How to Hand-Wash Clothes in 5 Easy Steps

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This simple, step-by-step process takes less time and effort than you might imagine and will keep even delicate items looking like new.

Hand-washing delicate clothing can keep them looking fresh and new for a long time. But for a lot of people, the process feels like an extra chore, so they toss everything into the washing machine. Even if you’re using the best laundry detergent, you may be ruining your clothes without realizing it. The good news: We’re about to make hand-washing easier for you. With the help of celebrity stylist Samantha Brown, we’ll show you how to hand-wash clothes in less than 30 minutes—with most of that time devoted to letting the clothes soak.

Before you do anything, though, make sure you read the clothing labels and check for the laundry symbol that features a hand in the water. That means it’s safe for hand-washing. “If you don’t follow label instructions, you can damage delicate clothing,” warns Brown. “Colors can run, fabrics can shrink and pill, and the item can lose its shape.”

How to hand-wash clothes

Before you begin, know what type of clothing requires hand-washing. According to Brown, you should always hand-wash items that feature embellishments like lace, embroidery, beading, or crocheting. You may want to learn how to hand-wash bras and sweaters as well. (Hint: You’ll follow the same steps listed below.) If done properly, hand-washing will get clothes as clean as machine-washing, with much less stress on the fabric.

Be sure to spot treat any stains before hand-washing an item of clothing. Brown considers Grandma’s Secret Spot Remover and Laundry Spray a staple for this.

And be clear on how to wash white clothes and how to separate laundry. Even when washing by hand, you need to separate whites from dark and/or bright colors. To get stains out of bright whites, Brown recommends OxiClean Laundry Stain Remover Spray.

Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to get your hands wet. Just follow Brown’s simple, five-step process for how to hand-wash clothes. It’s a great solution for laundering both at home and when you’re traveling.

How To Hand Wash Clothes InfographicGrace Luxton/rd.com

Step 1: Fill your sink

Make sure your sink is clean, then fill it with warm water, unless the clothing labels’ care instructions call for a different temperature. Pour a penny-size drop of laundry detergent into the stream of water so it creates a bubble bath effect. Make sure you’re not using too much laundry detergent. “A little goes a long way,” cautions Brown.

You can use regular laundry detergent or a detergent for sensitive skin, but make sure it’s free of bleach or added chemicals. “For hand-washing especially, the more ‘pure,’ the better,” Brown says. “I love Dreft because it’s hypoallergenic and has minimal additives.”

As far as hand-wash detergent goes, Brown is partial to The Laundress. “Not only do they offer great hand-wash detergent, but if you’re looking for how to hand-wash bras and undergarments or how to hand-wash sweaters, they even have products formulated specifically for those items.”

Traveling and don’t have any detergent handy? Brown says it’s okay to use bar soap in a pinch. “Just be sure to lather the soap in your hands rather than rubbing it directly into the garment,” she says. “You don’t want to leave residue.”

Step 2: Submerge and swish

Place the garment in the water and gently work the suds through it without rubbing, stretching, or twisting. Simply swish it around and don’t worry if the water turns color. Some “bleeding” is natural from dark or brightly colored fabrics. Which is why, if you decide to hand-wash more than one item at a time, they should be similar colors.

Step 3: Let it soak

Let the garment soak for 15 to 30 minutes, depending on how dirty it is. The dirtier it is, the longer it should soak.

Step 4: Rinse and repeat

Drain and refill the sink with clean, cool water. Rinse out any remaining detergent by gently agitating the garment through the water. Don’t wring it. If the water gets sudsy again, repeat this step until the water remains clear.

Step 5: Air-dry clothes

Remove the clean garments, gently press the water out of them, and lay them flat on a towel. Check the clothing labels’ care instructions to for specific recommendations as to how long you should air-dry the clothes.

Once you learn how to hand-wash clothes (and understand just how easy it is), you may want to treat yourself to that stylish top you thought was too high-maintenance. Your next order of business: finding out how to dry clean at home.

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Lois Alter Mark
Lois Alter Mark is an award-winning lifestyle and travel writer. In addition to writing for RD.com, she regular contributes to Forbes and USA Today 10Best as well as a variety of AAA magazines. Because of her blog, Oprah chose her as an Ultimate Viewer and took her to Australia on the trip of a lifetime. Follow her on social media @loisaltermark.