May 14

Are You Washing Your Underwear the Right Way?



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Oh, ladies, do I have an earful for you. You are most likely washing your underwear the wrong way and it is not clean. This also applies to swim suit bottoms, pajama pants if you go commando, and anything you wear with a thong.

Not only that, but there's a good chance that a lot of your other laundry isn't as clean as you think, either.

Oh, it's a sad story, but you need to know. When I found out about this, I was horrified, and I knew that it was my job to tell you all about it.

Those cute panties you're wearing? Not clean.

And I don't even mean that underwear you put on this morning. Even if you just got out of the shower and put on a fresh pair, they're likely not as clean as you think. Or as clean as you would like.

And what's even worse is that we're probably making things worse by the way we wash our underwear, so it's possible that whole basket of just-washed laundry isn't as fresh as you think.

Numbers are Boring, but Needed

Listen, I'm a math whiz and majored in accounting, and I still think numbers are boring. I always skip over them when I'm reading an article.

Don't skip over these.

The average pair of clean underwear contains about one tenth of a gram of feces, and can contain as much as one gram. That's about a quarter of a teaspoon. (I got this information from this article and the source quoted is a Journal of Infection study done at the University of Arizona.)

That means that your "clean" underwear can contain bacteria which you may accidentally transfer to other surfaces and could make you sick. If you wash your underwear with the rest of your clothes (guilty), then they can potentially have bacteria in them as well.

blue panties

And while we're talking numbers, washing your underwear in water any less than 140 degrees won't kill the bacteria unless you're also using bleach. The article also mentions oxygen based cleaners like Oxiclean and Clorox 2, but be aware that they are considered cleaners, not sanitizers, and may not remove all of the bacteria.

And, by the way, do you have any idea what temperature your hot water heater is set at?

About Your Other Laundry

It's not just your underwear that you have to worry about. Sorry. Towels can be a culprit too, and sheets.

We've already covered the fact that washing your underwear with your clothing will result in bacteria being distributed throughout your laundry. But it doesn't end there.

Transferring your laundry from the washing machine to the dryer has the potential to cross contaminate other areas. Your hands are touching the "not so clean" laundry, and then also touching the dryer, other parts of the washing machine, the light switch. I could go on and on. 

And who washes their hands after transferring laundry? You could easily go into the kitchen and make yourself a sandwich afterwards and spread the bacteria there.

And after you remove your underwear (it's everybody's underwear, not just ours) from the washer, it needs cleaning too. The experts say to run an empty load with hot water and bleach before doing any other laundry. I'm assuming this is true for towels and sheets as well. 

I'm starting to feel like Emeril Lagasse on his cooking show. He was making chicken once and talking about all the precautions suddenly put in place for chicken. Clean the counter, wash your hands, clean out the sink. He jokingly said you should wash the car you brought the chicken home in too.

Are you starting to feel like all this work is too much, too?

On the other hand, think about doing a load of cloth diapers with anything else. Your clothes, towels, the baby's clothes. Yuck.

A Slightly Better Alternative

As far as washing your underwear goes, you do have the option of hand washing it. Although how you're going to do that in water that is 140 degrees is a bit of a problem. Do we need to start a fire in the backyard and get one of those cast iron cauldrons and a big stick to stir with?

Ok. Time to get serious. Here's what I would do: disinfect your bathroom sink. Presumably you've been following my daily routine suggestions and wiping it out regularly. That makes it clean, but not necessarily disinfected. Spray some Lysol, or other disinfectant in there. Even some rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball will work.

Then fill your sink with the hottest water you can. If you have a sink that doesn't hold water well, buy yourself a small bucket to do your undies in. Add some detergent - just a small amount. If you add too much, it will remain in the fabric and cause other problems. You might want to buy some detergent for delicates for this. That's what the experts recommend.

Let your underwear sit and soak until the water has cooled down enough for you to put your hands in it. Wash your underwear, being careful not to stretch it.

Once you're done with the wash, rinse everything out and put your panties on a towel or two to soak up the extra water. Hang them somewhere to dry. Putting them in the dryer damages the fabric and elastic and they won't last as long. (You should be doing basically the same thing with your bras, but not in hot water and not with your underwear. Hand wash, delicate detergent, hang to dry.)

A Little More Advice

While we're on the subject, there are a few more things you need to know about washing your underwear and just underwear in general. And by the way, all of this advice is applicable to anyone who wears underwear, whether it's boxers, thongs, silk, or cotton.

Underwear should be washed after one wear. You may be thinking, "Duh", but 18% of Americans never wash their underwear. Eeeewww.

laundry room

You may need to change your underwear more than once a day. 

I'm old enough to have wet my pants a time or two when I sneezed, and I know I'm not the only one. But if you've been to the gym, or it's a hot day, and you've been sweating a lot, you need to change. And if you're one of those women who can get a little damp down there (sorry), either use panty liners or plan on changing a time or two per day.

Your underwear should be replaced about every three months. This is mainly for sanitary reasons. Despite your best efforts at keeping things clean, you may want to toss the old and get some new. Just like makeup. Sort of.

There's really no good way to keep track of this, other than to throw out everything you have and start over every three months. Put a note in your planner. Maybe a cute pink heart or something. I could design some special stickers if you want. 😊


Look at all the cute selections! You deserve new underwear!

Unless you're wearing some really expensive underwear, it's really not that much to replace. Two packs at Target will probably give you twelve pairs for maybe $30. That's not too bad. And you do have three months; you could space it out.

A Few Tools Will Help

First, if you're washing your underwear by hand, buy a small bucket at the dollar store and keep it in the laundry room. You may have to hide it if you have a husband like mine. Do what you have to do. And use a little bleach water after you're done to make sure it's really clean.

Get one of those laundry racks so that you can lay your undies flat to dry or hang them up. I like this one because it looks very versatile. (That's an affiliate link.) You would think after all these years I would have one, but I don't.

Another option is to get a lingerie bag. I think I've seen them at Target. It's just a mesh bag with a zipper on it. You toss all of your undies in it, zip it up, and then throw it in the washing machine. If your machine has a delicate cycle, you might be able to wash them that way.

And of course, you may want to add a few more things to laundry area:

  • Detergent for delicate fabrics.
  • A bleach alternative if you can find one that disinfects.
  • Vinegar, borax, or hydrogen peroxide, which all disinfect.

Is your underwear worth all this extra work? Well, remember it's more than washing underwear we're talking about; it's your health, too. And as always, your decision as to how you want to handle it.

Look for a post soon on washing towels and sheets, as well as stripping laundry. (It's the newest thing, like we don't have enough to do already, right?)

About the author 


My name is Brenda and I was born without the "clean gene". I believe that you can keep your clean and tidy in minutes a day and still have time for yourself.

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