How to Hand Wash Clothes

Jennifer L. Betts
Female hands washing color clothes in sink

Some of your favorite delicate clothes will require special care to maintain their elasticity and shape. Make sure that you keep your clothes safe from shrinkage and bleeding by following a few simple hand washing instructions. Learn the extra special care you need to take with fabrics like silk wraps and wool pants as well.

General Delicate Hand Washing Instructions

You're going to throw your favorite sweater in the washing machine and notice the tag says hand wash. You cringe a little inside, but hand washing isn't as hard as you think. While there are some fabrics that will take a more delicate touch or special soaps, most of your hand washing needs can be met by following these simple steps. But before you plunge your hands into the water, there are a few supplies that you must have to ensure hand washing success.

  • Clean sink, tub or bucket (clean is key here)
  • Mild laundry detergent or a detergent for delicates
  • White towels
  • Rubber gloves optional
  • Drying rack, optional

Now, it's time to get your hands dirty, or clean, depending on how you look at it.

Woman hands washing clothes

Step One: Read

Look at the label and symbols.

  • Does it require a special cleaner?
  • Does it call for a specific water temperature?

If so, follow the care instructions to the letter. If it just calls for hand washing, then you can fill the sink or tub with cool to lukewarm water. Hot is a big no-no when it comes to hand washing.

Step Two: Add Detergent

For one item or a small item, add about a teaspoon of detergent. If you're washing a large item or getting adventurous and washing several items at once, use a tablespoon of detergent. Swish the water around to mix it up then add your item(s). Make sure to submerge the items in the water. Let the item(s) soak for anywhere from a few minutes to up to an hour depending on how soiled they are.

Step Three: Plunge and Swish

After a good soaking, gently swish, plunge and rub the fabric together to remove the dirt. Avoid harsh scrubbing or twisting the items. This can stretch and distort them. Simply swishing and gently rubbing them together can remove the dirt and grim that is still left from the soaking. Pull it out to see if the dirt is gone, if not give it a bit more gentle scrubbing.

Step Four: Rinse

Once your item(s) are good and clean, remove the item and drain the sink, tub or bucket. Add fresh cool water and gently plunge your garment in and out of the water until all the soap is removed. With multiple items this can be a little harder. Therefore, you might want to rinse them one at a time to ensure that all the soap is gone. You are looking for the water not to sud up or look murky. Repeatedly drain and add clean water until it remains clear.

hand washing cloths

Step Five: Remove the Water

Just like you didn't want to twist the fabric in the water, you don't want to do it outside of the water either. To remove the water, lay the garment on a towel. Place another towel over top of it and press to remove all the water. Another trick that works with everything beyond bras with an underwire is to lay the garment flat on the towel and gently roll the towel forcing all the water out of the garment and into the towel. Since the water will run out, you might want to do this on a counter or floor (not your bed). Doing this a couple of times with a clean towel can get your garment nearly dry.

Step Six: Hang to Dry

If something has to be hand washed, it shouldn't go into a dryer. That is just asking for a disaster -- or a knit sweater for your dog. You can use a drying rack to hang your clothing on or use your shower curtain bar. If you have a garment that won't lose its shape, then place it on a hanger and hang it up to dry.

Bathroom with bras hanging

Special Care for Silk

Silk is a fabric that might take extra special care, especially if it is brightly colored or patterned. Before you even attempt the directions above, you need to test the silk for colorfastness. Basically, you need to know if that vibrant red color is going to bleed out if you try to wash it. To do this, take a white washcloth and gently dampen an area of the silk. If the color starts to bleed on to the washcloth, abort mission. This is a job that is better left to professional dry cleaners. If not, you are good to follow the basic hand washing technique.

0 Silk Clothes Label

Hand Washing Wool or Cashmere

From your wool pants to blazers and cashmere cardigans, special care is needed when hand washing. First of all, wool is notorious for losing its shape. Therefore, if you have a structured garment like a blazer, try spot treating first with a cup of water and a drop or two of wool specific cleaner like Wool & Cashmere Shampoo. If a full washing is necessary, get your tools ready.

machine for removing lint

Washing Technique

Fill the sink, tub or bucket with cool water and add the recommended amount of cleaner. While you might wash multiple delicates, you'll want to wash wool garments one at a time. After adding your item, gently swish and agitate, no rubbing. Allow your item to soak for about 30 minutes and drain the water. Since you are doing items one at a time, rather than filling it up again, just hold the garment under the water until it runs clear.

Importance of Drying

After rinsing, lay your wool or cashmere garment on a towel and slowly roll it up to squeeze the water out. After all the water is removed, lay it on a flat surface to continue drying. Unless you want it to lose its shape, don't hang it up until it is fully dry. Once it is dry, if you notice little fuzz balls or pilling, you can use the de-pilling comb to get rid of it. Just glide it over the pilled areas and magically they disappear.

Delicate Clothes

Life would be easier if everything could just be thrown in the washer, but some materials require special care. While hand washing can be a pain, you'll be amazed at the life that you can add to your delicates with a gentle touch.

How to Hand Wash Clothes