- Almost all clothes, except those labeled as "dry clean only," can be hand-washed.
- The same rules for sorting laundry and checking care labels apply when you're washing clothes by hand.
- Woolite Delicates is gentle enough for delicate fabrics like silk and wool, while Puracy Natural Laundry Detergent will effectively remove soil from heavier fabrics like denim and cotton.
- Read more: How to use a portable washing machine
If you wear clothes, you will have dirty laundry.
And if you have dirty laundry, there will come a day when you need a specific set of clean clothes the next day but your parents aren't around and neither is a washing machine.
It's time to handwash your clothes.
What clothes can be washed by hand?
Any clothing that is labeled as machine-washable can be hand-washed.
This includes clothing made with cotton, synthetic knits, cotton/polyester blends, and microfiber. Even though bras, delicate lingerie, or lace blouses may be labeled as machine-washable, they will last longer and hold their shape better if they're hand-washed. Even if you only use the gentle cycle in a washer, hand-washing is less harmful than the agitation and spinning forces in a washer.
Some garments that have a "dry clean" label can be hand-washed. This would include unstructured wool and cashmere sweaters, silk blouses and scarves, and rayon garments. Use a gentle detergent that's recommended for handwashing, cool water temperatures, and careful washing motions for any clothes labeled as such.
But if a garment has a "dry clean only" label, believe it. The clothing may have an inner structure or lining (like a wool suit coat) that can't stand up to water. The fabric may also not have been pre-shrunk or treated to be colorfast. Take those garments to a professional dry cleaner unless you're willing to risk their ruin.
How to wash clothes by hand
What you'll need
- A clean kitchen sink or bath tub
- Large plastic storage tubs if your sink or tub doesn't work
- A stain remover
- Woolite Delicates for delicate fabrics
- Puracy Natural Laundry Detergent for cotton and polyester
- A soft-bristled brush
- Thick towels
- Sturdy plastic hangers
- Gather the clothes you plan to wash. Close all buttons, zippers, and snaps to prevent accidental snags.
- Pre-treat any stains with a bit of detergent or a stain remover. Apply the cleaner and let it sit for 10 minutes before you begin washing the garment. This gives the stain remover time to break down the stain while you prepare the water and detergent solution.
- Before you put clothes in a sink or bathtub, clean it first. Kitchen sinks can have grease that will transfer to fabrics. Bathroom sinks and tubs can have beauty product residue that can stain or bleach clothes.
- Fill a clean, empty sink or large tub with water. Cool or lukewarm water is best for hand-washing. Be sure to leave room for the displacement of water when you add the garments that need to be washed.
- Add detergent (Woolite Delicates for delicate fabrics, Puracy Natural Laundry Detergent for cotton and polyester) to the water. For a typical kitchen or bathroom sink, one-half teaspoon is all you need. Use one teaspoon for a bathtub. Overdosing the water with detergent will not leave clothes cleaner and you'll have sticky residue left in the fibers. Swish your hands through the water to help disperse the detergent.
- Add the garments to the sink and be sure that the fabrics are completely saturated. Now, take a break. Let the clothes soak for at least 10 minutes. Do not soak sequin or beaded garments any longer than five minutes to prevent damage to the decorations.
- After soaking, swish the garments through the water and squeeze gently with your hands. Unless there is heavy soil, there is no need to twist or scrub the clothes. If the clothes are really dirty, you can scrub them with a soft-bristled brush to help loosen the soil. The brush also works well to remove body soil and deodorant build-up on underarm areas.
- Gently squeeze out the soapy water from your clothes and drain the water. Never wring delicate fabrics because wringing can cause distortion or tearing. While jeans and T-shirts can take some twisting, most fabrics are weaker when they are wet.
- Fill the sink with fresh cool water to rinse the clothes. Swish them through the water, and repeat this step with fresh water until no suds are seen.
- Roll the wet clothes in a thick dry towel to help absorb the excess water.
- Hang woven fabrics — jeans, T-shirts, blouses, lingerie — on sturdy plastic hangers to air dry. Avoid metal hangers that can leave rust stains.
- Knitted garments should be dried flat to prevent stretching. As you lay them down to dry, reshape the sweaters or dresses to its original shape. Unless you use a ventilated mesh drying rack, items that are laid flat on towels for drying should be flipped a couple of times over the next 24-hours to speed drying time.
Tips for washing clothes by hand
- Sort the dirty clothing just as you would when machine-washing clothes — whites, darks, bright colors.
- Sort again by fabric types. Do not handwash heavy blue jeans and a blue silk blouse at the same time.
- Before you put clothes in a sink or bathtub, clean it first to prevent staining or bleaching your clothes.
- If you don't have a sink large enough to allow the clothes to move about freely in the water or don't have a bathtub, use a couple of large plastic storage tubs. Use one for washing and the other for rinsing. This will save time because you won't have to empty and refill the tubs as often.
- Use the best detergent for the job. Delicate garments and fabrics like silk, wool, and lace should be washed in a gentle detergent that will not harm the natural sheen and texture of the fabric. Woolite Delicates has been around for decades and is still one of the best for these fabrics on the market. It contains no bleach or enzymes and is hypoallergenic so it's perfect for baby clothes too. Sturdier fabrics, especially those that are more heavily soiled, can withstand and need a detergent that contains enzymes to break apart the soil but still leaves them without residue in the fibers. Puracy Natural Laundry Detergent cleans well and leaves fabric soft to the touch.
- Do not overload the water with detergent. Lots of bubbles mean lots of detergent to rinse out of your clothes.
- Pre-treat stains with a dab of laundry detergent or a stain remover.
- Wash only a few garments at the same time. Do not attempt to clean an entire washing machine load at once by hand.
- Use heavy towels to help absorb water after the garment is rinsed. Place a circulating fan in the room to speed drying time.
How to dry clothes after washing by hand
What you'll need
A drying rack, especially one that is collapsible, is essential when hand-washing clothes. What you pay for one will determine its size and stability. Think about your needs and how often you'll use one. Spending a bit more will give you a model that you'll use for many years.
My favorite brand of drying racks is Brabanti, which makes sleek European designs that are both functional and elegant. The Brabanti Drying Tower is a perfect choice with enough room to hold a full machine load of laundry, measuring at 85 x 67 x 131 inches. The coated metal drying wings can be adjusted so garments can be hung or laid flat to dry. The wings also lock in place so you can easily move the rack even if it's loaded with wet clothes. When you're done, the rack folds flat to slip behind a door. With a five-year guarantee, you'll use it for many, many years.
If your budget demands a less expensive model, Amazon Basics Drying Rack is a good choice. It stands only 14.5 x 29.5 x 41.75 inches but can hold 32 pounds of wet clothes. The chrome finish protects from snags, it is lightweight and folds flat for storage.
If you purchase a basic drying rack, you'll also need flat drying racks for sweaters and other knits. There are flat racks available that are free-standing or can fit over a bathtub, but I like the Homz 3-Tier Hanging Flat Drying Rack because it can be used on the shower rod or over a door. The mesh shelves allow maximum airflow so sweaters dry more evenly and quickly. No more sweaters on top of towels on the floor or counter taking up space while they dry.
Drying times will vary greatly depending upon the type of fabric, the number of garments grouped together on a rack, and the air circulation in the room. I like to add a circulating fan to the room to speed up drying.
If you absolutely need something immediately and it's safe to put in an automatic dryer, add a couple of clean dry towels to the dryer drum with the wet garment to help absorb moisture so it can dry more quickly.