How to Hand Wash Clothes

Hands washing clothes.

Washing machines are one of the greatest inventions ever. In places with no washing machines, people still use things like washboards and creeks to clean their clothes, a process that can take many hours. If you have access to a washing machine, appreciate it for the miracle it is.

As magical as today's appliances are, though, you can't always throw everything in the machine. Some garments are too delicate for any kind of automated washing. So whether you don't have access to a washing machine, or you have sensitive articles of clothing, you should know how to wash clothes by hand. Follow these steps to make sure your clothes get clean and remain undamaged.

Prepping the Wash

Good prep will ultimately save you time, so before you start hand-washing your clothes, get everything ready. First, read the labels on all the items you intend to wash. Don't think that you can ignore a "dry clean only" label just because you're hand-washing. On items that are marked for dry cleaning, it's often the water and not the washing machine that causes the damage. Dry clean clothes that need to be dry cleaned; wash everything else.

When you have your pile of clothes ready to be washed, clean the sink, tub, or container where you plan to wash your clothes. You can't get clean clothes if you start with a dirty washing area. Wipe down every surface where you're going to wash before you start. Otherwise, trace chemical deposits can bleach or stain your laundry, or react unfavorably with your detergent.

A wash basin with soapy water

Washing Your Clothes

Leave the clothes to the side, and fill your sink or tub up with water. The temperature should reflect the directions on the labels of your clothing. Use cold water for cold water clothing, warm for warm, and so on. Add one to two teaspoons of mild liquid detergent to the water, mix it up with your hands, and begin the washing process. Don't overfill your tub or sink, leave yourself room to work.

Fully submerge one item of clothing at a time in the soapy water. Make sure every bit of fabric is completely soaked by dunking the garment under the surface of the water repeatedly. Once it's saturated, let the clothing item sit for at least 5 minutes.

Next, gently swish the item around in the soapy water using your hands. Don't be aggressive. You don't want to twist or pull the clothing, because you don't want to end up stretching it out or causing some other type of damage. If there is stubborn dirt or a stain that won't come out, let the item soak for another 5 to 10 minutes and then do some more gentle swishing. Repeat this as needed to get everything clean.

Fill your washing tub up with clean, soapy water for every single garment. Don't wash multiple clothing items in the same water, you'll just be moving dirt from one item to the next.

Clothes drying on a metal fold-out rack.

Rinsing and Drying

Don't wring out your clothing item when you remove it from the water. Lift it out, drain the sink or the tub, and fill it up with water again. Place the clothing item in the clean water and gently swish it around to rinse it. Repeat this as necessary until all the soap is out of the item.

When the item is thoroughly washed and rinsed, place it on top of a thick towel that will soak up excess moisture. You can place a second clean towel on top of the garment and press gently to remove water. Once this process is done, you can hang up your clothing or place it on a flat surface to dry. Don't hang heavy garments when they're wet because this can cause them to stretch out and lose shape as they dry.

Hand Washing Your Clothes

Many delicate items and expensive pieces of clothing should be hand washed, as even the gentle cycle on a washing machine can be too aggressive for their structure. Knowing how to properly clean clothes by hand can extend the life of many of your garments, even without a magical machine.