Cleaning Hacks

How To Hand Wash Clothes in 6 Easy, Stress-Free Steps

Mary Grace Garis

Photo: Getty Images/Eri-Nakazawa/EyeEm

To get real about my stance on clothing care, the second I see “hand wash only” on basically any garment label, I roll my eyes and accept that the article of clothing will almost certainly soon join my veritable graveyard of misfit duds. Because I don’t really know how to hand wash clothes, I take the laundering instruction as more of a suggestion (retweet on dry clean only pieces), and the quality of some of my clothes show it. But I’m an adult, so it’s high time I learn how to hand wash clothes, because certain pieces really do need the dedicated tender loving care.

“Some materials can’t withstand the agitation of a mechanical wash, or might be extremely temperature sensitive,” says Angela Bell, cleaning expert with cleaning product company Grove Collaborative. “The longevity of more delicate fabrics can be greatly increased by hand washing.”

“Some materials can’t withstand the agitation of a mechanical wash, or might be extremely temperature sensitive. The longevity of more delicate fabrics can be greatly increased by hand washing.” —Angela Bell, cleaning expert

As far as which materials are most likely to need to be hand washed, Bell says hemp, organic cotton, and delicate knits are all on the the list. And by “delicate knits” she means cashmere, that buttery-soft textile that needs to be handled with expert care. It can also sometimes mean wool pieces, and basically any delicate sweaters. But this list is by no means exhaustive, which is why Bell suggests you always check the label of your clothes to see for sure whether something should be hand washed.

If you check the label and see that it indeed is hand wash only, don’t panic—we have you covered. Below, Bell and Grove Guide Georgia Dixon outline exactly what you need, product wise, and then how to hand wash clothes in six easy steps.

5 tools you’ll need in order to hand wash your clothes

1. Large sink (or bathtub!) with a good stopper or a pail

Ideally you already have a place to wash your hands and/or body. If you’re like me, though, and have a sink that’s too small or a bathtub that’s objectively disgusting, there’s a workaround: This collapsible tub is a top Amazon pick, and can be repurposed for dish washing and camping trip clean-ups, too.

Shop Now: SAMMART Collapsible Tub, $15

2. Laundry detergent and stain spray

Obviously you want your clothes smelling great and like tainted dirty water. For that, we using recommend Grove Collaborative’s aromatic lavender and rosemary detergent, which is an extra-gentle soap, for your hand-washed pieces.

Shop Now: Grove Collaborative Laundry Detergent, $11

Also consider using a stain-remover spray for whenever you come across an assault of marinara or coffee on your poor, dear, delicates.

Shop Now: Grove Collaborative Stain Remover Spray, $5

3. Brush with soft bristles

This tool is good to have in your hand-washing arsenal in case you come across stains that are extremely aggressive. A soft dish brush will usually do the trick here, according to both Bell and Dixon.

Shop Now: Grove Collaborative Bubble Up Dish Brush, $7

4. Absorbent towel to wring out garments after laundering

You almost certainly have towels in your home already (you have to dry off after showering, after all!). But if you’re looking to keep your body towels and hand-washing towels separate, consider using these bamboo bath towels, which are both absorbent and sustainable.

Shop Now: Ariv Collection Premium Bamboo Cotton Bath Towels, $26

5. Laundry rack to hang dry

Obviously if we’re taking the time to hand wash our clothes, we’re not going to put them in the dryer on the highest, knit-shrinking setting. So an alternative is to use a classic laundry rack like this one.

Shop Now: AmazonBasics Foldable Clothes Drying Laundry Rack, $18

How to hand wash clothes in 6 easy steps

1. Stain-treat you clothes before washing

Before you plunge your clothes into the water, check them for any stubborn smudges. “Treat any stains with the stain stick or spray, taking care not to tug at more delicate fabrics,” says Bell.

2. Make your hand washing mixture

Next, you’re going to make your water a little bit sudsy; nothing crazy though (you only want to see a few bubbles appear at the top). “Fill your sink or basin with cool water and about a tablespoon of laundry detergent,” says Dixon.

3. Soak your garments

“Soak the clothes half an hour or more before using your hands to agitate,” Bell says. “If you have sensitive skin, cleaning gloves may be a good move.”

4. Carefully scrub and stubborn parts

Remember how we stain-treated our spots earlier? Now’s the opportunity to see how those stains have progressed. If they’re still prominent, now you can try to scrub them out. “Use a soft cloth or sponge for delicate fabrics to work out any stains, taking care not to tug or twist,” says Dixon. “For sturdier fabrics, use a soft-bristled brush to work out any dirt or stains.”

5. Rinse out your garments, and lay them out

When they look good and ready, make sure to rinse out your garments well before placing them on a towel. Then, roll the towel to gently squeeze out the water, so your clothes are more so damp than soaking wet.

6. Hang to dry in a well-ventilated area

Congratulations: You’ve made it to the final (and very straightforward) step. As previously mentioned, a folding rack is ideal for this, but if you have the space (and mild temperature) outside, it might be nice to line dry your clothes with some classic clothes pins. Don’t have room in and outside your home? You can also lay out your clothes on dry towels if you don’t have something to hang them on. Make sure to form them out in the way that they should be worn, instead of leaving them in a tangled bunch.

Final hand-washing guidelines for different types of clothing

Finally, keep a few things in mind when it comes to the dirty details (literally) of certain garments. “For blouses, dresses, and lingerie, add a small drop of detergent to underarms and collars of the garments,” says Dixon. “Gently rub together the fabric with water and soap to remove any odors, makeup, discoloration from these areas.”

This extends to drying, too. Try to make a judgment call based on the weight and feel of the textile. “You can soak sturdier fabrics, such as denim, longer than 30 minutes to allow for the soap to set into the garment,” says Bell. “Lighter fabrics, such as lingerie, may not need to sit as long.”

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