Hand washing clothes is easy and effective for anything in your wardrobe. Find out how to hand wash clothes with our detailed step-by-step instructions below.
So that chic blouse you bought is hand wash only. Bummer, right? Well, not exactly. While machine washing clothes is low effort, there are several reasons why you might prefer the manual method—even when you aren’t directed to do so by the manufacturer.
Learning how to wash clothes by hand will save water, electricity, and detergent, making it a great choice for environmentally friendly launderers. Hand washing clothes is also easier on the garments themselves, offering a thorough yet gentle clean that keeps your favorite threads in top shape longer. Conversely, machine washing exposes your pieces to extra heat and friction that cause damage over time.
Despite being environmentally friendly and highly effective, hand washing is also essential for most delicates and fabrics like wool, cashmere, and some silk. So whether you’re excited about your next eco-cleaning adventure or you got roped into it because that cashmere sweater was oh so cute, our step-by-step process makes hand washing clothes an easy and painless process. First things first—let’s check the care tag.
Read the Care Tag
Every garment sold in the United States is sewn with a tag bearing standardized instructions on how to wash it. On some garments like tee shirts, care instructions may be printed on the fabric itself, likely near the sizing information. Once you find yours, look for symbols that determine how you should proceed with washing the item.
Machine washable – The symbol for machine-washable garments looks like a tub filled with water. If you see one or more dots inside the symbol, it is directing you to use a certain water temperature. But this symbol doesn’t mean you can’t—or shouldn’t—hand wash these clothes. In fact, doing so is likely to prolong their good condition.
Hand Wash Only – If you see a symbol of a hand in a tub of water, hand washing and dry cleaning are your only options. Some people still wash these items in a machine on a delicate setting, but it’s very risky to do so. We always recommend hand washing these items to avoid disaster.
Dry Clean Vs Dry Clean Only – There are two types of dry cleaning instructions you might encounter on your garment’s care tag. If it says “dry clean,” this is more of a suggestion. You should be able to hand wash or dry clean your item without trouble. If it says “dry clean only,” heed this warning! You should not wash this garment at home.
If your garment no longer has its care tag, you’ll have to make a judgment call. It’s a safe bet to hand wash delicates, wool, silk, and cashmere. Test a small, inconspicuous area to ensure your detergent doesn’t cause the fabric to bleed, then proceed to our step-by-step guide on how to hand wash clothes below.
How to Hand Wash Clothes
Since the invention and integration of washing machines, it may feel like a foreign and difficult prospect to learn how to wash clothes by hand. But don’t worry, humans have washed clothes for thousands of years and it’s quicker and easier than ever before. You won’t need much to get started, and what you do require, you probably already have at home.
What you’ll need
- A tub to wash the clothes in
- A detergent like mild laundry soap or dishwashing liquid
- A sink or other source of temperature-controlled water
- Clean bath towels for drying
Step 1: Fill up the tub with water
To get started, fill your tub (or sink) with water. If your garment still has its care label attached, check for the appropriate water temperature to use for that particular fiber. If not, tepid or lukewarm water is a safe bet.
Step 2: Add detergent
Next, add your detergent. If you’re using a laundry detergent pod, break it open and use only a small amount of the detergent inside. Otherwise, use about one teaspoon of gentile detergent for a single garment and scale up if you’re washing more than one piece. (Only wash multiple garments together if they are the same fabric and color.)
Step 2: Soak the garment
Place your garment into the soapy water. You don’t need much movement for the detergent to do its job. Just agitate the water with your hands and swish the garments around gently. Never twist, wring, or scrub the fabric, which could stretch or damage it. Allow items to soak for 15 minutes or until they are completely clean—but not longer than 30 minutes.
Pro Tip: It is normal for the water in your tub to become colored. You won’t notice any color loss or fading after hand washing clothes.
Step 3: Rinse out the soap
Drain the tub of sudsy water and fill it up again with clean water for rinsing. Move your clothes around the tub and press less delicate items against the walls to coax the soap from their fibers. Repeat this process until the clothes are completely clean, swapping the soapy water out for clean water as needed. It is important to make sure there is no suds on your clothes before drying, as allowing detergent to dry on the fabric can cause damage.
How to Dry Handwashed Clothes
You’re likely washing clothes that are too delicate for the machine, so it would be a shame to waste your efforts up to this point by subjecting your items to extreme heat in your dryer. Drying clothes by hand is more involved but is well worth it to keep your favorite pieces in great condition.
Step 1: Check the Care Label Again
In addition to washing instructions, the care label may also offer drying advice. Drying-related symbols are all represented by a square with additional icons inside. Here are the most common ones:
- Dry flat – A square with a horizontal line in the center
- Hang to dry – A square with a half circle at the top
- Drip dry – A square with three vertical lines
These instructions will help you in step three, but for now, continue with our drying process outlined below.
Step 2: Gently Remove Excess Water
You will drastically cut down on drying time by removing as much water as possible right away. Gently squeeze the garment in small sections to press out excess water and be careful not to wring or twist the fabric—aggressive maneuvers can stretch the fibers and ruin the fit of your clothes.
Step 3: Throw In the Towel
Lay out a bath towel on a flat surface and place your washed garment on top, arranging it roughly to shape. Then roll up the towel like you would a sushi roll, enveloping the garment completely.
Squeeze or knead the bundle to help water transfer from your clothes to the towel. If you didn’t remove enough water from your garment in step one an2d your towel becomes soaked, repeat this step with another dry towel.
Pro Tip: If you use a new towel for this step, launder it several times first to prevent lint transfer to your hand-washed clothes.
Step 4: Air Dry Hand Washed Clothes
Lay your clothes out to dry on another clean towel or a flat surface that you don’t mind getting a little damp. Look at the care tag again and follow any instructions around drying and reshaping. If no care tag exists, make sure the garment is flat but not stretched. The fabric should be roughly in its original shape and not under any tension. Once dry, hang or fold articles of clothing so they don’t get wrinkled.
That’s all there is to it. We hope that with this step-by-step process on how to wash clothes by hand, you’ll have the confidence to include it in your laundry routine and as part of your repertoire of sustainable cleaning hacks. Check out the Public Goods blog for more on green housekeeping—like how to wash a down comforter or how to clean a shower curtain.
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