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How to properly clean your 'hand wash only' clothes

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How to hand wash a sweater

Before hand washing a sweater, double check that the label says “dry clean” and not “dry clean only.” For synthetic fabrics, such as rayon and polyester, you can wash the garment in warm, but not hot, soapy water. Synthetic fabrics tend to hold odors more than natural fabrics, so a slightly raised temperature may be needed.

Swish the sweater around the sink. Soak for 10 to 60 minutes, then rinse with lukewarm water. Gently squeeze out the excess water and roll the sweater inside a towel. You can push the roll down for a few seconds or even leave it there for a few minutes, allowing the water to absorb. Dry sweaters flat for a few hours or overnight on a dry towel. You will probably need to turn the sweater over in the morning. It can take up to 48 hours for a sweater to dry thoroughly depending on how thick it is. Never hand a sweater dry, it can distort and stretch out the shape.

Step 3: Get the right equipment and detergent

You don’t need much to get your hand wash only clothes clean: some basic equipment and a little elbow grease are all it takes. Here, we’ve listed exactly what you need to get your clothes sparkling clean without any help from your machine.

  1. Long-sleeved rubber gloves: Washing clothes by hand may be great for your wardrobe, but it can take its toll on sensitive skin. You’ll need a pair of rubber cleaning gloves to protect your hands from the drying effect of any detergents or soaps.
  2. Two clean bowls or tubs: You’ll need two bowls or basins, which should be large enough to accommodate the garment you want to wash — remember that some items may expand when wet. One tub can be used for soapy water, and the other can be filled with clean water for rinsing away the suds. A clean sink or even a bath will also work well if you’re short of bowls!
  3. A mild detergent or gentle soap: While a spoonful of your usual detergent will often work fine, you can also buy specialist detergents that are formulated for hand washing. These are usually enzyme-free, making them gentler on delicate fabrics over time. You can also buy specialist cleaners for wool, silk, and cashmere. Some people even swear by baby shampoo! Whatever you choose, it’s a good idea to test out some diluted detergent or soap on an inconspicuous area of a garment before you begin, just to be on the safe side.
  4. A good pre-treating solution: While hand washing is much gentler than a machine wash, it’s often not as effective at removing tough stains. For the best results, you’ll want to treat any marks with a specialised stain treatment before you wash them.

Step 4: Wash

Start by filling one basin or tub with water. Unless the label on your clothing calls specifically for hot or cold water, lukewarm will be best, as high temperatures can damage delicate fabrics. Add the recommended amount of your detergent to one of the basins and swirl the water gently with your hand to work up a lather.

Next, take your garments and completely submerge them in the soapy water. If you don’t have a very large basin, you may prefer to wash each item individually, as this will prevent the tub from becoming overloaded. Swish the clothing around to ensure it’s completely saturated with water, and then leave it to soak for a couple of minutes. Stubborn stains can be left for longer if needed, although you should never leave real silk garments to soak for longer than 30 minutes.

Work the fabric with your hands, using gentle kneading motions to help loosen any dirt. You should be careful not to scrub or wring the fabric, as this could damage the fibres or stretch it out of shape.

How to Hand Wash Cashmere and Wool

Use steps like those above for wool and cashmere clothes. Considering the fragile nature of the fabric, you can use a mild hair conditioner instead of detergent to get it clean.

Read the manufacturer’s instructions before washing. Avoid drying wool and cashmere in the dryer, or you may unintentionally learn the way to shrink a shirt or your favorite sweater.

Which leads to the question: Can you unshrink clothes? While you can’t actually “unshrink” clothes, you can make clothing fit better by using baby shampoo or hair conditioner.

Tips for Hand Washing Clothes

There are a few extra things you can take note of when it comes to hand-washing your clothes. Here are our top tips.

  • Always fill your basin before adding your clothes. You might think you’re saving time by adding everything at once. But it’s important to make sure the temperature is right and the detergent is fully dissolved before adding your clothes. This prevents the force of the water from stretching your clothes, and the detergent leaving residue on your fabric.
  • You can wash clothes together, but make sure they are similar materials and colors.
  • Avoid scrubbing and twisting. You should always be gentle when hand-washing clothing. These are usually delicate fabrics and require a loving hand.
  • Always read the care label. Even if you read this article and know the item is made of wool, check the care label. It might state “dry-cleaning only” or tell you something specific about the item, like the water temperature required.
  • Test your detergent. Find an inconspicuous area on the garment to test your detergent, especially if you’re making your own. This will prevent you from ruining the item, in case the color bleeds.
  • Focus on areas that are more prone to bacteria. If you’re washing tights, for example, spend a little extra time hand washing the crotch and feet areas.
  • If you want to zap away bad smells, add ¾ cup of distilled white vinegar to your solution. This will help remove odors, because it can kill bacteria (1).
  • Always make sure your tub or basin is clean before using it to wash your clothes. This might seem like a pretty obvious tip, but it can make all the difference.

How to handwash sweaty clothes

If you have a top that’s a little niffy, you need to neutralise the smell of the sweat. 

To do this, follow the below step-by-step:

  • Fill your bowl or sink with lukewarm water, mild handwash detergent and just over half a cup of white vinegar.
  • Pop the top or sweater, inside out, into the water and swish gently.
  • Allow to soak for 10 to 15 minutes (assuming there’s no colour run), then drain the bowl or sink and run cold water over the clothing until it’s thoroughly rinsed.
  • Follow our drying instructions above for perfect results. 

(Image credit: Ikea)

How to Hand-Wash Bras and Delicate Lingerie

While throwing your bra in the washing machine may seem like a quick fix, it can be damaging in the long-run. Washing your bras by hand is the recommended method 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.

  1. Fill sink with lukewarm water (or the temperature specified on your bra’s care tag). Add a gentle detergent.
  2. Carefully place the bra in the water and soak for 15 minutes. Gently work the sudsy solution into all the nooks and crannies of the bra.
  3. Rinse. If you have a sprayer on your faucet, place the bra in a colander and rinse clean. Otherwise, fill the sink with cool, clear water, immerse the bra, and squeeze the water through to rinse.
  4. To get rid of any excess water, gently squeeze out water from the straps and back, blot or patting it (including the cups) with a towel. Then reshape and dry flat.

Why handwash clothes and not machine wash?

Some delicate fabrics – think lacy underwear, woollen jumpers, silk blouses – will usually keep both their original colour and shape better if handwashed properly rather than machine washed. 

However, always be aware that bright- or dark-coloured items can bleed their colours, which is why a test on a small area is best done first and why a lukewarm or cool wash is often the most sensible route.

(Image credit: Getty 1097712510)

  • Looking for a top dryer? Find the right one with our buyer’s guide to the best tumble dryers.

How to hand wash bras

Turn on the faucet, fill the sink with lukewarm water, and put in the detergent as it fills. When the sink is approximately three-quarters full, place bras of like colors in the soapy water. Swish them around gently as needed. Check that the hooks don’t catch onto any lace or mesh cups or embellishments.

Soak bras for up to an hour and then rinse.

Finally, place the bras on a towel, and then fold over the other side gently to blot up the excess water. Never squeeze or wring bras. Hang dry.

RELATED: Show Your Bras the TLC They Deserve With These Easy Hand Washing Tips

Mistakes to Avoid When Hand Washing Your Clothes

Never Wring Out Garments

Wringing out delicate fabrics damages your clothes. To remove excess moisture, lift the garment and gently squeeze it, and roll it up in a towel.

Skip Stain Scrubbing

While aggressive scrubbing cleans your jeans and many hardier fabrics, it may damage fragile fabrics like silk or linen. Use a stain remover for fine clothes that you can make or purchase if you have to treat stains by gently working the stain remover into the fabric with your fingertips.

This tip works just as well for getting baby oil out of clothes as it does for removing blood stains. It will also take grease stains out of clothes if the stain is a small one.

If you have old stains that you didn’t see before or ones that you didn’t realize weren’t gone when you treated them, there is still hope. Remove old grease stains from clothes or other types of older stains by rubbing dish soap into the stain and letting it sit before washing. If the fabric can take it, using a toothbrush to work the cleaner into the fibers can work wonders.

Forget about Hanging Things Up to Dry

If you hang delicate items, they will lose their natural shape. Delicate fabric or wool sweaters must be laid out flat to dry to keep their original shape.


Remember to Fill the Sink First

Always put water in the sink before adding clothes, since the force of water from the faucet stresses the fabric. Fill the sink first, add soap, and swish the detergent in the water before adding clothes.

How to Hand-Wash Tights

Delicate hosiery and tights require careful laundering to prevent snags and tears. Here's how to wash tights by hand.

Step 1: Prep hand-washing detergent

Fill a sink with lukewarm water and add half a cup of mild laundry detergent to wash your tights. Any detergent will do, but you can also look for detergent specially made for delicate clothes. Make sure you use lukewarm water, as hot water can actually reduce the elasticity of your tights and affect their fit.

Step 2: Submerge the tights

First, turn your tights inside-out. Gently place the tights in the water mixture and begin to scrub. Avoid any rubbing and pulling, and just gently scrub the areas that are most prone to bacteria like the feet and crotch area. Let your tights soak for about 10 minutes or so.

Step 3: Rinse and dry

Once done soaking, remove the tights from the water. Rinse them under a sink faucet with cold water. Rinse until no more suds leave the tights. Tighten into a ball and squeeze out excess water. Place tights on top of a towel and roll up to dry any remaining spots. Lay flat to dry on a lint-free towel.

laundry room sink below clothes bar Credit: Laura Moss

Hand Washing Helps

Hand washing your clothes is a helpful decision for many reasons! As discussed, it’s good for the environment. It’s the best decision for delicate items. And it allows you to work by hand at stains to make sure they’re removed.

Always make sure to use a mild detergent, read your fabric’s care label and never ever wring the clothes dry.