How to Hand-Wash Clothes

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Hand washing can save energy and preserve the life of your garments.
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It's laundry day, and that new shirt says it's hand wash only. Whether you are hand washing to care for delicate clothing or because you prefer to use people power instead of electricity, washing clothes without a machine is possible, and relatively easy, but it's not quick.

Sorting the Laundry

Just as with machine washing, the first step is sorting your laundry. If you're washing a handful of delicate clothing, it's a simple matter of sorting by color and water temperature. Darks and lights should not be washed together. If you're doing a large amount of laundry, you'll also need to sort by fabric weight. Hand washing reduces the friction items go through during the washing process, which can protect delicate items and prolong their life. Some items labeled "hand wash only" can be machine washed using the delicate cycle. If the items have any hooks, buttons or embellishments, it's best to stick with hand washing.

The Hand Wash Laundry Room

To get started, you need a waterproof container that's large enough to hold your biggest hand wash item, and easy to drain and refill. If you are draining your water into your yard, choose a biodegradable soap as your detergent; otherwise you can use your regular detergent or one specially formulated for delicate items. Adjust the amount of detergent and other additives based on how much water you are using, anywhere from 1/2 teaspoon in a small sink to a tablespoon or two in a bathtub full of water.

Washing Delicates by Hand

A good practice for hand washing is to start with the lightest, most delicate items first and work up to heavier items. Rinse clothes in a basin of clean water, adding fabric softener if desired, or under running water. Rinse until no soap appears when you gently squeeze the garment. Avoid twisting, wringing or vigorous rubbing. If you have enough space in your wash basin, you can wash several items at a time, but make sure they're in the same color range and have the same water temperature requirements.

Heavier Hand Washing

Heavier items are easier to wash in a larger tub or basin. For knits and lighter weight items, gently press and squeeze the wash water through the clothes. For sturdier things like towels or woven fabrics, you can even get in the tub and stomp on the clothes to create some agitation. Take extra care when rinsing absorbent items like towels or knits to ensure you've removed all of the soap. Wring out sturdier items, like towels and woven fabrics; squeeze knits gently, and do not wring, to remove excess water.


Lay out delicates and knits on a towel and roll them together; then press to pull as much water as possible from the item into the towel. Reshape knits and lay them flat to dry. You can squeeze or wring less delicate items and heavier woven fabrics to remove as much water as possible. Shake the item out to restore its proper shape and help remove wrinkles. Hang these clothes to dry either on an indoor or outdoor line, or place on a hanger and hang where there is plenty of air circulation.

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Rochelle Karina

Rochelle Karina has been writing for more than 20 years; her opinion and humor pieces have been published in local newspapers and international magazines. Karina was the creative force and principal writer behind the eco-design and decor blog Inspired Habitat. A San Diego native now living in Baltimore, she currently maintains several relationship blogs and has completed two novels, as well as writing for Demand.