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Your Bra Needs a Washing. Here's How.

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To begin, a personal anecdote. I recently went for a bra fitting at a high-end lingerie store, one I'd previously visited four years ago. I brought the original bras I'd purchased with me so that I could speak with my fitter about what style elements worked and did not work for me, and to compare them with the new styles I'd be trying on.

The lifespan of a bra is generally not more than three years, even with the best care. The elastic will wear out over time and when that happens, the bra can no longer function in the way it's meant to — it's time to pitch that bra. So imagine my surprize when the sales lady, whose job it is to get me out of my old bras and into pricey new ones, exclaimed over the state of my bras and said, in no uncertain terms, that I could still get at least another year out of them, as they were in such good shape.

The reason that my bras are still in good working order is that I take extraordinarily good care of them.

Well! I was thrilled. I also still bought a few new bras to replace other, lesser models purchased at lower-end stores.

I tell you that to tell you this: The reason that my bras are still in good working order well past the point they should have been retired is that I take extraordinarily good care of them. I always hand wash them, they've never seen the interior of a dryer, I'm careful to rotate them between wearings. And it's worth it, because I spend a lot of money on my bras and I bet you do too. So today, I'm going to share all my secrets to a well-maintained boulder holder.

The Best Way to Wash a Bra

The best way to wash a bra is by hand. That's just the way of the world! And while hand-washing may sound like a tedious chore, it's actually fairly simple and not terribly time-consuming.

We've covered hand-washing instructions in great detail already in this space, but to those I will add a few finer points that are specific to getting bras clean. The first is to use cold or cool water for washing bras, as prolonged exposure to hot water can break down elastic over time.

I live here in the real world with the rest of you and know that not everyone has the time, energy or desire for the best.

Second, be sparing in your use of detergent; a very small amount, a teaspoon to a tablespoon worth of detergent, is all you'll need to get bras clean without leaving behind soapy residue after rinsing. Do you need some detergent recommendations? Well sure, I've got those!

Last, be very gentle when squeezing excess water out post-rinsing — you should never wring a bra, as the twisting motion will cause too much strain on the delicate fabric.

The "I Live In the Real World" Way to Wash a Bra

Let's level with one another: I know that most of you will not be so moved by my tale of personal triumph over upselling bra peddlers that you'll immediately adopt a hand-washing-only policy when it comes to your bra care. That's fine. As I'm fond of saying, I live here in the real world with the rest of you and know that not everyone has the time, energy or desire for the best. Sometimes good enough is, well, good enough.

Given that fact of life, if you are going to machine wash your bras, here's what I want you to know to make that as gentle an experience for your delicates as possible.

● Use the gentle or delicate cycle on the washing machine, which is as close to hand washing as the machine is going to come;

● Select cold water, as warm or hot water can cause the elastic to break down over time;

● Use a mild detergent designed for use on delicates;

● Put bras in a zip-top mesh laundry bag to protect the straps and hooks from becoming mangled;

● Avoid washing bras with heavy items like towels, sweatshirts or jeans, all of which can abrade the delicate fabric and cause metal or plastic underwire to become bent and misshapen.

And Then It Has To Dry

Here's where I'm going to take a hard line: You must air dry your bras. That is to say, bras must never, ever go into the dryer, even on a low- or no-heat cycle. Don't do it! The heat of a dryer, even with the use of a low-heat setting, will be too much for the elastic to bear. No-heat settings won't solve the problem either — the tumbling is no good for embellishments or notoriously-temperamental underwires that love to bend into odd shapes or poke out from fabric, stabbishly. So: air dry your bras, always.

The heat of a dryer, even with the use of a low-heat setting, will be too much for the elastic to bear.

To further complicate matters, there's a very specific way you should arrange your bras for drying purposes. You can either lay them flat on a towel to dry or, as is more common, hang them on a drying rack. (In my small home, my drying rack is a make-shift one — I drape my bras on plastic hangers that are hung from the shower curtain rod while the bras drip-dry.) But here's the part you really need to know: Always hang the bras by the center gore, which is the part that attaches the two cups. The flip side of that rule is this: Don't hang your bras to dry by their straps. The weight of the wet bra will cause the straps to stretch out, and stretched out straps are not a good quality in a bra.

Oh Right, So How Often Should I Do This?

How frequently to wash your bras depends very much on how many bras you have in your bra wardrobe. As an aside, I learned the term "bra wardrobe" from a fabulous older lady I got to chatting with at a lingerie store in L.A. and have made it my business to bring that turn of phrase to the masses ever since. Bra wardrobe! Don'tcha just love it?!?

I learned the term "bra wardrobe" from a fabulous older lady I got to chatting with at a lingerie store in L.A.

Since everyone's bra wardrobe, or collection, will vary, the rule of thumb to keep in mind is that you should wash your bras every three-to-six wearings. In the hotter months, when sweat and atmospheric grime builds up faster, err on the side of every three wearings. You should also be rotating bras in between wearings to give them a proverbial rest; the rule here is not to wear a bra two days in a row.

There's one last little trick that I want to leave you with, that can help you extend the wear time of your bras in between washings. It is the shower rinse, and it's exactly what it sounds like. Take your bra into the shower with you and rinse it under the running water. Because this is a very short rinse — maybe 30 seconds? — it's A-OK that the bra will be subjected to warm, rather than cold, water, so don't fret about that. The shower rinse is going to wick away some of the sweat, body oil and dead skin that build up on a bra as you wear it, and the less build-up there is, the less frequently you'll need to wash that bra. And now you know all my secrets.