How to wash bras without ruining them - a step-by-step guide

Want to learn how to wash bras without damaging the delicate fabrics? Our expert-approved advice is here to help

Hand-shot image demonstrating how to wash a bra by hand
(Image credit: Rachael Martin / Future)

Finding the perfect bra is no mean feat, so once you do find your go-to fit, knowing how to wash bras is an essential skill -  because it turns out many of us have been doing it wrong.

If you want to hold onto that brand-new bra feeling, caring for it properly is key, including how you wash it. Otherwise, the elasticity will distort, the color will fade and the underwire can start to bend and push through the casing. In short, it won't provide comfort or support - which is the primary purpose of the best bras.

Similar to learning how to measure your bra size, washing your bras properly is an easy life skill that pays dividends in the long term. We turned to the experts to ask how you should properly wash your bras, and answer the time-old question of whether or not they can really go in the washing machine. 

How to hand wash bras 

Firstly, hand washing your bra is the recommended approach. In most cases, it actually takes less time and preparation than machine washing and it guarantees they'll keep their shape. This is particularly important for the best strapless bras and models with wire, but this advice still stands for your best non-wired bras or best sports bras.

"We recommend that you hand wash your lingerie,” Bravissimo technical manager Paula Skarratt explains. “It’s easy, we promise!”

All you need is your bra, detergent, and 5-10 minutes to spare. Any mild liquid detergent will do, providing your pieces don't contain silk or wool fibers. If they do, buy a specialist product for these materials. 

1. Soak your bra in cool water

A bra inside a basin of cold water used to demonstrate how to wash a bra

(Image credit: Rachael Martin / Future)

“Start by soaking your bra in cool water and detergent for up to 10 minutes,” advises Paula. You could do this in a big washing-up bowl or even in your bath.

"Some women like to take their bras in the shower with them to hand wash (a good water-saving tip too!" she adds. Simply bring a little detergent in with you and complete the below process, then shower as you would regularly. 

2. Gently wash it by hand with a cloth

W&H staff member washing bra by the sink, the second step of how to wash a bra

(Image credit: Rachael Martin / Future)

"Next, gently rub your bra all over with a soft cloth, paying special attention to the under band and around the wires, before rinsing in clean, cool water." A clean microfiber cloth or cheesecloth will work, but you can also use your hands if needs be. Just massage the materials gently. 

Proper rinsing is really important, as the band and straps of your bra sit directly, and firmly, on your skin. Any leftover detergent is likely to cause redness or itching, especially if you have sensitive or easily irked skin. Rinse until the water runs clear and foam-free, then go again for another 30 seconds to be on the safe side.

Still daunted by the prospect of hand washing your bras? To save time and effort, wait until you have a few bras in need of a wash and do them all at once. If your bra sizing changes at different points of your cycle, you may find this a little more difficult, however.

3. Air dry

"When it comes to drying your lingerie, we recommend avoiding any source of direct heat, like the tumble drier or radiator, as this can damage the shape and elasticity of your bra, so once you’ve washed your bra, leave it to air dry so you can enjoy wearing it for longer," says Paula.

“If you have padding in your bra, make sure to smooth out any creases there, too. This will stop the padding from drying with any funny lumps or bumps and ruining the lovely smooth lines."

But where should we dry them?

“You can dry your bras on any drying rack or a towel rail if it isn't heated – or even over the edge of the bathtub,” adds Paula. There is no specialist equipment needed here - a normal clothes horse or washing line will do the trick.

A bra hanging on the clothing line - the final step of how to wash bras by hand

(Image credit: Rachael Martin / Future)

How to wash bras in the washing machine

Underwiring and washing machines tend not to mix, as wires have a crafty habit of breaking free on a spin cycle. This is at best annoying, and at worse could cause serious problems with your machine. 

"Bras will last longer if you hand wash them but for most women, there is little time in their busy lives to do this," acknowledges global product design director at Triumph, Sian Thomas. Luckily, most machines have hand wash or delicate settings that you can utilize but you should take some extra precautions to preserve the shape of your bras.

Here are Sian and Paula's top tips for washing everyday bras. However, if you're washing your finest French lingerie brands, stick to the hand washing method.

1. Check the label

W&H staff member looking at the label of a bra before washing it in a washing machine

(Image credit: Rachael Martin / Future)

Before you put your underwear in the washing machine, always check the label. Some non-wired and everyday bras can go on a cool wash, but delicate fabrics should be hand washed. 

"Some non-wired lingerie can go in the machine on a cool wash,” says Paula. “But it’s always best to check the label first."

"For any special delicate pieces or luxury fabrics like silk, handwashing will keep them looking special for longer," adds Sian.

2. Prepare your bras for washing

For extra protection and to stop the clasps from catching on your other clothes, remember to close the clasps and consider investing in specialist laundry bags. These normally come in the form of small, mesh bags with zips. Just remember that these bags won’t protect them from damage caused by heat and spinning, so they still need to go in a delicate wash.

Here are some mesh laundry bags we like:

3. Wash on a low heat with detergent

"Wash your everyday lingerie in a washing machine on a low temperature, 30 - 40C," advises Sian. You might need to wash some pieces on a lower, cold setting if the label advises you to.

“Try to avoid using fabric softener if possible, too, as it can leave a coating on the bra and break down the elasticity of the fabrics. This is a particular problem with sports bras, where this coating can reduce its sweat-wicking properties, meaning it can no longer draw moisture away from the body," says Paula.

Sian agrees, advising, "don't use softener if your bra has any bonded (glued not sewn) edges or details. The softener can erode the glue over time."

4. Avoid tumble drying at all costs

If you are machine washing your bras, ensure you put them on a wash-only cycle and avoid tumble drying them at all costs. Once again, letting them dry naturally is important. Depending on the environment, this will take anything from one hour to a day.

How to store bras

Regardless of how you choose to wash your bras, you should store them with the cups folded into each other. This will not only save precious space in your lingerie drawer but help your bras maintain their shape, too.

"It’s worthwhile organizing your bra-drobe and lining your bras up in your drawer neatly with space between them as this will help the bras keep their shape in between wearing them and washing them," advises Paula. "This will also reduce any snagging on the hooks and will stop molded bras losing their shape or wires bending."

If you have a wide selection of bras for every occasion, consider organizing your closet at the same time and them together for ease. For example, your best sleep bras could go on one shelf and best bralettes on another. 

How often should you wash your bras?

A bit like your best jeans, bras don’t need to be washed every time you wear them. In fact, washing unnecessarily can waste money in the long run, as it will speed up the color fade and weaken the elastic.

"Although there are no hard and fast rules, a general guideline is that you should wash your everyday bras once a week," advises Sian. "For any bras you wear on occasions where you are heavily perspiring, you should wash after every wear - sports bras particularly."

Paula also agrees there are "no hard and fast rules," agreeing that you should wash them every one to two weeks. "Not over washing them and having a few bras on rotation too is the best way to ensure they last for as long as possible," she adds.

Not all bras and types of bras are created equal, so it’s important to check the care label before washing to avoid any shrinkage or color-run mishaps.

Jess Beech

Jess Beech is an experienced fashion and beauty editor, with more than eight years experience in the publishing industry. She has written for woman&home, GoodtoKnow, Now, Woman, Woman’s Weekly, Woman’s Own and Chat, and is a former Deputy Fashion & Beauty Editor at Future PLC. A beauty obsessive, Jess has tried everything from cryotherapy to chemical peels (minus the Samantha in Sex and The City-worthy redness) and interviewed experts including Jo Malone and Trinny Woodall.