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Tender Loving Care

There’s nothing like pretty lingerie to make a woman feel good from the inside out. But the right purchase only goes so far; the delicate items in that panty drawer require special care. Yet many women think that properly maintaining lingerie...

There’s nothing like pretty lingerie to make a woman feel good from the inside out. But the right purchase only goes so far; the delicate items in that panty drawer require special care. Yet many women think that properly maintaining lingerie takes too much time. Luckily, however, they’re wrong. Usually, only a few extra minutes can make all the difference, and when you consider that those lacy lovelies are the closest thing to your skin, isn’t it worth a little effort? Here, a girl’s ultimate guide to cleaning, storing and traveling with her favorite lingerie.

CLEANING: First and foremost, read the care label. Obvious enough, but it’s often ignored. For example, many women assume that silk intimates can be washed, but a “dry cleaning” label could indicate a quirk of weave or construction. Also, “washable” does not always mean the machine. “The agitation that takes place in a washing machine can be very destructive to delicate items,” notes Dave Bergstrom, senior engineer at Ivory Snow.

But assuming that most women won’t wash all of their intimates by hand, there are ways to lessen machine stress. “If you are going to use a machine, a mesh bag is essential,” says Stacey Ellis, Nordstrom’s Northwest fit specialist. “It eliminates warping on wire bras and keeps lingerie looking newer for a longer period.” Ellis also suggests hooking bras before washing. “This way, they don’t grab onto anything.”

Ann Cox, contemporary foundations buyer at Neiman Marcus, adds another tip for washing bras in the machine: “They should always be folded in half, with one cup inside the other.”

Stain removal should always precede cleaning. Kitty D’Alessio, fashion and beauty consultant, former president of both Chanel and Natori and self-confessed lingerie lover, recommends squeezing a lemon onto a spot and leaving it in the sun. “The sun works with the juice to get the stain out,” she says. Over-the-counter products include The Stain Remedy from the makers of Forever New, a delicate fabric care wash, and a new at-home stain remover kit from New York–based fine dry cleaner Madame Paulette.

Often, hand-washing offers better results and is worth the investment of time. For example, Kim Scheffler, DuPont’s intimate apparel marketing manager, suggests that because they pill so easily, microfiber items should be hand-washed and line-dried.

Usually, soaking pieces in a combination of cold water and delicate detergent for about three minutes is ideal. Detergent recommendations include Forever New, Woolite and Tocca Laundry Delicate. While soaking, experts suggest gently agitating the items. Finally, a thorough rinse in cold water prevents detergent buildup.

John Mahdessian, president of Madame Paulette, suggests using distilled water to rinse the most special hand washables. “Minerals and other agents in tap water can destroy certain fabrics and constructions,” he says. Final rinses can also be done in simple white vinegar, suggests Debra Armenante, director of quality assurance for raw materials at Maidenform. “It helps to keep color vibrant and prevents detergent buildup,” she explains. Those who turn their noses up at vinegar can go the luxe route, as D’Alessio does. She uses L’Occitane’s lavender water for her final rinses: “The smell is divine.”

Jean Yu, a New York lingerie designer, says that the biggest mistake women make when washing their delicates is wringing them dry. “Fibers are at their weakest when they’re wet,” she explains. Instead, she suggests “shaking out the excess water, then roll it in a towel.”

After towel drying, the pieces should be placed flat on a towel or hung on a line. Either way, shaping them properly when wet will keep them from looking like chewing gum later. Never use the dryer, say the experts. Not only does it ruin the fibers, especially elastics, but it could also cause shrinkage.

Dry clean lingerie? Sometimes, it’s the only way to go. “The constructions of some of my designs are not conducive to being washed in water,” says Yu. Ditto designer Leigh Bantivoglio, who says that dry cleaning keeps the shape of her silk camisole straps better than washing. “If you wash the piece in water, the straps will get shorter and bubbly.”

STORING: When the urge hits to shove a piece into a drawer, resist. Items last longer if they’re stored correctly. D’Alessio keeps all her lingerie in cotton madras cases from Thailand, which she uses both at home and while traveling. For the rest of us, simply folding bras and panties and stacking them in a drawer is enough.

Josie Natori organizes her bras and panties in special drawer dividers. At Leron, a made-to-measure lingerie shop in New York, designer and sales vice president Carolina Donadio recommends quilted satin bags for storage. “They’re great for very delicate things, especially if you have wood drawers, where things can get snagged.”

Another great insider tip, and much less costly than storage bags or boxes, is to line drawers with tissue paper. Choose a natural tone, such as white or beige, or give your drawer a more luxe look with gold or silver paper. For extra-special items and long-term storage, many dry-cleaners sell acid-free paper and boxes. But never keep items in the plastic bags provided by the dry cleaner, says Jerry Leeds, owner of Fashion Award Cleaners in New York. The bags breed dampness and moisture and don’t allow the garment to breathe.

Sachets and scented mini pillows add allure to any lingerie drawer. L’Occitane sells sachets that smell of verbena, lavender and rose, among other fragrances. And potpourri from Santa Maria Novella — a Florence-based company that has enjoyed a cult status among the fashion set — is now available in New York at Lafco, a home and body care shop.

TRAVELING: What’s your favorite location without your favorite lingerie? Keeping it in small travel pouches prevents damage. Good news: You don’t have to spend a lot. Anything from a freezer-weight plastic zipper bag to wrapping pieces in a silk scarf will do, but some companies offer their own pouches. La Perla provides plastic zipper bags upon request. For easy wash-and-go on the road, Eres has a special promotion this fall that will feature small, thin plastic bags complete with washing powder. “When they’re put into water, the bag dissolves, making them ideal for travel,” says marketing director Alain Kowalik.

In the end, treating your lingerie with a little TLC is one way of pampering yourself. Ultimately, what’s better than pretty lingerie? “Nothing,” offers D’Alessio. “It’s a woman’s secret weapon.”