So…How Often Should You Really Wash Your Bras?

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Since you’re reading this, chances are you’re asking yourself the pressing question: How often should you wash your bra? If you’re anything like me, you only have a couple that you actually like and that lie properly under your shirts—which means you may put off washing them over and over again. It’s annoying to keep up with that level of laundry, plus, you have to wait so long for them to air-dry. There’s also the fact that washing your bras too often may wear out the fabric and elastic faster, as SELF previously reported.

I’ve suspected for a long time that I probably don’t wash my bras often enough. I’m a big fan of the sniff test—if it still smells fine, then I strap that baby on and move on with my day. But I’ve always wondered if that’s an okay strategy, or if I should be more diligent about laundering my bras more frequently. So I asked some experts for their thoughts. Here’s what they have to say about how often you should wash your bras—and what could potentially happen if you put the chore off for too long.

How often you need to wash your bras really depends on how sweaty you get.

Even though bras are an undergarment, they’re definitely not on the same level as your underwear. Those you should wash after every wear. But since a bra isn’t touching your genitals, it doesn’t get as soiled as quickly. The biggest things to consider when it comes to how often to wash your bras are how oily your skin is and how sweaty you get day-to-day, Teo Soleymani, M.D., board-certified dermatologist at UCLA Health, tells SELF.

“When you’re pretty sedentary or going to school or work and not overproducing oil or sweat, it doesn’t need to be washed after every wear,” Dr. Soleymani says. But if it’s 90 degrees out and you’re walking to work or taking the subway and showing up to the office drenched in sweat, then your bra is going to get smelly a lot more quickly and may require more frequent washing.

Sweat is a breeding ground for microbes like bacteria and yeast. We all have bacteria and yeast living on our skin naturally, usually in perfect harmony. But the more sweat and oil sitting on your skin, the more food you give these microbes, Dr. Soleymani says. This can lead to a potential overgrowth of these microbes, which can lead to issues like breakouts. Any folds you have in your skin are more prone to this buildup, which can be more of a concern for people with larger breasts. 

Another reason sweat can cause problems? Some people are sensitive to the buildup of the minerals in sweat and can end up with dermatitis (skin irritation), Dr. Soleymani says. “If you ever see a faint white line on your bra, that’s the mineral salt from your sweat. Things like sodium, chloride, magnesium, and potassium—these elemental metals are in our bodies and end up on our clothing when sweat evaporates and leaves the metals behind,” he explains. For some people, this is NBD and nothing ever comes from it, but some people end up with itchy, irritated skin when these minerals build up and sit on their skin for some time. It can be even worse if your bra is tight and rubbing on your skin.

The risk of getting an actual skin infection from a dirty bra—anything beyond pimples and some irritated, itchy skin—is really low, Waleed Javaid, M.D., director of infection prevention and control at Mount Sinai Downtown, tells SELF. “A bra’s causing an infection directly is not something that would be very common,” he says. It is definitely possible if you have a cut where your bra falls (or the skin is itchy and you scratch it enough to cause microcuts) and then have the right buildup of potential infection-causing bacteria like Staphylococcus or Streptococcus. Theoretically, that bacteria could enter your skin and cause an issue. But it’s really not likely, especially if you are washing your skin regularly and overall have good personal hygiene.

There are a few signs your bra needs washing ASAP.

Here are four pretty clear indicators that time has come:

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