By: Heather Bien
They’re there, lurking in the back of your drawer. The elastic is stretched, and there are a few holes in the fabric, maybe even a stain or two. But you can’t bring yourself to get rid of those comfy, worn-out underwear you’ve had around since college.
We know the feeling—you get attached to your clothing, and throwing it away is like getting rid of your favorite childhood stuffed animal. It’s faded, scruffy, and unattractive, but you love it anyway. However, if you’ve had underwear hanging around for a decade, they’ve well exceeded their lifespan.
Regardless of whether it’s women’s underwear or men’s underwear (Don’t get us started on the boxers vs. briefs debate!), most recommendations for how often to replace underwear are between 6 to 12 months. If your underwear drawer needs an overhaul, we’ve got you covered with the tips you need to decide what to toss and how to replace those old undies with long-lasting, sustainable new pairs.
Components of Underwear
You might not think it’s necessary, but knowing the anatomy of underwear can not only help you choose the right pair, but even help you clean them. The parts include the elastic waistband, the leg openings, and the gusset. For those that don’t know, you might call the gusset the pocket in panties. You might be asking, “What is the pocket in panties for?”. That is the part of the underwear that offers additional protection for your genital area.
Signs Your Underwear Need to Be Replaced
It’s important to note that the 6 to 12-month recommendation is just a guideline, and there isn’t an exact science to determine how long your underwear will last. Instead, there are several signs you can look for if you think it might be time to say goodbye. These typically appear after around a year or so of regular use and include:1
- Stretch – The elastic around your legs and waist will lose its give over time. If you notice that your underwear has lost its stretch, it’s time to move on to a new pair.
- Fit – Once the stretch is gone, your underwear won’t have the smooth, glove-like fit you want them to have. Saggy underwear isn’t comfortable, nor are they an attractive option under your clothing.
- Frequency of wear – The underwear you wear more frequently is more likely to accumulate bacteria than those you only wear on special occasions.2 The risk for serious health problems is low, but you’re better off avoiding infection altogether by replacing your regular rotation often.
What Happens if You Don’t Replace Your Underwear?
Bacteria can accumulate in your underwear over time. Even regular washing can leave microorganisms behind. Bacteria can lead to:
- Urinary tract infections
- Yeast infections
- Skin irritation
However, a study by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists didn’t find a link between underwear and infection.3 Instead, a person’s individual hygiene was more predictive of their infection risk. Therefore, wearing old underwear isn’t likely to be risky to your health as long as you wash them regularly.
How Can You Make Underwear Last Longer?
You can take steps to make your underwear last longer and keep them cleaner. This begins with buying high-quality garments made from strong and sustainable materials. Cheap, synthetic fabrics will tear and lose their shape faster than those made from organic cotton and bamboo viscose. They’ll also take longer to decompose once you can no longer use them.
The way you wash your underwear will also have a huge impact on how long they last. Experts recommend taking the following precautions when washing your undies:4
- Hand wash with cold water most of the time
- Use a gentle detergent
- Occasionally machine wash with hot water
- If machine washing, use a lingerie bag to protect them
- Don’t put them in the dryer—hang dry only
(Note: When washing stained underwear, coat the stain with baking soda and rub until the stain disappears.)
These steps will help your underwear last longer while keeping your body free from potentially harmful bacteria. Check out our article on How to Wash Underwear for more tips.
What Should You Do With Old Underwear?
Now that you know how often to buy new underwear, you need to know what to do with those old pairs in the back of your drawer. Tossing them into the trash is the easiest solution, but it’s not eco-friendly. In fact, textiles can take up to 30 years to completely break down in a landfill.5 As a more sustainable alternative, you can try:
- Donating them to an organization that recycles textiles
- Some brands will take back your old underwear and repurpose them
- Use them as cleaning rags around the house (just not in the kitchen)
- Men’s boxers can be knotted into ropes for your dog to use as a tug toy
- 100% natural fabrics (organic cotton, hemp, bamboo viscose, and wool) can be composted
These methods take more work than simply throwing them away, but we think it’s worth it to keep more textiles out of landfills.
Boody Eco Wear: Sustainable and Long-Lasting Comfort
When you have a pair of underwear that fits perfectly and smoothly under your favorite pants, you don’t want to get rid of it. Even once the seams begin to fray and the elastic gives way, you’re still reluctant to say goodbye.
We get it, and we have the perfect solution. That’s why we prioritize comfort and sustainability in every product we make. At Boody Eco Wear, you can shop confidently knowing that our bamboo-derived products are good for you and the environment. Say hello to your new favorite sustainable underwear.
About the Author:
Heather Bien is a copywriter and writer based in Washington, DC. She works with retail, ecommerce, and creative brands on their website copy and digital presence, and her freelance writing has appeared on MyDomaine, Apartment Therapy, The Everygirl, and more. When she's not with laptop and coffee in hand, you'll find her planning her next weekend getaway, working on her budding green thumb, or scouting for her next great vintage find.
- Martha Stewart. How Often Should You Be Replacing Undergarments? https://www.marthastewart.com/7617748/replacing-undergarments-timeline
- Huffpost. How Often You Should Buy New Underwear Depends on 2 Key Factors. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/underwear-washing-life-span_n_5ae72885e4b02baed1bca53d
- Obstetrics and Gynecology. Brief vs. Thong Hygiene in Obstetrics and Gynecology: A Survey Study. https://journals.lww.com/greenjournal/Abstract/2018/05001/Brief_vs_Thong_Hygiene_in_Obstetrics_and.375.aspx
- Sustainable Jungle. What to Do With Old Underwear and Bras. https://www.sustainablejungle.com/sustainable-fashion/what-to-do-with-old-underwear-and-bras/
- Green Matters. How to Get Rid of Your Old Underwear, Sustainably. https://www.greenmatters.com/p/donate-underwear
- Christine-Marie Liwag Dixon, The Real Reason Women’s Underwear Has a Pocket, The List, https://www.thelist.com/160946/the-real-reason-womens-underwear-has-a-pocket
- Anatomy of a Panty, Clovia, https://www.clovia.com/blog/anatomy-of-a-panty/