When the label in your favorite clothing shows the dreaded hand wash symbol, you need to take it seriously. Those clothes are more high maintenance than T-shirts and jeans that you toss in the washer. However, since washing by hand can keep some of your best clothes looking new longer, it’s worth the effort to wash them by hand.
Before we dig into how to hand wash your clothes properly, a few Dos and Don'ts to keep in mind:
- Don't use your washer's "Delicate" cycle as a replacement for hand-washing. It may be too rough on swimsuits, cashmere sweaters, and silk shirts.
- Don't dry-clean those, either. Hand-washing is faster, more affordable, and uses fewer chemicals, anyway.
- Don't twist or wring your clothes when hand-washing—that will just stretch your things out of shape.
- Don't rub them, either, because that can cause pills, the ugly little balls that you see on some sweaters.
- Don't use Tide and other detergents meant for machine washing. A few drops works fine for cottons, but the enzymes can deteriorate wool and silk.
- Do use a mild detergent that's meant for hand-washing.
Once you've got the basics, it's not hard to wash clothes manually, and it doesn't take long.
How to hand wash clothes
To preserve your fragile favorites, here's the right way to do hand laundry.
1. Sort by color.
Make piles of clothes: White/pales, colors, and darks. You’re going to wash each pile separately.
2. Find a basin to wash clothes in.
If you’re disgusted by the idea of washing clothes in the sink, even a clean sink, wash them in a basin or a large mixing bowl.
Pro-tip: Get two basins—one for washing and one for rinsing.
3. Fill the basin with cool water.
Fragile fibers generally do better washed in cool water. Warm water cleans clothes better, but might encourage dyes to bleed. Again, check the label.
4. Add a few of drops of detergent.
Choose a mild detergent, made for hand washing.
Pro-tip: Baby shampoo is an effective, inexpensive detergent substitute for hand washing.
5. Swish the clothes around in the soapy water.
Treat any stains you find as you wash.
Pro tip: Five minutes of hand washing is ample for most things, and two minutes is enough for lightly soiled clothes. Less is more, in this case.
6. Drain the basin and rinse it out.
Dump out the soapy water, rinse the basin, and refill it with cool, clean water. If you have a second basin, slip the soapy clothes in. You'll probably have to rinse more than once.
Pro-tip: Don’t run water from the faucet directly onto the clothes, because it can stretch them.
7. Carefully work the water out of the rinsed clothes.
Remember, you don't want to twist them or wring them roughly.
Pro tip: Gather each garment into a ball, and squeeze gently.
8. Lay the clothes out on a dry towel.
Pro-tip: Use white or light-colored towels to avoid color transfer.
9. Roll up the towel with the clothing inside to remove most of the water.
Start from the top, and roll towards you.
Pro-tip: If the clothing is very wet, you might need extra towels.
10. Air dry the clothes on a flat surface.
If you have a mesh rack, use it. It allows better exposure to air, so your clothes dry faster.