How — and Why — Hand-Wash Clothes, According to Experts

Today’s launderers have a pretty simple job: dirty clothes, towels and sheets go in the washing machine and come out clean, the job is done. But knowing how to wash 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 some clothes benefit from being washed by hand as they are very delicate. Lingerie, embellished sweaters, 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 times when you can’t handle an entire load of laundry but you really, really want to wear your favorite sports bra for tomorrow’s spin class! Hand washing has many applications and performing this task is easier than you might think.

To understand when, why and how to hand wash a garment, we spoke with Wayne Edelman, the founder and president of Meurice Garment Care, who shared his in-depth knowledge of fabric care.

How to wash clothes by hand

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Washing clothes by hand is surprisingly simple and straightforward. Edelman explains the 6-step process for hand washing your clothes at home.

  • Step 1: Fill a basin with cold water, making sure there is enough water to submerge the garment and run through it.
  • Step 2: Add detergent. In the case of detergents without rinsing like Soak Wash, a cap is enough; if you’re using regular detergent, Edelman says, “Add only enough detergent to create a slippery feel to the water and a little suds. Using too much detergent will then require excessive rinsing to remove the soap.
  • Step 3: Shake 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 its weight in your hands so it does not stretch. Gently wring out the water, but don’t wring it out; wringing or twisting can damage the fibers and distort the shape of the garment. Then roll the item in a dry towel, jelly-roll style and squeeze out the water.
  • Step 6: Lay or hang garment to dry. Clothes like sweaters should always be dried flat rather than hung up (hanging up a wet sweater will cause it to stretch and deform), while clothes like gym shorts or yoga pants can be hung up to drip dry . Avoid draping wet clothes over wooden furniture or floors, or over metal radiators, to dry them as this can damage both the clothes and these surfaces.

What to hand wash (and what to skip)

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Virtually anything can be washed by hand – after all, until 1851 when the modern washing machine was invented, everything was washed by hand! But some clothes are better suited to hand washing than others. If you’re looking to literally try your hand at hand washing, workout gear is a good place to start because it’s lightweight and dries quickly.

Here are some clothes that are good candidates for hand washing:

  • Lingerie and hosiery
  • Activewear like sweat shirts, yoga pants, and sports bras
  • Sweaters
  • Embellished clothes
  • Clothes with a fresh stain

There are also items that do not lend themselves well to hand washing. “Bulky items like quilts and bedspreads are difficult to hand wash,” says Edelman, “and heavier outerwear is also difficult to hand wash.” While it’s certainly possible to hand wash bulky items, it’s best to stick to machine washing or professional cleaning for towels, sweatshirts and pants, jeans, and other bulky clothes.

Products that make hand washing easier

You don’t need fancy equipment to wash clothes by hand: water, detergent and a towel are enough! — but there are products that can make the job easier and more efficient.

MontNorth sink with drain plug

Hand washing can be done in a kitchen, bathroom or utility sink, or in the bathtub. But if those options aren’t available or impractical, a sink works just as well. Basins come in different styles, but one with a drain plug at the bottom makes cleaning super easy.

Soak Wash

Regular laundry detergent can be used to hand wash any type of garment. But a specialized detergent, like Soak Wash, can be nice if you wash frequently by hand. Soak Wash, a no-rinse formula, is our top pick for hand-washing detergents because of its ease of use.

Le Blanc Silk & Lingerie Cleanser

Le Blanc Silk & Lingerie Cleanser

Specialty detergents make a great gift, as these are items we don’t usually splurge on. If you’re looking for a delicate detergent to gift a knitter or fashionista, Le Blanc Silk & Lingerie Cleaner is a great detergent with a luxurious scent.

Rainleaf Super Absorbent Quick Dry Microfiber Towel

After washing, it may be helpful to wrap a sweater in a towel to expel water without wringing or twisting the garment, which can cause the fibers to stretch or break. Using a quick-drying, super-absorbent towel for work is ideal – it’s also a smart choice for use when washing hands while travelling.

Honey-Can-Do Heavy-Duty Drying Rack

When it comes to choosing a multi-purpose drying rack, look for styles that provide ample room for flat drying, such as the Honey-Can-Do Butterfly Drying Rack.

Oxo Good Grips Collapsible Sweater Rack with Fold-Flat Legs

Whether you wash them in the washing machine or by hand, sweaters should always be dried flat; hanging a wet sweater will cause it to stretch and deform. A flat mesh dryer is great for sweaters because it allows air to circulate evenly even when the sweater is lying flat.

Annaklin Plastic Clothespin and Drip Dry Hanger

Plastic Clothespin and Drip Drying Hanger for Socks, Bras, Lingerie

Small items like socks and underwear can slip through the pegs of traditional dryers. Clip style drying hangers solve this problem.

Brightmaison Wall Mounted Dryer

If your home is lacking in floor space or storage, a wall mounted drying rack will give you enough space to air dry clothes without taking up space you don’t have to spare.

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