Washing clothes by hand is a little extra work, but it's a well-worth-it laundry chore. Here's how to properly wash clothes by hand, which will give extra life to those special items in your clothes closet.

By BH&G Editors
Updated February 26, 2019

When laundry day comes around, most washing machines offer a delicate or hand-wash setting, but there are times when the best results will come from hand-washing certain types of clothing. If you're not sure how to hand-wash clothes, we've got you covered. Keep reading to learn the different techniques to washing clothes by hand and what to look out for when working with different fabrics.

Always check the care label for directions. If the label says "dry-clean only," avoid washing it at home. If the label says "dry-clean," you may want to try hand-washing clothes. Before you hand-wash the garment, check a small inconspicuous area first to make sure the fabric is colorfast.

Unique fabrics may require special care. Items such as delicate lingerie, wool sweaters, and silk blouses may retain their color and shape best when washed by hand. Baby clothes may also have special handwashing requirements as well. Silk garments should not be hand-washed if they are brightly colored, patterned, or darkly colored, as the dyes may bleed.

Get our step-by-step directions for the best way to hand-wash clothes below, as well as advice on how to dry items to extend their life and keep them looking as good as the day you bought them.

Washing clothes by hand can keep them looking good for years to come, protect delicate fabrics and cut costs associated with dry cleaning.
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How to Hand-Wash Clothes

Step 1: Read the Label

Read the garment label for specific product recommendations regarding hand-washing clothes. Then choose the best detergent for hand-washing clothes. If no care label exists, choose a mild detergent or dishwashing liquid.

Step 2: Fill Tub with Water

Fill a small tub or sink with water at the temperature recommended on the care label. If no care label exists, choose cool to lukewarm water. Add about a teaspoon of detergent. You may need more detergent if you are hand-washing a large item or multiple items.

Step 3: Submerge and Soak

Submerge the garment in the soapy water and soak. Use gentle movements to swish the item through the sudsy water. Avoid scrubbing or twisting actions that can stretch or damage the fabric. Gently swish the garment through the sudsy water until the item is clean. You can find hand-washing clothes tools, but unless you're hand-washing regularly, it's not necessary.

Step 4: Rinse and Repeat

Drain the sink or tub, and refill it with cool rinse water. Push the garment up and down in the water until all soap is removed. If you're unsure, sniff the garment to make sure it is no longer scented. Repeat the process with clean water if necessary.

How to Hand-Wash Bras

Step 1: Soak Bra

Fill a sink or bowl with lukewarm water. Add a mild, alcohol-free hand washing detergent and mix in with the water. Carefully place the bra in the solution and let soak for 15 minutes. With your hands, work the suds into the bra.

Step 2: Rinse Bra

Remove the bra from the water. Hold under the sink or tub faucet and let water run over the bra, rinsing out any soapy water. Be sure to rinse until the bra no longer releases any suds.

Step 3: Dry Bra

To get rid of any excess water, gently fold your bra against a towel before laying it out to dry. Lay garment flat on a towel and lay another towel over top and press to remove extra water. Always hang to dry.

How to Hand-Wash Tights

Step 1: Prep Detergent

Fill a sink with lukewarm water and add half a cup of mild laundry detergent to wash your tights. Any detergent will do, but you can also look for detergent specially made for delicate clothes. Make sure you use lukewarm water, as hot water can actually reduce the elasticity of your tights and affect their fit.

Step 2: Submerge Tights

First, turn your tights inside-out. Gently place the tights in the water mixture and begin to scrub. Avoid any rubbing and pulling, and just gently scrub the areas that are most prone to bacteria like the feet and crotch area. Let your tights soak for about 10 minutes or so.

Step 3: Rinse and Dry

Once done soaking, remove the tights from the water. Rinse them under a sink faucet with cold water. Rinse until no more suds leave the tights. Tighten into a ball and squeeze out excess water. Place tights on top of a towel and roll up to dry any remaining spots. Lay flat to dry on a lint-free towel.

How to Hand-Wash a Sweater

Step 1: Prep Detergent

Fill a tub or sink with tepid water and a few drops of mild detergent, such as dishwashing liquid. To neutralize perspiration odor, add 3/4 cup of white vinegar. 

Step 2: Soak and Rinse Sweater

Turn the sweater inside-out. Immerse the sweater in the water, and swish gently, taking care not to stretch it. Let soak for 10 minutes. Next, run cold water over the sweater until no more soapy residue runs from the garment. 

Step 3: Dry Sweater

Once done soaking, press the sweater against the wall of the bin to remove any excess water. Lay the sweater on a white towel on a flat surface (a white towel prevents dye transfer from towel to sweater). Gently roll the towel and sweater together to remove extra water. 

Dry the sweater on a flat, moisture-resistant surface, preferably mesh, which lets air circulate. Keep it away from sun and heat. Coax the sweater back into its shape, squaring the shoulders, placing the sleeves parallel to the body, and squaring the hem.

Hanging clothes to dry rather than tossing them in the dryer can prevent shrinking, fading, and other damage caused by heat.

How to Dry Hand-Washed Clothing

Step 1: Squeeze Out Water

Know how to dry hand-washed clothes before you're stuck with a pile of dripping laundry. Gently squeeze the excess water from the garment. Do not twist or wring the item as it may stretch the fibers and ruin the fabric.

Step 2: Lay on a Towel

On a flat surface, lay out a clean, dry white bath towel that has been laundered several times to remove lint. Lay the just-washed garment on the towel, patting it into shape. Roll up the towel, encasing the garment in the towel. Gently press on the rolled-up towel to encourage water absorption. Repeat with another clean, dry towel if the first one becomes saturated.

Step 3: Let Air Dry

Follow the garment's label directions for reshaping and drying. If no care label exists, lay the hand-washed clothes on a clean, dry white towel spread over a flat surface that is moisture-resistant. Flip the garment over periodically, and replace the damp towel with a dry one as needed. Air-dry delicate lingerie on a drying rack. If the dry garment is wrinkled, check the care label for appropriate ironing temperature, and if necessary, press the garment gently to finish. If no care label exists, test in an inconspicuous area before pressing. Hang or fold clothing as soon as it's dry to avoid wrinkles.


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