Many products have an expiration date—is underwear one of them?

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It's a given that you should change your underwear daily and wash them before wearing the same pair again (otherwise… eww). But what about the lifespan of your underwear—from a health perspective, is there an optimal point when you should toss your old ones and get a supply of brand-new undies?

The answer isn't as simple as you'd think, Taraneh Shirazian, MD, a gynecologist at NYU Langone Health, tells Health. For starters, no medical evidence shows that wearing old underwear is definitely unhealthy or a risk factor for a vaginal condition, Dr. Shirazian says. But in terms of comfort and reducing the odds of any issues happening—like an allergic reaction or infection—it makes sense to replace your underwear on the regular, she advises.

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Credit: Photo by chuanyu2015 from Pexels

Philip Tierno, PhD, a clinical professor of microbiology and pathology at NYU School of Medicine and author of First Wear a Mask: A Doctor's Guide to Reducing Risk of Infection During a Pandemic and Beyond, agrees that underwear doesn't have an expiration date. But if your undies are "mechanically dysfunctional"—in other words, they have holes or the elastic is gone—it's time to replace them.

What can happen if you wear old underwear?

The risk isn't high, but worn-out underwear really might pose a health problem. If a pair don't fit properly anymore, they might seal in moisture that would normally be wicked away—leading to yeast and other infections, Dr. Shirazian explains. And if the seams of your underwear are frayed, they might irritate your skin and result in cuts or abrasions that increase the risk of infection.

A bigger health risk when it comes to underwear

What your underwear is made of matters more than how worn out it is. "When you're choosing underwear for the first time, be aware of things like natural materials and dyes and chemicals," Dr. Shirazian suggests. She recommends wearing cotton undies, because they are breathable and don't allow moisture to build up so easily, potentially resulting in an infection. On the other hand, synthetic fabrics like nylon and Spandex hold in moisture and don't dry easily, boosting your irritation and infection risk.

The fabric of your underwear also matters when it comes to cuts. Fancier lingerie might be made of stiffer fabric that can cut into your crotch area, which isn't just uncomfortable but might set you up for abrasions. So it's a good idea to stay away from these as well. For daily use, go with underwear that's comfy, soft, and absorbs moisture—whether they're granny panties, boy cut shorts, bikini, or thong style.

Expert tips for washing your underwear so it lasts longer

To avoid any health risks but also save yourself from having to replace frayed or worn undies, it's super important to clean your underwear properly between wears. First, follow the care instructions on the label; they're printed there for a reason. If you wear white cotton underwear, Tierno suggests adding bleach to your wash cycle. "This will take care of all of the bacteria," he says. If your panties are dyed, other products can be added to a hot water cycle instead of bleach, like Lysol, that effectively kill germs. Also, many washing machines have a germicial cycle, meaning you don't have to use an additional germ-busting product. "This cycle raises the temperature far beyond what you could achieve with ordinary hot water," Tierno explains.

If your underwear is made of more delicate fabrics, like silk or acetate, you'll want to wash it by hand or put it through a cycle designed for delicates—but you can still get products to add to ensure a really deep clean. The drying process also helps kill bacteria, Tierno adds, whether that's in the dryer or hanging out in the sun for a blast of UV radiation.

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