How To

How to hand wash clothes: Simple steps for effective laundry

By Luke Carlino

Updated: March 11th, 2024

It can be annoying, but a necessary when caring for your more precious items. Learn how to hand wash your clothes effectively and extend the lifespan of your favourite garments.

Learning how to hand wash clothes seems a little strange as it’s a process that takes a lot more work. Use a machine and save time, right? Well, washing clothes by hand offers some significant benefits like extra life for those special items in your collection.

If you want to extend the life of your garments, the delicate setting option on your washing machine is a good option, but it won’t necessarily give you the best clean. Going the manual route is far more effective, and there are a few different techniques you can try when learning how to hand wash clothes, all of which work better for different fabrics.

How to hand wash clothes - the manual route

It’s always a good idea to check the care label for directions and don’t try any of the following methods for items that say “dry-clean only.” Delicate lingerie, silk blouses and wool may retain colour and shape a little better when washed by hand.

This article will give you some step-by-step directions for how to hand wash clothes and extend their life while making sure they’re kept in their best conditions.

How do you hand wash clothes by hand?

Step 1: Check the label

Always read the garment label to make sure there are no specific product recommendations you should be aware of in relation to handwashing clothes. This may also help you choose the best detergent for that particular item. If no specific care label instruction exists, a standard dishwashing liquid will be fine.

How to hand wash clothes - check labels

Step 2: Fill the sink or bathtub with water

We do not recommend you go super old school and head down to the local river to handwash your clothes. Just fill the laundry sink or bathtub with water at whichever temperature the care label recommends. If the label doesn’t state one, go with cool to lukewarm water. Add a teaspoon of detergent to the water (more if you are washing multiple items).

Step 3: Immerse and soak

Submerge the clothing into the soapy water and allow it to soak. Swish the item gently through the water and make sure you don’t do any scrubbing or twisting as that may stretch or damage the fabric. 

Step 4: Rinse and repeat

Drain the water and refill with cold water for a rinse. Push the garment up and down until all the soap is gone.

How do you hand wash clothes without detergent?

It is possible to do your laundry without using detergent by making use of some household alternatives when you run out of the regular stuff. There are some detergent alternatives that are entirely safe to be used on your clothes, including:

  • Baking soda – An effective alternative to detergent, all it takes is three-quarters of a cup for an entire load of laundry.
  • A bar of soap – Grate a bar of soap, pop it in a saucepan and add a little water. Add it to some water with two cups of baking soda and stir.
  • Vinegar – The acid found in vinegar prevents the growth of mould and bacteria. Add 1/4 cup of vinegar into your final wash stage to remove excess soap, brighten colours, and to soften the fabric.
  • Dish Soap – Just a squirt of dish soap with 1/4 cup of white distilled vinegar.
  • Vodka – one part water and part of vodka into a spray bottle sprayed on clothes will remove any bad odour while disinfecting your clothes.
  • Shampoo – Perfect for cleaning clothes by hand, just make sure the kind you use doesn’t contain any conditioner.

Some detergents used for washing clothes contain harmful chemicals that are bad for your skin and the environment as well. Some of the above options are more friendly, so those with skin issues may significantly benefit from switching things up now and then.

White laundry basket
Andy Fitzsimon

How to hand-wash a sweater

Step 1: Prep 

Fill a tub with tepid water with just a few drops of mild detergent or dishwashing liquid mixed through the water. It can also be a good idea to get rid of perspiration odour by adding 3/4 cups of white vinegar into the mix. 

How to hand wash sweaters

Step 2: Soak and rinse 

Turn your sweater inside-out and dunk it into the water, swishing it around gently, ensuring you do not stretch it. Allow it to soak for 10 minutes then run cold water through it until there is no more soapy residue runs out. 

Step 3: Remove excess water 

Press the sweater against the wall or side of the tub to remove any excess water and lay it out on a towel on a flat surface. It is always best to use a white towel as this will prevents any dye transfer from a coloured towel to the sweater. Gently roll the towel with the sweater inside of it to remove extra water. 

Step 4: Flat dry 

Lay the sweater on a flat that lets air circulate and do not let it sit directly in the sun. Help it to find its shape by squaring the shoulders and placing the sleeves parallel to the body, squaring the hem.

Hanging your sweater when it comes for it to dry as opposed to putting it in the dryer will prevent shrinking, fading, and other issues.

How to hand-wash bras

Step 1: Soak 

Fill your sink with lukewarm water and add a mild washing detergent micing a little before carefully placing the bra in the solution. Let it soak for 15 minutes, working the suds into the bra with your fingers.

How to hand wash bras

Step 2: Rinse 

Remove from the water and hold under the faucet to allow water to run over the bra, flushing out any soapy water. Continue this step until you no longer see any suds.

Step 3: Dry

Get rid of any excess water and lay the bra out to dry flat on a towel. Lay another towel over the top, pressing down to remove extra water then hang to dry.

How to hand-wash tights

Step 1: Prep 

Fill a sink with lukewarm water and put half a cup of mild laundry detergent in (preferably a detergent specially made for delicates). Do not use hot water as this can shrink your tights and affect their fit.

Step 2: Submerge 

Turn the tights inside-out and submerge them in the water mixture, beginning to gently scrub without any rubbing or pulling. Scrub the feet and crotch areas, as they get the dirtiest, and allow the tights to soak for around 10 minutes.

Step 3: Rinse and dry

Remove the tights from the water and rinse them under the tap with cold water. Do this until there are no more soap suds and tighten the tights into a ball, squeezing out any excess water. Pop your tights onto a towel and roll it up. 

Clothes folded in pile
Sarah Brown

How best to dry your hand-washed clothing

Step 1: Squeeze out the remaining water

It is always a lot harder to dry a pile of dripping laundry so always gently squeeze out the excess water first to help the drying process along. Never twist or wring out the clothing as this can stretch the fibres, ruining the fabric.

Step 2: Lay flat over a towel

Find a flat surface and lay out a clean, dry white bath towel that is not covered in any lint. Lay the clean garment on the towel, and pat it into shape. Roll the clothing and towel up together, gently pressing down as you go to encourage water absorption. If the towel becomes too saturated, repeat the process with another dry one.

Step 3: Air drying

Most clothing has label directions to let you know what it needs for reshaping and drying. If yours doesn’t, just lay the hand-washed item on a clean, dry white towel, on a flat surface that is moisture-resistant. Every now and then, flip it over. 

Finally, you can air-dry on a drying rack or clothesline. Once dry, your garment may be wrinkled, so be sure to check the care label to understand the appropriate ironing temperature before ironing. If there is no care label, test your iron in an inconspicuous area before continuing. You can help to avoid wrinkles by hanging or folding the garment.

How to hand wash clothes and air dry them

Frequently asked questions

What kind of soap do you use to hand wash clothes?

It is completely fine to use your standard laundry detergent while hand-washing your clothes. You can also utilise some alternative, more natural cleaners such as baking soda, soap bars, vinegar, dish soap and even vodka!

How long do you soak hand-washed clothes?

This really depends on how dirty your clothes are! In most cases, letting your clothes soak for five to ten minutes is enough. If you are dealing with some particularly tough stains; however, you may want to leave your clothes to soak for up to thirty minutes.

Ready to get washing?!

Now you can see how easy it is how to hand wash dresses and clothing; you can give it a try when you are looking for an in-depth clean for your clothes. This will ensure you get longevity out of your much-loved items.

If, however, your schedule is a little too packed to handle the laundry piles, there are plenty of skilled taskers offering laundry services which will save you a heap of time, crossing the chore of your to-do list!


Luke Carlino

Luke Carlino is a freelance copywriter, social media manager and content creator based in Melbourne. He works for a range of clients across a plethora of industries and is also an accomplished musician with solo and band works online.

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