We're thinking the pioneers were onto something with their washboards and buckets, because hand-washing is a very effective way to be gentle to your clothes. While some of your pieces might say “hand-wash only,” it’s good sense to give the hand-washing treatment to some of your more sensitive garments. Think: sweaters with beads and embellishments, embroidered pieces, lace bras, and anything that’s cashmere.
Hand-washing can also come in handy (pun intended) when you’re on vacation and there isn’t a washer or dryer in sight. Want to learn how to hand wash clothes like a pro? Here's a step-by-step guide to washing your clothes by hand. (And while you're at it, check out how to clean a washing machine, how to clean a mattress, and how to wash a comforter.)
What are some hand-washing basics?
First, turn to the standard laws of laundry and separate your darks and lights, just as you would if you were putting a load in the washing machine.
Then, use two separate tubs of water, or you can fill two bathtubs or sinks with water. Again, just like your washing machine, the water doesn’t need to be scalding hot—just warm enough to get the clothes clean. Plan to start with either your darks or lights, and feel free to empty the water in between cleanings. Add detergent to one tub.
You won’t need your great-grandmother’s washboard to get your clothes clean. Instead, dunk each clothing item fully in the water and move it around softly to remove the initial dirt. Then swish with a bit more force for a couple minutes per item. In fact, overly scrubbing or rubbing your clothes might ruin them. When the piece no longer looks soapy, send it over to the second tub of water and rinse clean.
How do you dry clothes after hand washing?
Do not twist your clothes. We repeat: Do not twist your clothes. We know that wringing them out seems like the natural thing to do after hand-washing them, but it could harm your beloved pieces.
Just let the clothes drip-dry for a minute or two above the tub before laying them out on a flat surface, like a countertop or ideally a drying rack. Lastly, have patience. Air-drying clothes will certainly take longer than your dryer, and they could still be wet in the morning.
What soap should I use to hand wash clothes?
Mild detergent is preferred for hand-washing. Presumably, these are clothes that you want to be careful with, so it makes sense to use a gentle detergent. Woolite is a home run, along with any other detergents geared toward delicates. In a pinch, even baby shampoo is a good option. If you’re working with wool or touchy knits, we recommend detergent with lanolin, a wax that comes from sheep that doubles as a softening, protective ingredient. We also love no-rinse detergents for hand-washing. These detergents won’t need to be rinsed off, which means less wear and tear for your extra-delicate clothes.
How do I hand-wash delicates like bras and underwear?
Whether you have lace you want to protect or you’re on the road, it’s good to know how to hand-wash bras and underwear. For bras, simply swirl them around and allow them to soak no more than an hour. Follow the “no wringing” rule of thumb, allow them to drip into the tub, and hang them to dry. For underwear, fill the tub with warm water and start by soaking them for 30 minutes for a deeper clean, occasionally moving them around so the detergent can work even better. Rinse, carefully squeeze out any water, and then hang them to dry.
How do I hand-wash a sweater?
Although some sweaters can withstand a washing machine (especially if you choose the “delicates” option), most sweaters will be safeguarded even more if you hand-wash them. If there’s staining or a scent you’d like the banish (and the sweater is made of synthetic fibers), feel free to use warm water. Cold water will work for all other types of sweaters. Begin by gently moving the sweater around in the water, and then you can soak it up to an hour. Squeeze out the water very, very gently so you don’t alter the shape and lay it flat to dry.
What about tricky materials, like silk?
Silk requires even more care while hand-washing, so we advise cold water and turning the garment inside-out before washing it. Soak the item for up to half an hour, then rinse.
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