the fabrics and fibers that help you look so good in a clingy outfit, then put the item somewhere flat to dry or carefully hang it on a drying rack.
“Undergarments are often expensive investment pieces,” says Altman. Treat them well!
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