How to wash lingerie and delicates

I’ve been meaning to write some ‘how to’ posts for a while now as many readers have been requesting them and today is the first of what I hope will be a useful series of posts and perhaps even a reference point of sorts.

I’m going to start this series by talking about washing.  It’s really crucial to wash all clothing, whether lingerie, delicates or regular items, according to the instructions on the label.  These laundry symbols can be really tricky to decipher but I’ve found a great site called Super Savvy Me that has a post explaining what they all mean.  I had no idea about some of them so I will be examining my garment labels much more closely from now on to ensure I wash everything as per the instructions to prolong the life of my clothing and lingerie.  I also found this post very useful as it explains how to keep different fabrics in great condition, and this post on how to solve some common laundry issues.
Before I really learned about lingerie, I just used to throw my bras in the washing machine with everything else.  That’s because my mum always washed hers in the same way – it was quick, simple and effective.  Yes, I used to feel cross when my lovely powder pink Freya Millie bras used to come out greyed and aged but it never occurred to me that I might be doing something wrong in terms of washing my lingerie.

Since finding out about properly fitted bras and reading up (a lot!) on lingerie in general, I have gained a lot of knowledge about how to care for my lingerie and delicate clothing.  I wanted to share some of this on the blog in case it might be useful for others to read.

The greatest piece of advice I can offer you is: DO NOT MACHINE WASH YOUR LINGERIE. Well, you can of course wash your lingerie however you wish but if you want it to last longer, retain its shape and support better and to generally keep it in decent condition you should keep it as far away from a washing machine as possible.  The vigorous motion of a machine can ruin a bra’s wires and the detergent can damage the elastic, as well as causing misshapen cups and stretched bands.  Even if you use the ‘delicates’ or ‘hand-wash’ cycle it is not a good idea if you are hoping to keep your lingerie in tip top condition.

So, how should you wash it?  Hand-washing is the answer.  I appreciate that the prospect may fill you with dread as it sounds laborious and time-consuming but it’s just about getting yourself into a good routine and keeping up to date with your lingerie laundry basket.

A really important factor is deciding what detergent to wash your lingerie with.  The main thing to remember is NOT to use regular laundry detergent as it is too powerful for delicate lingerie pieces and it will cause damage very quickly.  Instead, you could use a hand-wash/delicate/wool detergent from a supermarket, a specialist hand-washing product or even something as simple as baby shampoo.  The latter is my favourite as it is super cheap (especially if you buy the supermarket’s own version, rather than a brand) and washes out really easily as it is so mild.  

Image courtesy of Tesco

I do the majority of my grocery shopping in Tesco so often end up buying their own brand handwashing detergent.  It’s lovely and gentle and smells great!  It’s very economical as you don’t need to use much at a time so a small bottle like this will last for several weeks.

Soak is a specialist hand-washing detergent that’s super mild and ideal for items such as lingerie and wool pieces.  There are a variety of options available and what’s great is that you don’t have to rinse it out when washing regular hand-wash clothes, although rinsing is recommended for any underwear garments.  I was lucky enough to win this selection in a competition run by The Full Figured Chest a while ago and I was really pleased with the results Soak gave.

Image courtesy of Tesco

Tesco’s own baby shampoo smells really lovely and not necessarily typically ‘baby-like’.  It’s so easy to use for cleaning lingerie and I often buy it as a cleansing shampoo for my hair before using my regular more expensive shampoo and conditioner.

So, once you’ve decided upon which soap you are going to use, the next step is to choose how to wash your lingerie.  There are a number of hand-washing methods you can use and I’ve detailed a couple of them below.  I tend to use the first one when I have several items to wash at once and the second when I only have one or two.

The traditional method.  
Fill either the sink, basin or bath with tepid water.  Don’t use hot water as it can cause damage.  Add your chosen detergent to the water and ensure it is all mixed in.

Next, place your items in the water.  Gently agitate them to help loosen any dirt, and, if necessary, very carefully and lightly rub away any stains.  Concentrate on working the mild suds through the wires of your bra, the underarm area and the band as this is where sweat bacteria can accumulate. I also like to work the water through the other areas of the bra, including the cups and straps, to ensure it has been thoroughly washed.

Now leave the items to soak in the water for at least 10 minutes.

After a time, I gently swirl the items around in the water before emptying the sink/basin/bath and pressing the excess liquid out of the garments.  Gently rinse the soap out under a running cold tap until the water runs clear.  I do this one item at a time so it can be a bit time-consuming but it’s worth being thorough to ensure all the soapy residue has been washed out.  Press out the water until the items are no longer dripping and then either lie them flat on a towel to dry or hang each bra from the straps on a separate coat hanger (I then hang the hangers on a curtain rail).  They usually take around a day to thoroughly dry, but it depends on the warmth and humidity of the room in which they are placed.

The speedy method.
This is the technique I use when I’m in a hurry and only want to wash one or two items at a time.  It’s simple – I wash my bra in the shower (not whilst wearing it, of course!).

Take the bra in the shower and rinse it through under the running water, keeping the temperature as cool as possible.  Take a generous handful of baby shampoo and apply it to one of the cups of the bra, spreading the soap to the underarm area, wires, band and straps.  Baby shampoo froths up really easily so it’s simple to spread the bubbles to all sections of the bra.  Repeat the process on the other cup and gently rub the bra between the palms of your hands to get it clean.

Once completed, run the bra under the shower to rinse out all the soap.  This shouldn’t take too long as the water pressure from the shower will get the suds out very efficiently.

When the water runs clear, I carefully squeeze out the excess liquid and pop the bra onto the bath mat while I finish off my shower.  When I get out, I hang the bra on a coat hanger and leave it in my spare room to dry.  Again, it usually takes around a day to dry completely.  This shower washing process only takes around 5 minutes so it’s a great option if time is of the essence.

In winter months I use a dehumidifier to help my laundry dry more quickly as I don’t have a tumble dryer and of course it would not be appropriate to dry lingerie in one in any case.  A dehumidifier sucks the moisture out of the air in a room, so it’s ideal for drying clothes and lingerie without damaging it.  They can be fairly expensive to buy, depending on which model you choose (mine was a lower-end model at around £100), but they are a great investment and of course can come in handy if you ever get damp in your house.

I wash my bras after every wear to ensure they stay fresh and clean.  This means keeping up to date with my lingerie washing which can sometimes prove tricky but it’s worth the effort to keep these items in great condition, meaning that they will last much longer.

There are heaps of great resources available on the internet about hand-washing lingerie, including:

I hope this post has given you some tips on how best to wash lingerie.  What’s your washing method of choice?  Do you carefully hand-wash or are you guilty of using a washing machine as I used to?  Do you think it really makes a difference?



  1. Anonymous
    19 July 2013 / 02:39

    I hook my bras, and throw them in the wash with the other laundry. I have a front loading washer that doesn't agitate, the clothes all just get swirled around like in a hand wash. I wash all my clothes on a permanent press cycle (no hot water) with plant based detergent, then lay the bras flat on top of the dryer when I transfer the clothes. I have not noticed any ill effects on my bras washing them this way, compared to the damage some of them suffered in traditional washers and before I knew better than to put them in the dryer!

  2. Lily Elizabeth
    19 July 2013 / 09:53

    I wash my bras in pretty much the same way as you. Handwashing all the way! x

  3. Kupista asiaa
    19 July 2013 / 10:37

    I use washing machine, but I load it with lingerie only. All in washing bags and use a hand wash program (that doesn't rotate much and mainly just lets the laundry soak in the water and doesn't spin dry) and then hang them to dry. And I use a liquid detergent for silk&delicates. I wouldn't put my lingerie with other clothes in a normal wash cycle.

  4. Rebecca
    19 July 2013 / 11:43

    Such a useful post. I must admit to being guilty of washing my bras in the machine with other clothes and regular detergent but after reading this post I won't ever do that again! The links to Super Savvy Me are great too. I had never heard of them before so thanks for introducing me to them xx

  5. Kitty
    19 July 2013 / 12:43

    Looking at my sorry collection of bras that need repairing and care, I regret not learning how to wash them properly sooner. Considering that I can't afford to replace any right now, this post has come at a great time for me to get started!

  6. Claire Watson
    19 July 2013 / 13:52

    Haha just this morning I was looking at my laundry labels and wondering what on earth all the symbols mean! The link you gave is great and your post is so helpful 🙂

  7. AE
    19 July 2013 / 14:35

    I hand-wash, but because I wash after every wear I don't even bother with working the soap through particular parts of the bra (except with sports bras), I just toss them in and let them soak. I also then dump out the water and let them soak in fresh water a bit, so that they only require minimal rinsing afterwards. Bras without lining or padding typically don't even need to be rinsed under running water if they have a chance to sit in clean water.Then I stick them one at a time in my salad spinner and give them a whirl (or three, in the case of bras with padding). I've found this really cuts drying time, from one day to a couple of hours. After that I lie them flat on a drying rack.I wash about once a week and I think it takes me only about 10 minutes of actual time, spread out over about half an hour. Most of the time is in rinsing, spinning, and setting them out to dry, none of which take very long.Oh, and lest you think that I'm someone who always follows the labels I am known for tossing many 'handwash only' things in the washing machine in a bag, and 'dry-clean only' means handwash to me! It's all about how much I care about the item, and how much it would cost me to replace it. Bras are expensive and I really notice the difference if I don't handwash them, so they get some of my limited personal attention.

    • Ali
      21 July 2013 / 09:00

      Thank you for the salad spinner tip! Can't wait to try it 🙂

    • Anonymous
      29 July 2013 / 06:05

      pues yo los lavo después de tenerlos 1 hora en remojolo mismo hago con mis braguitas ,después de aclararlos los paso por suavizante y quito el esceso de agua enrollándolos en una toalla

  8. Nancy Simpson
    19 July 2013 / 15:44

    I always knew that I shouldn't wash my bras in the machine but never understood why until now :o) What about handwash dresses and so on, would you use a similar method to those you describe here?

  9. Anonymous
    19 July 2013 / 18:33

    to dry your bras faster when hand washing put them in a salad spinner and spin them around a bunch of times. I find this works best with soft cup bras as opposed to moulded cup ones.

  10. Estelle
    19 July 2013 / 19:01

    I use Tesco's hand wash too :)Another tip – separate your colours like you would with clothes. I see you've got a cream bra next to a green one, but if you're unlucky like I was you'll end up with an expensive pink bra covered in splotches from a blue one you washed it with. Not the best experience!

  11. Emma Louise
    19 July 2013 / 23:41

    I love your blog & I love the idea of running a How To series. You know so much about so many things that it makes sense to share your knowhow with us. What will you write about next?

  12. Anonymous
    20 July 2013 / 01:52

    Another vote here for Tescos handwash detergent =0)The weather at the moment has been perfect for handwashing and drying clothes outside on the washing line. Thats not so easy in rainy/cold weather so your tip about a dehumidifier was very helpful. Last year I had to buy one to treat a damp problem in my flat. Looking back, my laundry (drying indoor's) definately dried quicker when the dehumidifer was on so I will get it out of storage when the weather gets worse and give it a whirl.

  13. Ella White
    20 July 2013 / 12:32

    OMG I had no idea you couldnt wash bra's in the washing machine!!!!!! I didnt even know what the symbols on the label meant :o( From now on I will be a good girl and wash them all by hand as per the label's. Your blog is the best – it teache's me so much xxxxxxxx

  14. Callie the collie
    21 July 2013 / 03:37

    I use very protective bra wash 'cages': large 1/2 moon shaped mesh bags with a full circle of plastic underwire around the bottom & a U-shaped underwire around the side. Basically the shape of a bra cup. They hold one or 2 bras, folded in 1/2. I then use the hand wash, double rinse cycle on my front loader, with a low spin. Then it's either hang to dry on my covered porch, or a rack in the laundry room.I find this to be even gentler than a hand wash as the bras do not rub against each other, so no danger of lace catching or satin snagging. When traveling I use a tiny bit of gentle shampoo & conditioner & use Caroline's method. I then roll in a towel loosely & let sit a few minutes to absorb excess water, then hang to dry.

  15. Tarja in Finland
    21 July 2013 / 13:02

    Wow –thanks for the baby shampoo hint!!! I'm heading straight to the supermarket now to get some. I've used regular detergent, but I hate the strong smell it leaves on my bras, and somehow it never really rinses out completely… This post was again so very useful! Thanks!!

  16. Zowye
    21 July 2013 / 14:46

    I use regular body wash to wash mine when I am not to lazy. If I am lazy I just put all of them in the delicate cycle with the back of the bras hooked.

  17. Anonymous
    21 July 2013 / 17:52

    I always handwash bras but have problems keeping white bras white, any hints to avoid yellowing?

  18. Isabel
    22 July 2013 / 11:25

    HANDWASH only ladies even in a wash bag /on the handwash cycle/ hooking them up NO the drum goes round the wire may get caught up in a hole in the drum so one end stays there and the rest is being twisted around then you have a bent wire that your then going to try and fit onto the body. same it being tumble around plus the sediment from previous washes ie; jeans trousers tends to stay in hoses the lycra/elastine works like a magnent and the white/cream bras end up being grubby looking. plus it does shorten the life of your bra . what to use as a detergent i use Fairy liquid a study done years ago proved it to be the best as its not as harsh as the usual powders. 33 handwashes to 1 machine wash Girls. i,ve been a Specialist Lingerie and Corsetry Fitter for over 15 years and work in a long estabilished Lingerie Shop .

  19. Anonymous
    23 July 2013 / 20:59

    Thank you for your useful tips CurvyWordy! My favourite lingerie blog x

  20. Evelyn Russell
    27 July 2013 / 14:32

    I love this post – so appropriate for a lingerie blog! I have always hand washed my bras but had no idea about the shower/baby shampoo method. I will be using it from now on to save time.

  21. Anonymous
    7 October 2013 / 11:58

    Loved the tips – on keeping bras white a friend if mine swears by washing them in really cold water helps i was suprised how white her bra was that she'd had for 5 months!

  22. Rosalba Poore
    29 November 2015 / 15:38

    Thank you for sharing, very useful tips. Can't believe I never thought about this.

  23. Anonymous
    10 July 2016 / 13:30

    Haha, looking up how to wash my knotted cotton Fred Perry and found this link. Still think you're amazing 🙂

  24. Melissa
    11 July 2016 / 13:45

    Thanks for the tips and what kind of soak to use, really made my life easier !

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