How often do you wash your underwear? Bras need to be washed when they are soiled and that will depend on how much you sweat. Underpants need to be washed after every time you wear them. That's because the skin of your inguinal folds (the name for the anatomic area that folds and is located between your legs and groin) and the skin of your buttocks and genital area harbor many microbes. Some are normal and friendly members of your skin's microbiome. Others are not.
Microbes (germs) in your groin and skin folds that can cause skin problems include (at a minimum!):
bacteria such as Staph aureus and Corynebacterium that can cause skin infections (the later can cause erythrasma),
- bacteria that create body odor from your otherwise odorless secretions,
- fecal germs (in your groin) that cause illness and skin infection,
- yeast that can infect skin, and
- fungal germs that cause jock itch (this germ is the same fungal organism that causes athlete’s foot, and it is common).
Moist skin occluded by dirty cloth is a happy place where all these microbes can thrive.
During the course of wear, your underpants accumulate sweat, germs and secretions, not to mention occasional fecal material. It’s not a pretty subject to discuss. Good hygiene is important for both your underpants as well as your skin to prevent infection and rashes in this moist area. Because the groin skin is often moist, it will leach a residue of chemicals out of underwear fabric.
Common chemicals you want to avoid in your underwear include:
- detergent residue,
- laundry product fragrance, and
- fabric softener.
Another common chemical and allergen exposure risk associated with underwear is elastic.
All elastic degrades over time and will be leached out by sweat. Using chlorine bleach or a hot drier will speed the degradation of elastic. If you become allergic to elastic, it creates a life-long allergy to elastic products. Trust me when I say that it is hard to avoid elastic in clothing… so take good care of the elastic in your undergarments and discard any with worn elastic before you become allergic. You can see that how you wash your underwear is important.
Dermatologist tips for the best way to wash your underwear
Often, underwear needs to be laundered more gently than your other clothing.
- Pick a laundry soap that is free of fragrance and detergent residue. Even specialty laundry soap for "delicate" fabrics may be loaded with fragrance - elegant but still fragrant. Avoid using fragrance containing products on underwear. Even natural fragrances are allergens. Be sure to rinse all soap or detergent residue out of your underwear.
- Avoid using fabric softener or anti-static drier sheets when laundering your underwear.
- Be sure your underwear loads are rinsed well. To help the rinsing process, don't pack your washing machine too full. If you have an optional second rinse cycle, use it on your underwear.
- Minimize exposing elastic to bleach or hot dryers and realize that if you do, those items will have a shortened lifespan. Ideally, you want to line-dry your underwear to prevent breakdown of the elastic chemicals.
Skin care tips for the skin in under your underwear from the dermatologist
The skin folds in your armpits, low abdomen, under your breasts and in your groin are often sweaty and sensitive. I recommend using mild and fragrance-free skin cleansers to bathe and rinsing well. As often as you can, wear loose clothing that breaths. For example, loose cotton PJs are a great sleepwear alternative.
Use gentle and hypoallergenic fragrance-free products for your groin area.
- Cleanse your skin with a fragrance-free and mild skin cleanser such as my Naturally Best Bar Soap.
- Exfoliate as needed to prevent ingrown hairs using a Salux Shower Cloth and the Natural Bar Soap.
- Moisturizer drier areas such as your buttocks with a fragrance-free moisturizer such as my Natural Face and Body Lotion.
If body odor or skin fold redness from erythrasma is a problem a pyrithione zinc cleanser may help
Pyrithione zinc is a medicated ingredient to treat dandruff. It has broad anti-microbial action and can reduce microbes on skin. It is also slightly drying and can irritate delicate skin of the skin fold so you need to be careful. My Foaming Zinc Cleanser is an excellent dandruff shampoo, helps fight back and body acne and can help reduce microbes in skin folds. It needs to be rinsed entirely off of the skin before towel drying. Some pyrithione zinc residue will remain after rinsing off the soap residue.