Do You Need To Wash Your Sports Bra?

by Elaheh Nozari

Recent events have led me to ask myself a seemingly simple question: How many times can you re-wear a sports bra? Hear me out: A couple of weeks ago, after lugging overflowing Ikea bags up five, maybe six, flights of stairs from our neighborhood laundromat to our tenement-style apartment, my roommate and I got into an earnest conversation about laundry. We first decided that laundry is one of the worst chores out there, second only to changing sheets on a bed that takes up 95 percent of standing space in a room. We then started talking about the frequency at which each of us does laundry — she does hers every two to three weeks while I do mine every week. She goes as long as she possibly can without doing laundry for the simple reason that she has more underwear than I do. It’s uninteresting but true.

This led to a discussion on the contents of our underwear drawers (small yet necessary detail, but mine is actually a gift box that I keep in the living room because as alluded to above, there’s not much space in my room for anything other than my bed). We started talking about what’s necessary and what isn’t — like, how many socks do you need? Tights? Do I really need to keep that knee-length Macy’s nude slip I bought to wear underneath a sheer dress in my underwear box? Probably not. Also, sports bras. How many do you need, how often do you have to wash bras, and when do you know it’s time for a new one?

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Sports bras are a vastly overshadowed piece of workout wear, especially when compared to the athleisure big guns like leggings and hoodies. This probably has to do with the fact that unless you have the confidence to work out sans shirt, you don’t really care what your bra looks like. You’re more focused on how it functions. Specifically, does it keep your boobs in place?

When I was 15 and joined my high school’s cross country team, not because I wanted to run through suburban parks after school but because my mom said it would help me make friends, I had barely been going through puberty long enough for my body to require a sports bra. On the first day of practice in August of my freshman year, I stood with a bunch of equally puny girls and listened to our coach explain the importance of brassieres. She said that if you didn’t wear an athletic one, your breast tissue would tear and you’d go through life with sagging boobs, which we were too young and inexperienced to deal with. Torn breast tissue? Saggy boobs at 15? Somebody get me a real spandex bra, this spaghetti-strap cotton thing won’t do! So I went to Target and bought a purple striped racer-back bra.

How many sports bras you need depends on a couple of factors, like how often you work out and how big your boobs are. For instance, my sister and I both run every day (the cross country thing stuck with me) but she layers three at a time while I wear one at once. Her boobs aren’t that big but she just likes to feel secure, if you ask me. I wear three bras in rotation but my sister owns 15. We both wear the same spandex Target bras that go for $14 a pop.

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You might be wondering how I wear a clean bra for every sweat session if I only own three. I don’t. It’s gross but not that gross. How many times you wear a sports bra before washing depends on on how much you sweat, which aside from the biology of your glands, depends on the intensity of your workout and the climate. If I run four miles outside in January, by the time I’ve made it back to my apartment, my body has warmed up just enough that my sports bra is removed unscathed. But if I go to an indoor spin class and leave drenched in sweat, my bra is the first garment to attract all the bacteria and should be washed immediately. If you don’t take part in a massively sweat-inducing activity every time you work out, there’s no need to wash your bra. It can definitely last two workouts — three if you’re desperate.

A common mistake that most people, including me when I don’t remember, make is to wear the same bra two workouts in a row. Similar to your muscles, your bra should take a day of rest for the elastic to stretch back. So if you work out every day, it’s better for the elastic’s longevity if you keep two dirty bras in rotation before washing them. The reason why you shouldn’t wash your bra every time you work out is because the laundry cycle wears out the fabric and minimizes the bra’s effectiveness. The less you wash your bra, the more you can wear it until it completely loses its purpose of supporting your boobs.

Images: Fotolia; Getty