Sometimes the best thing you can do for your clothes is ditch the washing machine and take a manual approach. While hand-washing is typically reserved for delicate items — namely bras and underwear — it's an effective option for most types of clothing, especially if you don't have a large enough load to make a trip to the laundromat worthwhile.
Before heading to your sink, take a look at your garment's care and fiber tag for water temperature guidelines and further washing instructions. If the label says dry clean only, then do not hand-wash. If it says simply dry clean, it may be safe to wash in the sink. To err on the side of caution, test your garment by placing a drop of water in a hidden spot and blotting with a paper towel. If no color comes off and it doesn’t leave a water spot, then the item may be safe to hand-wash. But be aware that if you go against the care label, you are taking a risk: It’s not just about a fabric’s colorfastness or water-spotting; other aspects, like trims, linings or fabric shrinkage could make handwashing unsafe when the care label says dry clean.
Whether you're tackling a wine stain or simply need to spruce up a blouse before its next wear, take a tip from an expert — Carolyn Forté, the executive director of the Good Housekeeping Institute Cleaning Lab — on the foolproof way to hand-wash clothes. Although the care instructions may vary from one clothing type to the next, the same step-by-step method applies, no matter if you're working with wool, silk or cotton.
How to Hand-Wash Clothes
Washing clothes by hand is by far the most gentle approach. It allows you to treat your garments with an extreme level of care throughout the entire cleaning process. To save time, feel free to wash likes with likes a.k.a. garments in the same color and fabric type. Follow this step-by-step guide for most garments (but keep on reading for more specific how-tos for bras, underwear, and sweaters):
- Read the care label to determine the type of fabric: silk, wool and so forth. From there, pinpoint the best laundry detergent. Any standard liquid or powder detergent should work for most items. Delicate fabrics may call for something more gentle, like fine fabric detergent, free and gentle detergent or mild dish liquid.
- Treat stains, if necessary. To do so, gently work laundry stain remover or liquid detergent into the stain with your fingertips (avoid scrubbing!).
- Fill the sink with water — lukewarm or warm, depending on your garment's care labels. (FYI: Wool, silk and bright colors clean best in cold water.) As the water is running, add the recommended dose of detergent. Swish the detergent in the water to make sure it's completely dissolved, then lay your garment in the water and gently press it down to fully immerse it. While it's soaking, gently squeeze the sudsy water through the garment several times. The water may change color, but it may be excess dye, which shouldn’t cause color loss.
- Rinse thoroughly. If you have a sprayer on your faucet, place any lightweight garments, like sheer tights or swimsuits, in a colander and rinse clean. Otherwise, fill the sink with cool, clear water, immerse the garment and squeeze the water through to rinse. Repeat as needed.
- Remove excess water. Since wringing out wet, delicate fabrics may cause damage, carefully lift the garment with both hands and gently squeeze out as much water as possible. Then, lay it flat on an absorbent towel, and roll the towel and garment together until the water is absorbed. Be sure to treat your garment gently still.
- Lay items to dry. To prevent delicates, especially knits, from stretching out of shape, lay them flat to dry. For extra care (and to speed up the drying process), lay sweaters or swimsuits on top of a dry towel and let them air dry. Once the front is dry, flip it over.
How to Hand-Wash Bras and Delicate Lingerie
While throwing your bra in the washing machine may seem like a quick fix, it is a sure way to have underwire poking through the fabric in no time. Washing your bras by hand is recommended by lingerie brands and designers since it helps your undergarments keep their shape and fit. Good news for you: It's seriously easy to do.
- Fill sink with lukewarm water, unless your bra's care tag specifies a different water temperature. As the water is running, add a gentle detergent. Make sure the detergent is completely dissolved before adding undergarments.
- Carefully place the bra in the soapy water; let it soak for 15 minutes. Gently work the sudsy solution into all the nooks and crannies of the bra.
- Rinse thoroughly. If you have a sprayer on your faucet, place the bra in a colander and rinse clean. Otherwise, fill the sink with fresh cool water, immerse the bra and gently squeeze the water through to rinse.
- Gently squeeze, reshape and dry flat. To get rid of any excess water, gently squeeze out water from the straps and back or pat it (including the cups) with a towel. Then reshape and dry flat.
How to Hand-Wash Underwear
Similar to bras, there are some underwear styles that should be washed by hand. Follow this how-to guide the next time you clean your silk, lace or delicate underwear.
- Fill sink with warm water, unless your underwear's care tag specifies a different water temperature. As the water is running, add a gentle detergent. Make sure the detergent is completely dissolved before adding undergarments.
- Soak underwear for up to 30 minutes. You can wash multiple pairs as long as they're the same color and fiber type. Swish the detergent in the water periodically.
- Rinse with lukewarm water. If you have a sprayer on your faucet, place the underwear in a colander and rinse clean. Otherwise, fill the sink with water, immerse the underwear and squeeze the water through to rinse.
- Gently squeeze, reshape and dry. Remove any excess water by gently squeezing the underwear. Then blot with a towel, reshape the underwear and either hang or lay it flat to dry.
How to Hand-Wash Sweaters
We all have that one sweater that we love — except for the fact that it requires a trip to the dry cleaner after each wear. If it's marked dry clean on the care tag, it may be safe to wash your sweater at home. If it's marked dry clean only, don't risk ruining your favorite sweater by washing it by hand!
- Check the sweater's tags. Review the sweater's care and fiber tags to determine the recommended water temperature. For most sweaters, lukewarm water and a gentle detergent or mild dish liquid should work. Fill your sink with water and, as the water is running, add the detergent and make sure it is completely dissolved.
- Treat stains. Treat stains with laundry stain remover or liquid detergent. Work the stain remover into the stain with your fingertips (avoid scrubbing!).
- Flip the sweater inside-out. Then immerse the sweater in the water and squeeze the suds through the sweater several times as it’s soaking. Let it sit for at least 10 minutes.
- Rinse thoroughly. Fill the sink with cool, clear water, immerse the sweater and squeeze the water through to rinse.
- Gently squeeze out as much water as possible from the sweater. Then, lay it flat on an absorbent towel, and gently roll the towel and garment together until the water is absorbed.
- Allow sweater to air dry. Lay the sweater on top of a dry towel, and let it air dry. Once the front is dry, flip it over.
Amanda Garrity is a lifestyle writer and editor with over seven years of experience, including five years on staff at Good Housekeeping, where she covered all things home and holiday, including the latest interior design trends, inspiring DIY ideas and gift guides for any (and every) occasion. She also has a soft spot for feel-good TV, so you can catch her writing about popular shows like Virgin River, Sweet Magnolias, Hallmark Channel’s When Calls the Heart and more.