The Bra Washing Experiment: What Does Machine Washing & Tumble Drying Do to Lingerie?

by Estelle Puleston

Once upon a time, I machine-washed and tumble-dried all my lingerie. By the time things became unwearable, there were often underwires poking out, bones bent, diamante gems missing and patches of fabric worn so thin they were becoming holes.

Nowadays I hand-wash everything without exception and I’ve noticed that my lingerie stays in excellent condition for a long, long time. But it this just because I’m buying more luxurious, high-end garments that will last longer regardless? Do I really need to hand-wash everything, or is popping them in the machine okay so long as I avoid the tumble dryer? I decided to do a little experiment to find out.

I bought 3 identical bras, all brand new and in perfect condition, and washed them 10 times each. One was hand-washed, one was machine-washed, and one was machine-washed plus tumble-dried too. Specifics are below. I would have loved to have done all the many, many variants (tumble drying on a low vs. high heat, machine washing with/without a lingerie bag, using a delicates setting vs. a regular one etc.) but honestly I don’t have the patience, and that would have required a hell of a lot of bras.

Here’s what’s happened…

How the bras were washed

Bra 1 – Hand-washed with Tesco’s Silk & Delicates Handwash Liquid and hung from the centre-gore to dry

Bra 2 – Machine-washed on regular (non-delicates) 30 and 40 degree washes, without a lingerie bag, and hung from the centre-gore to dry

Bra 3 – Machine-washed on regular (non-delicates) 30 and 40 degree washes, without a lingerie bag, and tumble-dried on a high heat until dry

After 1 wash

I already knew tumble-drying was bad for bras. The heat destroys elasticity, something that’s crucial to such a form-fitting garment. However I wasn’t really expecting one single spin in the dryer to make an obvious difference to the bra, yet it did.

Note the ‘fluffiness’ of the centre gore on the two machine-washed bras.
The inside of the centre gore, again to show how the machine-washed bras (particularly the one that was also tumble-dried) have gone a little bit fluffy here.
Machine-washing doesn’t appear to have affected the straps, but on the tumble-dried bra they’ve gone a bit squiggly!

Overall? After one single cycle in the washing machine and tumble dryer, Bra 3 is already noticeably different to Bra 1 which was hand-washed and air-dried. Are these massive differences in condition? No. But if this is what just one wash does, what will ten do?

After 10 washes

I don’t know about you but I like my bras to last quite a bit longer than 10 wears, yet the tumble-dried bra looks like it’s on its last legs at this point.

That ‘fluffiness’ at the centre gore? It’s gotten worse (much worse on the tumble-dried bra), and the bows on the two machine-washed bras are looking a bit droopy.
And those wiggly straps on the tumble-dried bra? Much, much wigglier! The straps on the machine-washed only bra are also a little scrunched up, though nowhere near as much.

Although the band on this bra never laid totally flat (it’s only a low-quality bra) at the front, on the tumble-dried bra it’s now totally turned over and worn through at one point.
And finally, there’s just more general wear and tear on the machine-washed bras, and especially the tumble-dried one.

The verdict?

Hopefully these photos are enough to show you that tumble-drying is really, really bad for your bras! How about machine washing? There is a difference in the condition of Bras 1 and 2, but they both still look wearable to me.

This little experiment has reaffirmed to me that it’s definitely worth the time and effort to hand-wash all of my lingerie, but if you don’t have the time I guess machine-washing is okay. I would just recommend to use a lingerie wash bag (and if you can, a cold wash setting), and your bras should show even fewer signs of wear than are pictured here.

How do you wash your bras and lingerie? Did you realise the damage that tumble drying does?


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Linda August 16, 2023 - 9:30 pm

I use a salad spinner!

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