Modern-day laundry doers have it pretty easy: Soiled clothes, towels and sheets go into the washing machine and come out clean, job done. But knowing how to launder a garment by hand is more useful than you might think.
There are times when access to a washing machine is limited — when traveling, for example — and certain garments benefit from being washed by hand because they are very delicate. Lingerie, embellished sweaters and expensive workout clothes are all items that will look better and last longer if washed by hand rather than in the machine. And then there are the times when you can’t manage an entire load of laundry but you really, really want to wear your favorite sports bra to tomorrow’s spin class! Hand-laundering has many applications, and performing the task is easier than you might think.
To understand when, why and how to hand-wash an item of clothing, we spoke with Wayne Edelman, the founder and president of Meurice Garment Care, who shared his extensive knowledge of fabric care.
How to hand-wash clothing
Hand-washing clothes is surprisingly simple and straightforward. Edelman explains the six-step process for hand-laundering your clothes at home.
- Step 1: Fill a basin with cool water, ensuring there’s enough water to submerge the garment and move through it.
- Step 2: Add detergent. In the case of no-rinse detergents like Soak Wash, a capful is enough; if using a regular detergent, Edelman says, “Only add enough detergent to create a slippery feel to the water and some sudsing. Using too much detergent will then require excessive rinsing to remove the soap.”
- Step 3: Agitate the garment with your hands.
- Step 4: If using regular detergent, rinse thoroughly to remove all detergent.
- Step 5: Remove the garment from the water, supporting the weight of it in your hands so it doesn’t stretch. Gently squeeze out water, but do not wring; wringing or twisting can damage fibers and distort the garment’s shape. Then, roll the item in a dry towel, jelly roll-style, and squeeze to remove water.
- Step 6: Lay or hang the garment to dry. Garments like sweaters should always be dried flat rather than hung (hanging a wet sweater will cause it to stretch and become misshapen), while clothing like gym shorts or yoga pants can be hung to drip dry. Avoid draping wet clothing on wood furniture or floors, or on metal radiators, to dry, as it can cause damage to both the clothing and to those surfaces.
What to wash by hand (and what to skip)
Virtually anything can be washed by hand — after all, up until 1851, when the modern washing machine was invented, everything was washed by hand! But some items of clothing do lend themselves better to hand-laundering than others. If you’re looking to try your hand (literally) at hand-washing, workout gear is a good place to start because it’s lightweight and quick-drying.
These are some garments that are good candidates for washing by hand:
- Lingerie and hosiery
- Activewear like sweat-wicking shirts, yoga pants and sports bras
- Embellished clothing
- Garments with a fresh stain
There are also items that don’t lend themselves well to washing by hand. “Bulky items like quilts and bedspreads are difficult to hand-wash,” Edelman says, “and heavier outerwear are also difficult to hand-wash.” While it is certainly possible to wash bulky items by hand, when it comes to towels, sweatshirts, pants, jeans and other bulky garments, it’s best to stick with machine-washing or professional cleaning.
Products that make hand-washing a cinch
You don’t need any fancy equipment to wash clothes by hand — water, detergent and a towel is all you’ll need! — but there are products that can make the job easier and more effective.
$23.88 $16.99 at Amazon
Hand-laundering can be done in a kitchen, bathroom or utility sink, or the bathtub. But if those options aren’t available or are inconvenient, a washing basin works just as well. Basins come in different styles, but one with a drain plug at the bottom makes cleanup very easy.
$15.99 at Amazon
Regular laundry detergent can be used for hand-washing any type of garment, but a specialty detergent like Soak Wash can be nice to have if you frequently hand-wash. Soak Wash, a no-rinse formula, is our top choice when it comes to detergents for hand-laundering because of its ease of use.
$36 at Amazon
Specialty detergents make a great gift since they’re items we typically don’t splurge on for ourselves. If you’re looking for a highly giftable delicates detergent to give to a knitter or fashionista, Le Blanc’s silk and lingerie wash is an excellent detergent with a luxurious scent.
From $8.99 at Amazon
After washing, it can be helpful to roll up a sweater in a towel to extrude water without wringing or twisting the garment, which can cause the fibers to stretch or break. Using a super-absorbent quick-drying towel for the job is ideal — they’re also a smart choice for use when doing hand-washing while traveling.
$48.99 at Amazon
When it comes to choosing a multipurpose drying rack, look for styles that offer ample space for flat drying like the Honey-Can-Do gullwing rack.
$17.98 at Amazon
Regardless of whether you’re washing in the machine or by hand, sweaters should always be dried flat; hanging a wet sweater will cause it to stretch and become misshapen. A flat mesh drying rack is ideal for sweaters because it allows air to circulate evenly even when the sweater is flat.
$11.99 at Amazon
Small items like socks and underwear can slip through the dowels of traditional drying racks. Clip-style drying hangers solve that problem.
$64.99 at Amazon
If your home is short on floor or storage space, a wall-mounted drying rack will give you plenty of space for air-drying clothing without taking up room you don’t have to spare.