How to Properly Clean Your ‘Hand Wash Only’ Clothes

1. Preparing the sink or bowl

This piece of advice is hard-won by the Real Homes team; more than one of us has carefully handwashed an item in a bowl that wasn’t quite rinsed of bleach from an earlier cleaning job. #washdaydisaster.

So, ensuring the bowl or sink that you’ll be handwashing the item in is squeaky clean is an absolute must. Wash yours well with a little warm soapy water, then rinse thoroughly before beginning your handwash.


3. Choose the best detergent

For starters, don’t use your regular washing powder. Why? It needs the agitation a washing machine can produce, but you can’t with your arms, to break down properly.

Martha Stewart explains, ‘Do you still avoid mixing colors in a wash basin and what kinds of detergents should you use? There’s good news in the context of the former: Hand-washing products have come a long way.’ 

‘In days of yore, you had to empty and refill a basin until all the soap bubbles disappeared—think Laura Ingalls Wilder-level tedium. Now, rinse-free detergents like Soak and Purl SoHo Sweater Soap make the job super-speedy.’

Instead, buy a delicate handwash detergent, and ensure it’s totally dissolved in the water before you immerse your clothing. Liquid wash detergents are better than powders because they dissolve faster, and to handwash clothes, you’ll only need about a teaspoon’s worth. 

You can also use a mild washing up liquid (find the best in our buyer’s guide) or dishwasher detergent. 

For fabrics such as wool, silk and rayon give biological, high pH wash detergents a wide berth. Instead, look for pH neutral non-enzymatic detergents; these don’t contain enzymes, bleach or brightening agents.

6. How to Hand-Wash Scarves

Let’s be honest, when was the last time you cleaned this outerwear staple? (Just a friendly reminder, it often sits right under your drippy nose and mouth.) Yeah, that’s what we thought. It doesn’t matter if you’re working with a chunky wool knit or a silky rayon number, this method should work for almost any type of scarf.

What you’ll need:

  • Baby shampoo
  • A large bowl

1. Fill the bowl with cold or cool water and add just a few drops of baby shampoo (you can also use a specialized gentle fabric cleanser, but baby shampoo works just as well and is often less expensive).

2. Let the scarf soak for up to ten minutes. Or up to seven, if it’s a very thin or small scarf.

3. Pour out the water, but keep the scarf in the bowl. Add a shallow amount of clean water to the bowl and swish it around.

4. Pour out the water and repeat until you feel the soap has been thoroughly removed from the fabric.

5. Pour out any remaining water and press the scarf against the side of the bowl to remove excess water (wringing the scarf can potentially damage the fabric or crease it).

6. Lay the scarf on a flat surface to dry.

How to Treat Stains on Hand Washed Clothes

But what about stains? You might love your washing machine for getting out stains. It’s hard to trust a new method of washing your clothes. But you can still be sure to get out stains if you choose to hand wash!

  1. Blot the stain with tissue paper or water as soon as you notice it.
  2. Work laundry detergent or stain remover into the stain with your fingertips.
  3. Soak the garment in cool water. Never use hot water, as it can set the stains.
  4. While it’s soaking, gently squeeze the stained garment, making sure to work on the stain. Do this for about 15 minutes.
  5. Bad stains might take longer, so soak them for an extra 15 minutes to see if that makes a difference.

Pro Tip

Always treat stains as soon as you notice them. This will improve your chances of getting the nasty stains out.

Wash by hand or machine

Ready to wash your clothes? Pick your washing method carefully. Here’s how to deal with delicate duds.

To wash by hand

Start with a clean sink or basin when hand washing. Swish carefully in cold water to keep each article of clothing, especially sweaters and other knits, looking beautiful. Part of good care is selecting the right detergent for the job. Don’t automatically go for detergent you pour into your washer. A mild detergent will give far better results. Whether you favor a few drops of baby shampoo, a small amount of Woolite, or a squirt of Eucalan, it will treat your clothes more kindly. Drain the soapy water out, refill the basin for a cold water rinse and press out the suds till the water is clear.

        Credit:                      Getty Images

Credit: Getty Images / Tanya Lovus

Hand wash delicate clothing using a mild detergent instead of the stuff you usually pour in your washer. Treat them gently, or you might wish you’d taken your clothes to the cleaners.


To machine wash

Select a cold water delicate or wool cycle on your washing machine, and for best results, tuck each clothing item into a separate mesh bag. Pull your laundry out of the washing machine as soon as the cycle ends.

        Credit:                      Getty Images

Credit: Getty Images /bungoume

Some more delicate clothes are safe to machine wash if you put them in a laundry bag before you pop them in your washer. Turn them inside out before you do.

To dry

A delicate cycle can leave lots of water in the clothes. That’s on purpose—it doesn’t spin them hard. Step away from the dryer—these clothes are not going in there. Lay each wet garment on a towel. Roll up the towel with the clothing inside, pressing gently to remove water. Unroll the wet towel and move the garment to a dry towel. Then, lay it flat to dry.

How to Wash a Hat by Hand

Baseball caps are helpful for protecting your eyes from the sun, but they can quickly become dirty with perspiration and body oils. Learn how to hand-wash a hat with our easy tutorial.

Step 1: Pre-treat stains

First, determine whether your baseball cap has a cardboard bill. To do so, simply tap the bill; if it has a hollow sound, it's likely cardboard and you should avoid submerging in water. Instead, simply spot-treat vintage hats and baseball caps with cardboard bills.

If your hat shows stains or discoloration, especially around the sweatband, treat them with a gel stain remover ($4, Target) before washing. Let the solution soak in according to the manufacturer's instructions before washing.

Step 2: Fill a sink and wash the hat

Fill a sink or container with enough cool water to fully submerge the hat. Add a few drops of liquid laundry detergent and agitate water until bubbles form. Soak hat for about 10-15 minutes.

Step 3: Rinse and dry the hat

Rinse the hat with cool water and gently squeeze to remove suds, avoiding the bill. Pat dry with a clean towel, then air-dry over a small bowl or container to maintain the shape.

clothing air-drying on expandable wall rack Hanging clothes to dry rather than tossing them in the dryer can prevent shrinking, fading, and other damage caused by heat. | Credit: Jay Wilde

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2. How to Hand-Wash Cotton (e.g., T-shirts, Denim and Linen)

While throwing your tees, cotton undies and other light items into the wash after every wear is expected, you don’t need to clean denim all that often. If your denim jacket or jeans are developing a not-so-fresh smell, you can actually fold them up and stick them in the freezer to kill the bacteria and the resulting odor. But those stretchy skinnies or cropped wide-legs you wear four times a week should definitely get thoroughly washed at least once a month.

What you’ll need:

  • A basin or bowl large enough to submerge your clothes (a kitchen sink or bathtub will also suffice)
  • Laundry detergent

1. Fill the basin with warm water and a small amount of laundry detergent. Swish the water around to incorporate the soap.

2. Submerge your cotton items and allow them to soak for 10 to 15 minutes.

3. Gently work the detergent into your clothing, paying special attention to areas that might be prone to accumulating dirt or bacteria, like the armpits or the hems.

4. Drain the dirty water and refill the basin with fresh, cool water. Cotton is more durable than many other fabrics, so you can feel free to hold your jeans and cotton dresses right under the faucet to rinse them rather than using the rinse-and-repeat method you used for your bras (although that does ensure a gentler wash).

5. Squeeze any excess water out of your clothing, but don’t wring the fabric as it can stress and break down the fibers, eventually making your clothes deteriorate faster.

6. It’s best to lay your clothing flat atop a towel to dry, but if you don’t have room, draping them over a towel rack or your shower rod, or hanging them on a clothesline works, too.

6 Reasons to Hand-Wash Your Own Clothes

Hand washing your clothes isn’t as painful and laborious as it sounds. It’s pretty simple, actually. With a couple of things and some muscle power, you’re good to go. Let me point out the benefits of hand washing your clothes and then I’ll review equipment and instructions.

Cleaner Clothes

Hand washing your clothes piece by piece means you give attention to each one. This results in a more thorough washing. Clothes are then dried out in the sun. The outcome is cleaner and whiter clothes than you got with machine washing.

Less Soap Residue

Another advantage of hand washing is in rinsing the clothes. Each piece is rinsed individually by you rather than dumped together in a machine, which lets you be certain that there’s no detergent left in the clothes. If necessary, you can choose to rinse multiple times until the water becomes clear. This produces softer clothes that are more gentle on the skin.

No Need for Ironing

If electricity is down in a post collapse scenario, then ironing is out of the question unless you resort to an old fashioned fire heated iron. But with hand washing, wrinkling is reduced anyhow when clothes are dried on a clothesline by the wind. Once dry, fold them straight away so they are ready for wearing.

Reduce the Amount of Clothing You Own

If you’re going to do a lot of hand washing, reduce the amount of clothes you own. It’s convenient to have a lot of clothes now, but when disaster strikes, you will be limited in what you can carry and store in your camp or BOL.

If you hand wash clothes about every other day, then 3 complete sets of clothing and maybe a couple extra pairs of wool socks, will suffice.

Get Some Exercise

Hand washing your clothes has the added benefit of giving your arms a good workout in the process. You also will get a bit of exercise stretching to hang clothes and in carrying and dumping water, if you choose to hand wash near your campsite instead of the water’s edge. You’d be surprised at how much strength you build just from regularly hand washing clothes.

Save Money

Although cash won’t have much value in a post-SHTF scenario, hand washing your clothes is a great way to save you money on electricity or gas utility bills. You only need water from a creek or well and some detergent which you can make yourself. Add your own muscle power to wash and the drying power of the sun and you get clean clothes at very little cost to you.

How to Hand-Wash Underwear

Beeldbewerking Getty Images

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.

  1. Fill sink with warm water (or the temperature specified on your underwear’s care tag). Add a gentle detergent and swish it in the water until it dissolves.
  2. Place the underwear — you can wash multiple pairs as long as they’re the same color and fiber material — in the water and let soak for up to 30 minutes. Swish the detergent in the water periodically to make sure it’s completely dissolved.
  3. 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.
  4. Carefully lift the underwear out of the water and gently squeeze it to remove any excess water. Then blot with a towel, reshape underwear, and either hang dry or dry flat.


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