How to Hand-Wash Clothes

Make clothes last longer and target tough stains by hand-washing items such as bras, lingerie, tights, sweaters, baby clothes and more.

Updated on March 03, 2023

Your washing machine excels when it comes to “everyday” cleaning, but most people have items in their wardrobe that are best washed on a gentle cycle. Hand-washing is the most gentle of all the settings.

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Photo by: Getty Images; Phornphan Pradittiemphon / EyeEm

Getty Images; Phornphan Pradittiemphon / EyeEm

Hand-washing your clothes may seem like an unnecessary chore. You may even be guilty of taking your washable items to the dry cleaner to get laundered for convenience. You might even be reluctant to admit that you’ve run a delicate item through the wash, risking damage, also for convenience (I know I have). But if you’re hesitant about sending delicates through the wash cycle, it’s worth learning how to hand-wash your clothes. Once you do, you'll quickly realize: It's not that hard.

When to Hand-Wash Clothes

Many of us take the time to hand-wash special lingerie, but it's worth considering your everyday bra, too. While you may consider it to be a hardworking, indestructible staple, the elastic components, underwires and other carefully sewn layers always last longer if washed by hand. At the very least, you should launder them in a mesh bag and remember to line-dry them to preserve their shape and elastics. That bra, your favorite blouse, other delicates or even your favorite sweatshirt marred by a splash of red sauce can all benefit from hand-washing treatments.

You may want to go the hand-washing route if:

  • The label says to hand-wash; look for the symbol of a hand in a tub of water.
  • You need to spot-treat stains.
  • You want to preserve lace, silk and wool fibers.
  • You want to preserve elastics such as in bras and bathing suits.
  • You want to protect embellishments such as sequins and embroidery.

Many baby clothes also should be hand-washed. Take control of how your garments are cared for and handled and follow the following steps to learn how to better manage your laundry.

Simple Steps to Hand-Washing Clothes

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Avoid wringing your clothes during handwashing. Instead, you can rinse clothes by pressing the garments against the sink or bowl you're using.

Photo by: Getty Images; Mara Dinunno / EyeEm

Getty Images; Mara Dinunno / EyeEm

Avoid wringing your clothes during handwashing. Instead, you can rinse clothes by pressing the garments against the sink or bowl you're using.

1. Pretreat stains with a spot-cleaning solution.

A solid laundry soap bar is a great option for unexpected stains on a garment, as well as the stained collar on a T-shirt.

2. Fill a sink or bowl with water.

Warm water is best.

3. Pour in a small amount of liquid laundry soap.

A delicate formula such as Woolite is best to support a gentle cleaning. Agitate the water and soap to mix.

4. Submerge your garment(s) and use only your hands to gently wash.

Then, leave garments in the soapy water to sit for up to 30 minutes.

5. Drain dirty water, replace with clean warm water, and gently rinse.

You might find it effective to swish the clothes in the water or press them against the sides of the sink or bowl. Avoid wringing the material, which can damage it (just like what happens in the washer). Replace the water as needed until the soap is removed.

6. Dry items thoroughly on a flat towel.

One effective way of removing the water is to roll the garment into the towel to squeeze out moisture. Ultimately, you’ll want to focus on drying it flat or hang-drying it on a hanger or clothesline, whichever works best for the garment and its desired shape.

There are other considerations to keep in mind if you’re treating blood stains or cleaning chocolate stains on clothing. With a little know-how and TLC, you can make your favorite items last longer.

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Benefits of Hang-Drying Laundry

But wait, there’s more! If you run garments that are delicate or embellished through a dryer after hand-washing, you might be putting the fibers and elastics at risk for damage just as much as you would by putting them through the washing machine.

When to avoid using a dryer:

  • Heat can damage bathing suits, shapewear, spandex garments or elastic components. It’s always best to hand-wash these items and then dry them laying flat.

  • Agitation in the dryer is no different than in the washer. Delicates and embellished items that go through the dryer cycle after hand-washing are at risk of being damaged.

Why hang-drying works:

  • Hang-drying can reduce garment shrinking.

  • The sun has natural bleaching capabilities, making it great for sheets, towels and stained baby garments like cloth diapers. Hang-dry your white garments outside on a clothesline to reap the full benefits of a warm, sunny day.

  • Hand-washing a single item uses less water than running a full wash cycle and line-drying clothes also promotes energy efficiency.

Next time you’re debating how to gently clean garments from your wardrobe, try hand-washing and see how it makes a difference.

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