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1 in 4 Men Aren't Washing Their Underwear Nearly Enough, Study Says—Are You?

Wearing dirty underwear may be taboo, but that doesn't mean it's not happening.

We'd venture to say that if a man was asked how often he washes his underwear, he'd respond that it's after each time he wears a pair. But just because this is what's considered socially acceptable, doesn't mean it's what's really going on behind closed laundry room doors.

According to a survey conducted by U.K. furniture company Hammonds, which assessed the laundry habits of 2,000 people, a full quarter of men admitted to only washing their underwear after every five wears. Even worse, 10 percent of men say they clean their underwear after every 10 wears, compared to just 3 percent of women. But is this really that bad? How often should men actually wash their skivvies? And what about replacing old pairs? For all these answers, we consulted the experts. Read on to get their advice.

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When is underwear really dirty?

Laundry basket with underwear and socks

The key thing to know about "dirty" clothes is that just because your garments look like they're fine for another day's use, germs are brewing that you can't see.

Scientists at Procter & Gamble advise that 70 percent of the soiling on your clothes is invisible and includes dead skin cells, bodily oils, and sweat. And Charles Gerba, PhD, a professor of microbiology at the University of Arizona, calculated and shared with ABC News that if you were to do a load of laundry containing only underwear, there would be roughly 100 million E. Coli bacteria in the water, which could then end up on clothes in your next cycle.

Billy Barba, founder and CEO of male underwear brand UnderGents, also reminds us that part of underwear's job is to "absorb drips and toots."

Sure, these stats are disgusting, but they're also unhealthy. "Wearing dirty underwear can lead to bacteria growth, odors, rashes, skin conditions, and infections," warns Sapna Palep, CEO of lingerie brand Journelle.

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Here's how often men should wash their underwear.

View Looking Out From Inside Washing Machine As Man Does White Laundry

According to all the experts we consulted, the basic rule is that underwear should be washed after each daily use.

"As a good rule of thumb, if you are taking a shower to clean yourself, put clean underwear on when you get out," says Palep. "Put on clean underwear after working out, after sweating, if your underwear gets wet, if you spill something on it. In general, if you throw your underwear on the floor, please don't pick it up and put it back on later. It's dirty now."

Another piece of advice from Palep is to never let damp underwear (that which you worked out in, sweat in, or swam in) sit around in a pile. "Either get them into the washer ASAP or let them air out so they aren't stuffed in your laundry basket." This lessens the chance for bacteria and odors to form.

Brock McGoff, male fashion expert and founder of The Modest Man, says there are a couple of rare exceptions to the rule. "If your underwear is made from material that absorbs moisture and odor, like a merino wool synthetic blend, you may be able to wear it two days in a row without washing, if you don't sweat much," he says.

And here are some helpful underwear-washing tips.

pouring laundry detergent in a cup

Most cotton or cotton-blend underwear can simply go in the washing machine and dryer as normal. Palep suggests washing in lukewarm water on a gentle cycle to keep your undies in the best condition. She also recommends a mild detergent and skipping fabric softener and aroma laundry add-ins, as they can irritate the skin.

If your items are white, an oxi-laundry detergent can keep them looking vibrant without bleach. Another good practice is to wash underwear inside out (we probably don't have to explain this one!).

To maximize underwear's lifespan, McGoff says to wash them in cold water and let them air dry. "If you must put it in the dryer, use no heat or low heat," he recommends.

Of course, you'll always want to check the care tags on anything you're putting in the washing machine and dryer. "Certain fabrics need different care: Lace and mesh underwear should be washed in a gentle/delicate cycle or hand wash, with mild detergent, and hung to dry," explains Palep. "Washable silk underwear also has special care instructions, typically cold water, hung to dry."

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What about replacing old underwear?

Organizing and cleaning home. Man preparing orderly folded t-shirts in drawer.

Just because your underwear is being washed doesn't mean it's still up to par. Barba advises men to take stock of their underwear drawer every six months.

Do you have enough pairs to get you through laundry cycles? Do they still feel comfortable and supportive? "If a man wears a pair of underwear once a week, after 26 wears, they may want a new pair rotating in," Barba says.

McGoff notes that some workout compression underwear may only last a few months. "If it retains an unpleasant odor, even after washing," you should retire it, he suggests.

And as Palep says, if you see any fraying, holes, fading, deterioration, or stretching out—it's time for new underwear.

John Quinn
John Quinn is a London-based writer and editor who specializes in lifestyle topics. Read more
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