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how to hand wash anything, in 5 simple steps

Categories: basics


I love everything in my closet; I try to make a point of not buying anything I can’t see myself still wearing in a year. Or two. Or, in some cases, 15. (I have a cashmere twinset that I bought in 1997. Still wearing it! Go me.)

In order to make things last, I hand wash a majority of my wardrobe — everything from pricey pieces, like my cashmere sweaters and washable silk blouses to super cheap shorts and tees. Why bother? Because no matter what the price point of my clothes, I want them to last as long as possible, with no shrinking or fading or excessive wear and tear.

These shorts do not do in the washing machine. Ever.

Things I make a point of hand-washing: Cashmere sweaters, bras, anything I don’t want to accidentally shrink, anything that would need to be ironed if it went in the washing machine (hand washing leaves things less wrinkled).

Things I do not hand wash: Running clothes, underwear, basic workhorse tees, anything belonging to my husband and children (although my husband’s fancy pants cycling kit doesn’t go in the dryer and he sends his dress shirts to the laundry because they do a better job, of course). Swimsuits — mine and theirs — go in the washing machine, in a lingerie bag, but get line dried. My jeans also go in the machine, inside out, and are hung to dry. Everyone else’s jeans? In the dryer, baby. Always.

(The dryer actually does the most damage to your clothes. Where do you think all that lint comes from? It’s your clothes, slowly disintegrating! Which is just sad.)

I typically do my hand-wash laundry once a week, often early in the morning when no one else is awake yet. It takes me maybe 40 minutes to launder everything I wear during the week. Here’s how I hand wash, in five easy steps.

What you will need: sink, detergent, towel. That’s it!

Step One: Clean the sink.
I hand wash my clothes in the kitchen sink, because it’s big enough to easily accommodate multiple pieces at one time. And since I am totally crazy a little bit Type A fairly neat, the sink is essentially always clean, so prepping it for a load of washing is simple; I just scrub it out with dish detergent and hot water and rinse with cool water. Ready to wash!

Step Two: Fill the sink with cold water and gentle detergent.

For everyday pieces (shorts, pants, dresses, etc) I use Woolite; for cashmere sweaters, I use Johnson’s Baby Shampoo. I pour a little detergent under the running water and let the sink fill up. While the sink is filling, I sort the laundry by color. I have a basket that lives in my closet and just holds my hand-wash pieces — that way they don’t get mixed in with the rest of the laundry by mistake.


Step Three: Toss in the clothes.
I wash like colors together, to prevent bleeding. If anything needs to be pretreated, I take care of it before I toss it in the water. I make sure each piece is totally waterlogged by squeezing gently — no wringing, of course, because that stretches the fabric. Then I set the kitchen timer for 5 minutes and go do something else. Like browse Pinterest. For example.

Step Four: Drain and rinse.
Exactly like it sounds: Drain the sink, and rinse garments until the water runs clear. Then gently squeeze out any excess water. Again, do not wring — seriously, that’s so bad for the material. Give your clothes a little love and they will love you back. Or something like that.


Step Five: Blot excess water with a towel.
This is the tricky part (and it’s really pretty easy): Spread a clean, dry towel on a flat surface (I use my kitchen counter) and lay your laundry flat on top of it, one piece at a time. Roll each piece in the towel and gently squeeze the roll to absorb any extra water. DO NOT WRING. (That should be my mantra, yes?) Unroll the towel and either hang or lay flat to dry, depending on the garment. I hang dresses and heavy shirts, and lay everything else out flat.

And that’s it!

To make hand washing even easier, I carry a Tide To Go pen with me at all times to deal with stains on the spot, which makes the actual washing that much easier. Those pens are the best thing to ever happen to your closet. Get three, now, and keep one with you at all times. Seriously.

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6 comments so far...

  • Hi–longtime lurker here –thanks for the tutorial! (especially for those of us who tend to avoid handwashing as it always seems so complicated and laborious—
    Quick question: do you find that Tide pens ever fade colors when you pretreat? (I have found that certain colors, especially taupe and khaki colored pants will show fade marks if you spot treat stains before laundrying)–Thanks!

    Margaret  |  July 13th, 2012 at 5:15 am

  • Margaret, that’s a good question. I haven’t ever had trouble with the Tide pens fading anything, but I think it’s because they’re designed to be left on the fabric. Other pretreaters will fade fabrics if you don’t follow the directions (spray on, wait 3-5 minutes and launder).

    Susan  |  July 13th, 2012 at 5:22 am

  • Thanks for the how to. Where do you lay out everything as they are drying? I am lacking for flat space and wonder how you have space for so many things at one time?
    Also, do you keep your cardigans folded down? I have been doing that, but sometimes they are full of fold lines when I go to put them on, no matter how carefully I have folded them.

    Kim  |  July 13th, 2012 at 6:56 am

  • Baby shampoo for wool items works very well, but there are also some “no-rinse” washes that I’ve come across. (I’m a knitter, and there is nothing more frustrating than ruining a hand knit item in the wash!) Eucalan is the one I use, but two others are Kookaburra wool wash and Soak — they all come in various scents and unscented. Eucalan also says that it repels moths — something you definitely want to watch out for if you want to keep your wool (and cashmere) sweaters around for years.

    Lori N  |  July 13th, 2012 at 7:48 am

  • I have a big pile of handwashables waiting for me now, so I like the weekly washing advice. I’ve heard that Woolite is bad for garments with lycra in them and that you should use Dreft for those. Do you know if that’s true?

    Sarah  |  July 15th, 2012 at 6:13 pm

  • SO helpful! We somehow have some hand wash only baby clothes (SILLIEST THING EVER) and I’ve been afraid to let Henry wear them. This seems easy enough!

    Rhi  |  July 20th, 2012 at 1:46 pm