5 expert-backed tips for hand washing your clothes

Knowing how to hand wash clothes is a skill that will not only come in handy right now—when many people are unable to get out to laundromats—but once you realize how easy it is, it just might become a part of your normal routine. Plus, think of all the quarters you could save!

Sure, most of us are living in leggings, sweats, and comfy T-shirts while we’re in quarantine, but in to avoid spreading coronavirus (COVID-19), the CDC recommends changing out of your “outdoor” clothing as soon as you enter your home and advises that you immediately put them in the laundry.

So, between that and the fact that we should still be washing our leggings, sweats, and comfy tees to keep them fresh and hygienic, the laundry pile is bound to grow. What makes it even more difficult to keep up is if you don’t have a washer and dryer in your home or apartment. That’s where the art of hand washing comes in.

To stay diligent, safe, and of course clean, we tapped experts for their top tips on how to hand wash clothes at home—and no, it’s not just for delicates. Hand washing is easy and effective, and a great way to increase the longevity of your clothing by preserving its fibers, which is a major win right now.

The best way to hand wash clothing:

What you’ll need:

  • High-quality liquid detergent (if washing delicates, make sure to use a detergent that’s formulated for those);
  • Sink, bucket big enough for the garment(s) to be washed, and/or bathtub;
  • Clean towel(s) for removing excess water;
  • Hangers, flat surface that’s waterproof like a kitchen or bathroom countertop, and/or drying rack.


1Sort your items.

Gwen Whiting and Lindsey Boyd, co-founders of The Laundress tell us that to hand wash clothes, you should begin by sorting the laundry by color, fabric, and construction. “For instance, if you have a large pile of white cotton garments, you can wash them all together in the tub. For smaller loads, save time and water by opting for the sink or a washbasin. In general, it’s easier and less daunting to keep up with the laundry by washing a small load every day or every other day to avoid it from piling up,” they say.

2Remove or pre-treat stains.

Just like you would with a normal wash, treat soiled clothing by gently rubbing out stains before putting them in with the rest of your clothes. You can either do this with a specific stain remover solution or a dab of extra detergent. Simply work the stain-remover into the affected area with your finger or stain brush, then soak the item in cool water for up to 30 minutes.

3Fill the tub and mix in the detergent.

Mary Johnson, a principal scientist for Tide and Downy,  says that the safest thing to do right now is to fill your basin with the warmest water that’s allowed by the garment’s care label. Ideally, this should be at least 80°F, which is considered “warm” water. This recommendation comes per the CDC, which states that the best way to sanitize clothes from coronavirus is to “launder items using the warmest appropriate water setting for the items and dry items completely.”

Note that if you’re just doing a load of delicates, silk, synthetics (like polyester and acetate), lace, fine knits, chiffon, velvet, polyester, and other lightweight fabrics, it’s best to keep the water cool. This will help prevent the fibers from shrinking and the colors from fading.

As you fill the basin, add the correct amount of detergent (small, delicate loads usually call for one small cap-full, while larger loads with heavier materials may need more). Then, stir the water so the detergent is completely dissolved.


4Allow clothing to soak.

Once the detergent has dissolved in the water, add your clothes and let them soak for 20 to 30 minutes. According to Johnson, once the clothing is done soaking, you can agitate it (by swishing around with your hands or a wooden spoon) for about three minutes to dislodge any remaining dirt.


Katie Brown, the owner of Rytina Fine Cleaners in Sacramento, CA, says rinsing is key. “Be sure that your garments are thoroughly rinsed as soap residue can damage fibers,” she explains.

If you’re using a sink to do your washing, run cool water over the item while squeezing gently until the suds are removed. If using a bucket, you should dump out the wash water, rinse with clear water, and add cool water to the bucket. Then, gently agitate garment in water until it stops lathering. You may need to repeat this step to remove all suds.

When complete, be careful not to wring the fabrics! Instead, softly press the water out of your item between your hands or against the sink.

5Hang or lay flat to dry


While you always want to air dry delicates so that they don’t lose their shape, a lot of our regular, everyday clothing materials are heavier and therefore take longer to fully dry out. Johnson says you can hang these items to drip dry, just do so away from a sunny window to avoid fabric fading.

Additionally, one pro tip from the co-founders of The Laundress is to roll out excess water. On its website they say: “To dry delicate clothes as quickly as possible, place the item on top of a towel, making sure it’s flat and in its original shape then roll up the item in the towel (like a sleeping bag) to remove excess water. For faster drying or more heavy fabric, use more than one towel and repeat several times.”

Once your items are fully dry, they’ll be clean and ready to re-wear.