Laundry & Cleaning

Can 'hand-wash only' clothes go in the washing machine?

The label says no, but we live dangerously...

Can 'hand-wash only' clothes go in the washing machine? Credit: Getty Images / Mukhina1

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We’ve all been there: Your favorite blouse says “hand-wash only” on the tag in big, bold letters, practically begging you, “Please, don’t throw me in the washing machine; you know how this ends.”

You shrug, thinking, “This time will be different. I’ll just wash on cold!” But lo and behold—your blouse comes out too small, misshapen, stretched out, missing buttons, or just plain messed up.

If you want to play it safe, listen to the hand-wash tag and do your best to wash your favorite items in a tub or sink. However, if there’s an inner voice is calling to you, begging for an easier way to degerm your delicates, here’s how you can use the washing machine to clean “hand-wash only” clothing.

Clothing tag
Credit: Getty Images / AndreyCherkasov

Check your clothing's tag for washing instructions before throwing in the washing machine.

What does ‘hand-wash only’ mean?

Let’s start by talking about the dreaded “hand-wash only” label. Clothing manufacturers put it on items made from fragile materials, with complex construction, or even ones that have simply never been tested in a washing machine.

This means some of the clothing may be totally fine in a normal wash cycle. However, if you don’t want to risk ruining your favorite sweater, it’s safer to soak and scrub it in the sink. It’s always a good idea to handwash your best clothing, but if you enjoy living on the edge (like me), read on. (Not to brag, but I didn’t wash my sheets on the bulky cycle last week.)

How to use the washing machine for ‘hand-wash only’ clothing

Start by doing a thorough analysis of your “hand-wash only” clothing. Delicate fabrics, like wool or cashmere, and garments with ornate embellishments will be ruined by your washing machine, even if you run the gentle cycle. Using the following steps may potentially warp your clothing, so only move forward if you feel confident the piece can survive the fast movement of the wash and rinse cycles.

For those pieces you feel would survive a more aggressive cleanse, you’ll need to grab a mesh bag for delicates, mild laundry detergent meant for handwashing, and, ideally, a front-load washing machine, which will provide a more gentle cycle than a top-load one.

Working in small loads, place your delicate clothing in the bag, and add it to the washing machine along with a small amount of mild detergent—since you’re only washing a few items, you don’t need a full cap. Set the washing machine to the coldest, most gentle setting, and let it run.

Try to remove the clothing as soon as the cycle has finished to prevent wrinkling—and whatever you do, please don’t use the dryer. You’ll want to hang delicates to dry to prevent the dryer’s heat from shrinking or otherwise ruining the fabric.

Get Stain Out
Credit: Getty Images / YakobchukOlena

Use a small amount of delicate detergent to gently rub out stains on handwash-only clothing.

How to get stains out of delicate clothing

The downside of washing on a cold, gentle cycle is that it may not be as effective at getting out stains from hand-wash only clothing. If you’ve spilled and need a good cleaning solution, we recommend attacking stains before turning to the washing machine. Otherwise, you run the risk of setting the spot into the fabric.

Instead, treat stains immediately—if they’re fresh, gently rub them with warm water and a gentle detergent until the stain is gone. (If your garment is wool, do not rub it—you’ll ruin the fabric!) Once the stain is treated, you can add the garment to your delicates bag and machine wash it following the steps above.

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