Everything You Need to Clean Underwear Correctly, According to People Who Would Know

Photo: Ashley Jouhar/Getty Images

Even though you wear underwear every single day, you still might not be totally sure about the best way to wash it. That’s okay; it’s not entirely your fault. There’s a lot of conflicting information about the best way to clean your underwear, from whether or not you can use a washing machine to the best type of stain remover — and that doesn’t even take the different types of fabric into account. After all, it’d make sense that the way you wash your lace lingerie is different than how you’d clean your workhorse cotton panties.

So to help you separate fact from fiction, and find the best way to wash your underwear once and for all, we talked with people who know their undergarments about the best way to clean every type of underwear — including cotton, mesh, silk, lace, and more — and keep your undergarments looking and feeling fresh.

For cotton underwear


You can wash cotton underwear in the washing machine, but as Naomi Gonzalez, co-founder and COO of the gender-neutral underwear brand TomboyX, explains, it’s important to use a mesh delicates bag. We’d also recommend never washing your underwear with towels or jeans, as the rough material can damage the more delicate underwear fabric,” she says. Patric Richardson, a former Neiman Marcus buyer and Nordstrom manager who, these days, “literally teaches people how to clean their clothes” under the nickname the Laundry Evangelist, has recommended these mesh bags to the Strategist before for exactly this purpose.

Though you might feel the need to stock up on extra-special detergent for your underwear, that’s an unnecessary expense, especially for a relatively robust fabric like cotton. Gonzalez likes washing her brand’s modal-slash-spandex underwear with regular Tide detergent because “it cleans well and leaves no odor.” But again, be sure to put the underwear in a mesh bag before you throw it in the wash, to prevent damage, and run it on a cold cycle.

If you’ve get a stain in your cotton or modal underwear, Gonzalez recommends Zout, which has a mix of three enzymes to get rid of starch stains, protein stains (including blood), and even oil stains. “These products never leave that unsightly ring around where the stain used to be and won’t damage the fabric even if you let it soak for a while.”

For mesh or lycra underwear

Morgan Curtis from Morgan Lane likes these washing bags from the Laundress “for mesh or lycra panties that are more machine washable.” Follow the same basic instructions as you would for cotton underwear, washing on cold in the machine.

For silk or lace underwear

When it comes to the truly delicate delicates, like lace or silk underwear, most of our experts still prefer to hand-wash. For these speciality items, Curtis likes the Laundress Delicates Wash (so much that she actually sells it in her own store), noting that even if you’re hand-washing, you should still separate dark colors from medium from whites.

[Editor’s note: On November 17, 2022, the Laundress issued a safety notice about all of its products, recommending that you “immediately stop using all The Laundress products in your possession. We have identified the potential presence of elevated levels of bacteria in some of our products that present a safety concern.” Its investigation is ongoing, so until we hear otherwise, we do not recommend that you purchase new products from the Laundress or continue to use the ones in your possession.]

An alternative to buying underwear-specific detergent is everyday bath products. Designer Yasmine Eslami, for instance, recommends using a “delicate soap” or even a gentle, fragrance-less shampoo. She actually likes this gentle shea-butter soap from L’Occitane and recommends that you hand-wash your lingerie with this soap in “room-temperature water, definitely not hot.”

Curtis likes the Laundress wash and stain bar to get stains out of silk. “You just get the bar slightly wet and dab it gently onto the spot under cold water,” she says. “Usually the stain comes right out!”

For fancy or beaded lingerie

If you think that using regular, old soap on your underwear is not good enough for your finest pieces, know that burlesque performer Velvetina Taylor swears by it for her extra-delicate, over-the-top costume lingerie. “I use the same bodywash I use for my body — Aveeno Daily Moisture Body Wash — to hand-wash my lingerie in warm water,” she explains. “I lather up the lining and rub the fabric together to keep things clean and hang to dry. That way, I don’t lose a single rhinestone, which are so time-consuming to apply.” And since she’s hand-washing her lingerie as soon as she’s done with her performances, Velvetina has found that “a stain remover hasn’t been necessary.” Considering you’re probably not wearing your fanciest lingerie every single day, immediate washing of stains will probably work for you, too.

For all types of underwear

Whether you wash your underwear in the machine or in the sink, you should air-dry those underpants, either from a line or on a drying rack. But Gonzalez notes, “Don’t dry it in direct sunlight. Sunlight can degrade the spandex that keeps the underwear’s shape and yellow any nylon.” Lying your pieces flat will keep them from stretching out and extend their life, without damage.

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Everything You Need to Clean Every Type of Underwear