Updated: Jan 16
Replacing underwear is based on a use perspective with regard to wear frequency and maintenance. Read more...
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Is there a standard recommendation on how often to replace undergarments?
This concept that I have come across with numerous undergarment brands stating that there is a "need" to replace undergarments every 6 months or every year - without regard to "use" data - I find fascinating in trying to determine the origins of this claim. I have had patients ask - does this mean that the Spanx underwear and shapewear they only wear randomly with certain dresses have to be tossed?! That’s a pretty pricey proposition.
Is there a wear component of a garment that plays a role in how often to replace certain garments?
From a wear perspective, underwear, bras, and socks often have an elastic component. It stands to reason that the elastic will lose its strength over routine wear and tear. If used routinely, say 1-2 x weekly, then changing these out every year or sooner based on wear makes a lot of sense. If these items are not fitting or providing the support they once did, it's likely time to change them out.
Is there a risk for bacterial buildup in garments that plays a role in the wash or replacement frequency?
From an antimicrobial perspective, this is where the evidence out there is not well defined. You would think that there would be so much literature on bacteria, fungi, viruses, and their ability to attach to surgical scrubs and white coats in hospital settings, and how frequently to change or wash these.
What we do know is that bacterial counts shoot up during the course of the day. We know that the guidelines to wash these items effectively based on hospital laundering guidelines to reduce these counts can be difficult to follow with home washing machines because they often require high temperatures and bleach which may not be reasonable to use on all of our delicates and home washing machines do not achieve the high temperatures recommended.
Studies comparing laundering in the hospital versus at home do not show huge differences in the effectiveness of facility washing. Also, note that bacteria and viruses have been shown to build up on the washing machine walls themselves. This can be managed by running a wash cycle with bleach alone, without clothes, to reduce the buildup and reduce the tendency that these bugs may have to attach to clothing items that come through.
What does this mean for undies and socks?
It’s so hard to say what bacterial counts and washing for underwear and socks could mean for wash frequency because these studies are really limited. I simply cannot say that in practice I can link many dermatologic conditions to old underwear. I do find that those with old underwear do not find they fit well enough to cause trouble. In other words, most underwear issues I come across are linked to being too tight, not too loose.
Does the fact that bacteria and other bugs are present on our clothes pose a problem?
Wash frequency and replacement guidelines for clothing items is certainly an area that warrants more study. However, remember that bacteria are everywhere. The problem is not the fact that bacteria and other bugs are present. We are only worried about disease-causing bacteria. The huge numbers of bacteria that studies reference can be misleading simply because it implies the bacteria are causing trouble but they may not be doing much at all. In some cases, they may even serve a role to protect against more virulent or disease-causing pathogens in the environment.
What is the bottom line: how should we decide when to replace our underwear and socks?
Common sense should prevail here. If your undies or socks have signs of wear - get some new ones. If you are having issues with frequent infections or skin issues, talk to your dermatologist to make sure the source is not your clothing. Remember that the carrier state for staphylococcus bacteria is more often linked to other triggers such as our razors. It's a good idea to verify what you have before spending money on the wrong solution.