Each manufacturer includes instructions for washing and drying a bra that will keep it in top condition for years of wear. The care methods vary from bra to bra because they are made from different fibers and constructed in various ways for different purposes. For example, some sports bras can be cleaned along with a load of clothes in a washing machine set on permanent press and tossed in a clothes dryer set on low heat. The only special care is choosing a detergent designed to combat odor in sports clothing. However, most bras—even sports bras—require a bit more extra care to extend the life of the bra.
How to Hand Wash and Air Dry a Bra
An underwire bra has fitted cups and a fabric-covered U-shaped wire made of metal or plastic that's sewn beneath each cup to create better support. Specialty underwire bras are designed for either exercise or daily wear, and they can be styled in any manner, from sleek and sporty to soft and sexy with lace embellishments. But all underwire bras require hand washing and air drying to extend the life of the bra.
To hand wash a bra, fill a sink or plastic wash basin with cool water. Add a detergent specifically formulated for delicate fabrics and soak the bra for five minutes. Thoroughly rinse off the detergent under running water or in a basin of clean water. If you are using a basin of rinse water for multiple bras, rinse twice to thoroughly remove the detergent. To air dry, either place the bra on a flat drying shelf or hang it from the center gore between the cups to prevent stretching the delicate straps.
How to Machine Wash and Air Dry a Bra
Some bra manufacturers prescribe using a washing machine on the delicate cycle along with air drying. Use a detergent for delicates, sometimes marked free and clear, or a detergent for athletic clothing when washing sports bras. Place each bra in a mesh lingerie bag and then add to the washing machine. The bag will prevent twisting, stretching, snagging, and tearing. Once the wash cycle is complete, remove the bra from the lingerie bag and air dry it. Do not use an automatic dryer because the heat will weaken the elasticity of stretch fabrics and even warp some underwires or make them brittle.
What Happens If I Break the Rules?
Whether by accident or on purpose, if you machine wash rather than hand wash a bra, it might be fine as long as the bra is in a lingerie bag and you select a slower spin cycle, such as permanent press or delicate. Avoid washing bras with heavy clothing items, such as jeans and sweatshirts, because those items are more likely to cause harmful twisting and stretching. Beware that some underwires might bend and then distort the shape of the bra, thereby spoiling the fit. Regular use of a washing machine instead of hand washing might reduce the longevity of some materials.
Placing a bra in the dryer is much more harmful than using a washing machine because the heat reduces the elasticity rather quickly and may shrink some materials. So unless the manufacturer suggests tumble drying, always hang a bra or lay it flat to air dry.