Underwear Matters: Why You Should Get a New Pair More Often Than You Think

Believe it or not, there are things you may not know about your own underwear

On the occasions that consumers buy themselves a new pair of underwear, when they should be throwing it out is probably not a question they ask themselves. In fact, the thought to dispose of or replace their underwear after a few months of use may not ever occur.

No matter how attached you may get to an undergarment, there are several tell-tale signs indicating that it is time for it to go, says Jennifer Tam, a Director and fourth generational heir of Hong Kong-based heritage lifestyle company Chicks.

The most obvious sign is when your underwear does not fit you anymore. Undergarments should ideally hug your body in a snug fit, but over time, these garments undergo wear and tear that affects how they fit and treat your body.

Aside from developing unsightly holes, the elastic bands of the garment, or the fabric itself, loosens over a period of use. This can cause chafing, irritate the skin, and could even lead to itchy or painful rashes.

A more serious concern, Tam points out, is the presence of harmful bacteria in used underwear, which can persist even after washing. The human body discharges many embarrassing but perfectly normal substances every day, and, as almost everyone has unpleasantly discovered on a hot day, can also accumulate sweat in awkward places.

These are perfect environments for unwelcome bacteria to breed unfettered, that can later cause yeast infections or urinary tract infections. Even laundered underwear can still carry traces of bacteria such as E.Coli, which is found in the intestines – something you want to flush that away, not carry around every day.

All in all, it’s best to listen to the experts, Tam says, and replace your underwear every six months to a year.

Pairing Up With A Fresh Pair of Undies

When getting new undergarments, don’t stick to the nicest looking one on the rack. Underwear should ideally feel like best friends – comfortable, safe, and reliable.

“Clothing is not only to make you to look good, but it protects your body and protects your health, especially underwear,” Tam says.

It’s not only the finished product, but also the production process that can affect how your skin reacts to a new pair of underwear, she explains. Many chemicals are involved in the making of underwear, and some, such as formaldehyde, are especially toxic for the skin and can irritate it.

The presence of these chemicals can also affect the pH balance of the underwear, making it more acidic or more alkaline. A shift in either direction can cause itching, burning, and a bad odor.

A bigger cause for concern is that thousands of chemicals go into the making of a pair of underwear. In fact, the textile industry uses as many as 8000 different chemicals in garment production, an alarming figure for shoppers as well as the environment, and a strong reason to be more conscious of what goes into the clothes and innerwear you buy.

Tam recommends look for the right fit that doesn’t affect blood circulation, friendly and higher grade fabric (you may want to swap synthetic fibers for natural ones), and non-chemical intensive garments. The washing label on the underwear will be able to provide you with all the information you need, including the composition of the material.

For people who have sensitive skin, she suggests looking for garments that have been certified by an international third-party to ensure that there are no harmful chemicals involved. Garments that are certified by the International Organization for Standardization or the OEKO-TEX standard (which certifies that no harmful chemicals have been used in making the garment) can prove helpful, she adds.

How to Care for Your Underwear

Caring for your underwear depends a lot on the fabric it is made of, and instructions can be found on the washing label.

It is usually recommended to wash undergarments by hand with a mild detergent, because undergarments need to be washed gently if you want them to last longer. Realistically speaking, however, a lot of people prefer to let the washing machine do the work.

Most washing machines come with a setting for delicate items, so make sure to hit that button when laundering your personal garments. Tam suggests using a washing bag instead of chucking personal items straight into the washer and dryer, to protect them from stretching or wearing out.

Further, this may be one case where you’d want to air your laundry in public. Allowing undergarments to dry in the sun can rid them of any odor-causing moisture, and the sun’s ultraviolet rays can help further disinfect underwear. Don’t leave it out for too long though, or you risk ruining the color and softness of the fabric.

Finally, it is important to acknowledge that underwear does have an expiry date, and not paying attention to it can result in harmful consequences for your body.

“You may not get rashes or infections right away, but in the long term, it will [harm your skin and body], especially for women as well,” Tam points out.

Photo by Jason Briscoe on Unsplash

This article was written in partnership with Chicks.

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