Help stop bras from breaking
October 14, 2011 6:04 AM   Subscribe

What is causing my underwire on my bras to break and what should I do about it?

I've read through a few past questions (here and here) about underwire, mostly about poking out of the end, but my question is about broken or snapped underwire that has not come out of place.

I've had two recent bras (the same bra from Wacoal in different colors) where the underwire broke in the middle of the cup after about 1 and a half years of frequent wearing. I've always washed them in a top-loading washing machine, usually on the gentle cycle (not in a lingerie bag), then hung them to dry. Is it safe to assume that the cause here is the washing machine, thus hand-washing is the solution? Or should I just continue machine washing but in a lingerie bag?

As in the previous questions, could fit be an issue here too? Should I be concerned about the brand I'm buying? In every other way I've found the bras to be comfortable, supportive, and high quality, and haven't had issues with the underwire coming out of the end, but underwire breaking in the middle is obviously not great either.

Any ideas about how to prevent this in the future or even what to do with the bras with broken underwire (could I take them somewhere to be re-wired?) would be appreciated. I'm on the bustier side, so removing the underwire and wearing them anyway doesn't sound like a viable option to me.
posted by moshimosh to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (24 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Are they breaking in the washing machine? Which is to say, when do you discover the wire has broken? I also use a top-loading washing machine, and I'm terrible and put the bras in with jeans and stuff, but I've never, ever had a wire snap in the middle. I'm kind of at a loss for how that could happen. --Are they plastic, or metal? Plastic wires might become brittle with repeated exposure to extreme temperatures. What temp is your wash water?

Aside from that, if only one side is snapping, and you've had it happen on more than one bra, you could clip the wire out of one bra and stick it into another to make one functional frankenbra. Though you'd probably start having that poking issue.
posted by Andrhia at 6:13 AM on October 14, 2011

Is it safe to assume that the cause here is the washing machine, thus hand-washing is the solution? Or should I just continue machine washing but in a lingerie bag?

I would say it's definitely the washing machine. I hand-wash all my bras and have never had an underwire break.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:13 AM on October 14, 2011

One I stopped washing in a washing machine, my bras lasted a lot longer. Handwash your bras.
posted by jeather at 6:15 AM on October 14, 2011

Best answer: This happens to my bras exactly as you describe, and I figure the underwires are just bound to snap after a couple years of stress when you're well-endowed (I am as well). Mine usually snap while I'm wearing them. Memorably, I had one snap while I was laughing at the episode of Mad Men in which Peggy Oleson is writing copy for that "weight loss machine for women". I'm wondering how many of the women who are posting in this thread saying their wires never snap wear anything larger than a B cup.

I just replace the underwires. I take out the remaining whole underwire and go to Fabriclands and buy whatever size of underwire they have that is a good match. They usually only cost $2 or $3. It's not all that hard to insert the new ones and stitch wherever you inserted it so it doesn't come out again, and if I can salvage a $35 bra, it's definitely worth the small investment and effort it takes.
posted by orange swan at 6:20 AM on October 14, 2011 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: As far as I know, they're snapping in the washing machine, because I've never actually felt one break, just noticed it was broken when I go to put it on in the morning.

Orange swan, thanks for the suggestion. No fabriclands around here, but i'm assuming I can find something similar at Jo Ann fabric or something.
posted by moshimosh at 6:24 AM on October 14, 2011

Seconding it's never happened to me and I routinely wash them with jeans, etc. If it's only happening to bras made by a particular company I would send them a letter. A good bra should last more than a couple of years.
posted by mareli at 6:30 AM on October 14, 2011

Wow, I envy those of you who never have this happen. I gave up on underwire bras several years ago because I couldn't figure out how to make it stop.
posted by yomimono at 6:35 AM on October 14, 2011

Response by poster: Mareli, I don't know that it would only happen with bras made by that company, its just that those are the only bras I've been buying in recent years. They definitely have lasted longer than the much cheaper Victoria Secret bras I bought in college though. Still worth contacting them about?
posted by moshimosh at 6:37 AM on October 14, 2011

I have also been known to save the unbroken underwires from old bras before I throw them out for repairs this. Though my bras break like Orange Swans, I'll be out somewhere and then "snap". My husband laughs and claims its too much internal pressure .. ahh the joys of being well endowed.

I used to have them break in the washing machine too, but I found washing them in a lingerie bag helped with that as it helps stop the heavier items from bending them so much. You can also get plastic containers to help hold them in shape while you wash, but I've never used one of those.
posted by wwax at 6:40 AM on October 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I wear a DD cup and most of my bras are from Wacoal. I've never had an underwire break on me. I wash the bras in a top-loading washing machine in a lingerie bag, in whatever cycle the rest of the laundry gets washed in. I do rotate frequently between bras, so no bra gets worn two days in a row. And I don't expect bras to last 'couple of years' - I would consider a year and a half a good run for bras that get worn frequently. By that point I notice the elastic is starting to go and the bra is not as supportive as it used to be. I'll consign thse bras to wearing around the house until they are completely hopeless.
posted by needled at 6:47 AM on October 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks needled. I wear the same cup and follow the not-two-days-in-a-row rule, but haven't been using a lingerie bag. I'll get one and also try to commit to hand washing. And maybe its just fair to adjust my expectations about how long the bras will last.
posted by moshimosh at 6:51 AM on October 14, 2011

To add in my comparative data: I wear a DD cup, too, though the brands I buy vary. Mostly from FigLeaves. I can generally expect a bra to last 3 or 4 years before the wire comes out or the band becomes too stretched-out and worthless. But maybe I have a lower standard for when a bra gets worthless than some of you!
posted by Andrhia at 6:53 AM on October 14, 2011

Wow, I would never expect a bra to last more than two years! I find they get stretched out and threadbare OR the wire sneaks out and gets pokey but I've never had an underwire break, even when I machine-washed my bras (now I handwash mostly). Maybe I have an excessively low tolerance for bra worn-out-ness, or maybe I just have fewer bras in rotation than some of you. Or probably variations in boob shape put stress on different parts of the bra. Fascinating. FWIW I'm a 38C-D, and I wear a lot of Olga's Christina and Warners.
posted by mskyle at 7:07 AM on October 14, 2011

This happened to me until I started using laundry bags for them, since then it hasn't.
posted by meepmeow at 7:23 AM on October 14, 2011

I wear a 32D (from Calvin Klein mostly). Have never had an underwire snap or dislodge since I was a teenager.

My secret s that I troll the clearance section of Marshalls, Ross, and TJ Maxx, for bras that are $10. CK is my go to, but there are other great ones - often fancy nordstrom brands! So I have at least 4 nude bras and two black ones all the time. Adding grey and navy means that my bra is never obvious under my clothes but more importantly:

I'm not washing them frequently. If you're washing a bra every week, it's going through some serious stress with the spin cycle and getting banged against other clothes.

I find the lingerie bag serves more to protect my clothes from the bra clasps than anything else.
posted by bilabial at 7:30 AM on October 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm a C or D, depending on weight. I don't wash them often- the bras- and always use cold water in the machine and never put them in the dryer. I've typically gotten 3 or 4 years out of bras, various brands, Bali, Warner, Olga, and others, over the last forty years.

It may be my not washing them as often as others do.

Those Wacoal bras are so expensive I would definitely write to the company and ask what's up.
posted by mareli at 7:32 AM on October 14, 2011

2 years seems like a really good, long life for a bra.

I also think it's possible that the way that the Wacoal bras are made, they just tend to snap after a while - on YOU. Different brands fit women differently. I'd try a different brand.

Also, go to a department store and get a saleswoman to help you with a fitting. It takes time and patience, but I have never been so happy as on the days when I'm wearing a bra that I carefully selected for comfort and fit, and those do seem to last longer.
posted by pazazygeek at 7:33 AM on October 14, 2011

I'm another D cup who hand washes her bras and has never had an underwire snap.

I also agree with pazazygeek about ensuring your bras fit properly. I imagine a poor fitting bra would break/degrade more quickly.
posted by Defying Gravity at 7:43 AM on October 14, 2011

Adding my two cents worth...I've often had the wire "snap" while wearing the bra. Maybe some combinations of body types + bra style put additional stress on the wire? I've also had the plastic covering at the end of the wire come off, leaving a sharp end that will work its way up and out of the bra. Nothing like looking down and seeing 4 inches of wire protruding from the neckline of your top (while at work, of course)! I wash my bras in a lingerie bag and only wash them with other lightweight clothing like socks, panties, and PJ's. I've often thought about trying to salvage a bra with wire issues, but didn't know you could buy replacement wires. Maybe I'll be more inspired to repair my bras in the future.
posted by SweetTeaAndABiscuit at 10:50 AM on October 14, 2011

D verging on DD, I can't even imagine a wire underwire snapping! Plastic, sure, but even the cheap bras I get have actual metal fittings these days. I've also never had a wire poke out, but I can imagine it happening if the elastic didn't wear out first... Anyway, washing by hand is simple and not time consuming. I use a rinseless wash which is amazing.
posted by anaelith at 11:28 AM on October 14, 2011

IIRC... A bras life expectancy is equivalent to 6 months of continuous wearing. After that you should replace them anyhow because they'll stretch and not give you the support you need.
posted by DoubleLune at 11:37 AM on October 14, 2011

My underwires stopped snapping in two when I
A) stopped machine-washing them and switched to handwashing
B) went down a band size and up a cup size.

I don't know if it was A or B (or maybe A + B) that made the difference, but I think it's likely to be one or both, not some unidentified third factor. It was like magic: a snapped underwire used to be inevitable, but I haven't snapped a single one in years.
posted by Elsa at 2:10 PM on October 14, 2011

I am a little too well endowed (32FF or G, depending on manufacturer), and this hasn't happened to me since I bought cheap bras as a teenager. I know Wacoal isn't cheap; I buy them occasionally, along with other $60+ brands like Fastasie, Freya, Le Mystere, and Chanterelle. So unless Wacoal has recently started using lower quality materials, the brand likely isn't the culprit.

My expensive, large cup size bras last 3-4 years. Here's what I do:

1) As others have said, you should either be hand washing (I never do) or using a lingerie bag in the washer on a delicate cycle (I always do). Stuff the lingerie bag pretty full so that the bras don't have a chance to move around in the bag too much.

2) Rotate your bras. If you wear only 2 or 3 bras, then overuse is likely part of the problem. For carrying the kind of breast heft that we're endowed with, these garments need rest between load-bearing sessions! I have 6-8 bras in daily rotation, usually wearing the same one no more than twice a week.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 5:31 AM on October 15, 2011

I wear a 32DDD and have never had an underwire break in half, and haven't even had one break out of it's casing since I stopped buying cheap bras and started wearing the right size.

I hand wash, and never wear a bra two days in a row. (I also don't wash after every wearing - I wash probably every 5-ish wears) Even so, they have a useful life of about 2 years before the elastic loses its bounce, etc.
posted by antimony at 6:12 PM on October 15, 2011

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