Are Socks Underwear?

My friend and I were chatting the other day and she said that “socks are underwear”.  I had to disagree.

We did a quick google search and were surprised that there was a little bit of controversy with this question.  So, are sock considered underwear?

Socks are not considered underwear.  The definition of underwear is clothing worn beneath your outer garments that covers your torso region or the waist and leg region.  Socks are nowhere near your torso region, therefore they are not underwear!

Not convinced, let’s take a closer look.

If we just use the definition that undergarments are those clothes that are worn under other clothes and next to the skin, then items like a bra, underpants, a vest and socks could be considered underwear.

However, Socks are typically worn between you and your shoes.  Your shoes aren’t outer garments, they protect your feet, keep your feet warm and socks can be a garment that also protects your feet from abrasion and other things.

Socks vs. Underwear

According to Wikipedia, socks are an item of clothing that is worn on our feet and often covers the ankle (but not always). Shoes and boots are worn over socks.

People have worn socks from the 8th century BC, in Roman times.  Around the 2nd Century BC, romans were sewing fabrics together to make fitted socks.

Moving forward to the 5th Century AD, socks were worn in Europe by holy people as a symbol of purity.

It wasn’t until the invention of the knitting machine in the mid 1600’s that sock production accelerated.

On the other hand, underwear or undergarments are clothing items that are worn under other clothes.

The loin cloth was considered the first “undergarment” although in hot climates the loincloth might be the only clothing worn. Effectively making the loincloth an outer garment.  LOL.  I digress.

In colder climates, the loincloth became the basis of a person’s clothing.

The undergarments have direct contact with your skin. We wear undergarments so that our outer garments remain away from bodily excretions.

When the weather is very cold, we wear long undergarments for the sake of additional warmth. Both men and women put on different types of underwear.

As you can see, socks and underwear are two different items of clothing. The evolved differently over history and perform very different functions.

Can Socks and Undergarments be Washed Together?

There seems to be much misunderstanding when it comes to washing our underwear and socks together. 

I’ve always been told to collect the similar color items and wash them together, but should I wash my socks with my underwear?

Ideally, you should not wash your underwear and socks together.  Your socks and underwear will collect and “grow” bacteria as you wear them.  By washing these items together, you could risk cross contamination of these bacteria.

For example, if you have athletes foot or a foot fungus, you could potentially transfer this affliction to your genital region.  Which is not a good plan! 

My mother always told me to wash the whites in hot and all my other clothes in warm or cold water.  Historically, the whites were my underwear and often my socks. 

The hot water will typically kill all the bacteria in both.  However, today underwear and socks are made of very different material and aren’t always with.

For example, I was my merino wool socks (read this article about choosing the best wool socks for hiking) inside-out in cold water and hang them to dry.  This might not kill the bacteria unless I use an appropriate detergent that kills bacteria.

Let’s consider our underwear.  No matter how clean you are, there is some transfer of fecal and bodily fluids from you to your underwear.  Bacteria and other microbes will grow in this environment.  Hot water and detergent should be used to clean all this “stuff” off of your underwear.

Also consider the towels in your bathroom.  Studies have shown (source: Time Magazine,  University of Arizona, & New England Journal of Medicine and more) that both bathroom and kitchen towels are breeding grounds for bacteria and potential infection.

One researcher suggested that washing your face in the bathroom and drying with a towel could be transferring more fecal material to your face than if you placed your face in the toilet and flushed!  Yuck!

Not only should we wash our socks and underwear separately, we should also wash our bathroom towels separately, and much more regularly than we do now!

Reasons to Wash Socks & Underwear Separately

Bacterial Cross Contamination

Socks and underwear will be soiled in different ways and each will have different bacterial composition.  You don’t want to cross contaminate bacteria from your feet to your genital area or vice versa.

One bacteria that is prevalent across North America is athletes' foot. If you have athletes' foot, then you certainly don't want that going up into your groin region. A regular foot bath with soaps like Tea Tree Oil can help alleviate or eliminate this bacteria.

Different Material and Colors

Although your socks and underwear may have the same color, they might be made of different material.  They might also be made of the same material but of different colors.

Even if the material is the same and the color is the same, it’s best to wash your socks and underwear separately.  Again, refer to the first point.  You don’t want athletes foot suddenly showing up in your genitals!

Rule of Thumb. 

Wash separately! You might also want to wash your socks and undergarments with an antibacterial laundry detergent, such as the Lysol Laundry Additive.

When to Buy New Socks and Underwear

There are many people around us who do not care about their inner clothing.

They wear the same socks and underwear for a long time as if the alarm goes off. I am discussing some signs behind your necessitates the purchase of new socks and undergarments.


When you discover holes in your socks and undergarments, it is mandatory to refresh them. You should buy new ones.

There is no other point left to keep them.


When your socks and underwear release bad smells, you need to wash them. But sometimes, the bad smell lingers on. The smell is a clue that you have some bacteria going on there.

Admit defeat. Restock your drawers.

Getting Small or Big

As we age, our bodies change.  Our clothing needs to change too.

If they are too tight, just throw away your well worn underwear. Restock your drawers.

On the other hand, they might become too loose, then it’s time to get something that fits a little better.  There’s nothing worse than a pair of saggy underwear.


When your socks or undergarments become too small it could causes chafing.

Especially with clothes that are right against our bodies, you want something that’s comfortable and fits.

Final Verdict

Nowadays people argue over socks whether they are underwear or not. I say they are not actually underwear. They cover a different region of the body and they should be washed separately from underwear!

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