You literally hold your bra close to your heart, but is it getting the care it needs to function at peak potential? How often should it be washed? And is too often as bad as too rarely?
Although bras don't necessarily fall in the "wash after every use" category, like undies and socks, they do require more maintenance than they might be currently getting.
The Magic Number
Turns out those Schoolhouse Rock people had it right all along – three really is the magic number. Note, however, this does not mean a bra should be washed every three days. Rather, every three wears is appropriate.
"We always recommend that when you find a bra that you absolutely love and [would] wear on a daily basis that you purchase three," explains Jessica Pfister, vice president of Le Mystere lingerie. "One to wash, one to wear and one to store and swap out."
Wouldn't it be easier to just wear one for three days straight, then switch to the next bra? Perhaps easier for you, but not for your bra. Much like muscles after a tough workout, it needs recovery time.
"If you wear your bra even more than one day consecutively what happens is the fibers in the elastics don't have a chance to rebound and go back to where they were," Pfister says. "In a matter of days, you'll find the back wing of your bra, which should be parallel, hiking because those elastics have already stretched significantly."
Make no mistake, bras don't just serve a cosmetic purpose. Keeping them in good working order is important to breast health, too. "Bra maintenance is important because you need a bra in good condition to help keep your breasts perky," says breast health author Christine Egan in an email interview. "The main ligament that helps keep the perky look to breasts is called the Cooper's ligament. As that ligament sags (from age and constant movement) the breasts become flattened. The continuous movement of the up and down and side to side can injure the breasts, and for bigger-breasted women it can also affect the shoulder and neck muscles." So, bras can prevent injury.
Egan subscribes to the "rule of three" for bra-washing also. But an informal survey on frequency among laywomen yielded responses ranging from "after every use" to "every two to three months," like Amanda (last name withheld) of Brookhaven, Georgia. "I'm super picky about what I wear (getting one that holds in backfat and lifts the girls to a reasonable level really expensive) and they lose a little of their magic every time I wash them," she says by email.
"I rotate between three to four of them within a week's time, usually. Some will get two wearings, some get three to four depending on what I'm wearing over them, adds Ellen (last name withheld) of Thompson's Station, Tennessee, in an email interview. "I wash all of them once every seven to 10 days regardless of how many few. Exercise/jog bras get washed more frequently depending on activity level."
Ideally, bras should be hand washed in warm water in your sink or bath, using a delicate wash. Gently rub until it's clean, make sure it's thoroughly rinsed and hang or lay flat to dry.
If you're crunched for time, Pfister says machine-washing on the gentle/delicate cycle is acceptable, again using a gentle detergent. "What's really critical if you're going to put it in a washer is to make sure to secure the hook and eye because a lot of time that hook and eye can snag the lace or fabric," she says.
Fortunately, the newer washing machines, which don't have agitators, are much gentler on bras. But even so, you should put your bra in a lingerie bag before putting it in the machine. "Lingerie bags prevent warping of underwire bras, fraying and excessive stress on the elastic waist," says Denise Beauregard, with Urban Intima, Inc. in an email interview.
But, however you wash, never put your bra in the dryer, say the experts. "Heat can cause shrinkage that will negatively impact fit and comfort of wear," says Beauregard. A well-made bra, she says, should last up to five years if it is hand-washed and air-dried.