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For one reason or another, sometimes it’s best to ditch the washing machine and take a manual approach. While hand-washing is typically reserved for delicate items — bras and underwear, namely — it’s an effective option for most types of clothing, especially if you don’t have a large enough load to make a trip to the laundromat worthwhile.
Before heading to your sink, take a look at your garment’s care and fiber tag for water temperature guidelines and further washing instructions. If the label says, “dry clean,” as opposed to “dry clean only,” it may be safe to wash in the sink — and lower your dry cleaning bill in the process. To err on the side of caution, test your garment by placing a drop of water in a hidden spot and blotting with a paper towel. If no color comes off or it doesn’t leave a water spot, then it should be safe to hand-wash. Although the care instructions may vary from one clothing type to the next, the same step-by-step method applies, no matter if you’re working with wool, silk, or cotton.
Whether you’re tackling a wine stain or simply need to spruce up a blouse before its next wear, take a tip from an expert — Carolyn Forte, the director of the Good Housekeeping Institute Cleaning Lab — on the foolproof way to hand-wash clothes.
How to Hand-Wash Clothes
Washing clothes by hand is by far the most gentle approach. That means, you want to treat your garments with an extreme level of care throughout the entire cleaning process. To save time, feel free to wash likes with likes a.k.a. garments in the same color and fabric type. Follow this step-by-step guide for most garments (but keep on reading for more specific how-tos for bras, underwear, and sweaters):
- Read the care label to determine the type of fabric: silk, wool, and so forth. From there, pinpoint the best laundry detergent. Any standard detergent should work for most items. Delicate fabrics may call for something more gentle, like fine fabric detergent, free and gentle detergent, or mild dish liquid.
- Treat stains, if necessary. To do so, gently work laundry stain remover or liquid detergent into the stain with your fingertips (avoid scrubbing!). While it’s soaking, gently squeeze the sudsy water through the garment several times.
- Fill sink with water — lukewarm or warm, depending on your garment’s care labels — and put garments in. (FYI: Wool, silk, and bright colors clean best in cold water.) Then add the recommended dose of detergent. Swish the detergent in the water to make sure it’s completely dissolved, then lay your garment in the water and gently press it down to fully immerse it. The water may turn color, but don’t panic: This is simply the fabric dye releasing color, and won’t result in any color loss after washing.
- Rinse thoroughly. If you have a sprayer on your faucet, place any lightweight garments, like lingerie or swimsuits, in a colander and rinse clean. Otherwise, fill the sink with cool, clear water, immerse the garment, and squeeze the water through to rinse. Repeat as needed.
- Remove excess water. Since wringing out wet, delicate fabrics may cause unnecessary damage, carefully lift the garment with both hands and gently squeeze out as much water as possible. Then, lay it flat on an absorbent towel, and roll the towel and garment together until the water is absorbed.
- Lay items to dry. To prevent delicates, especially knits, from stretching out of shape, lay them flat to dry. For extra care (and to speed up up the drying process), lay sweaters or swimsuits on top of a dry towel, and let it air dry. Once the front is dry, flip it over.
How to Hand-Wash Bras and Delicate Lingerie
While throwing your bra in the washing machine may seem like a quick fix, it can be damaging in the long-run. Washing your bras by hand is the recommended method by lingerie brands and designers since it helps your undergarments keep their shape and fit. Good news for you: It’s seriously easy to do.
- Fill sink with lukewarm water (or the temperature specified on your bra’s care tag). Add a gentle detergent.
- Carefully place the bra in the water and soak for 15 minutes. Gently work the sudsy solution into all the nooks and crannies of the bra.
- Rinse. If you have a sprayer on your faucet, place the bra in a colander and rinse clean. Otherwise, fill the sink with cool, clear water, immerse the bra, and squeeze the water through to rinse.
- To get rid of any excess water, gently squeeze out water from the straps and back, blot or patting it (including the cups) with a towel. Then reshape and dry flat.
How to Hand-Wash Underwear
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
How to Hand-Wash Sweaters
We all have that one sweater that we love … except for the fact that it requires a trip to the dry cleaner after each wear. If it’s marked “dry clean” on the care tag, it may be safe to wash your sweater right at home.
- Double-check the sweater’s care and fiber tags to determine the perfect water temperature and detergent. More often than not, fill the sink with lukewarm water and add gentle detergent or mild dish liquid.
- Treat stains with laundry stain remover or liquid detergent. Work the stain remover into the stain with your fingertips (avoid scrubbing).
- Flip the sweater inside-out. Immerse the sweater in the water and swish the suds around. Let it sit for at least 10 minutes.
- Rinse. If you have a sprayer on your faucet, place the sweater in a colander and rinse clean. Otherwise, fill the sink with cool, clear water, immerse the sweater, and squeeze the water through to rinse.
- Lift the garment with both hands and gently squeeze out as much water as possible. Then, lay it flat on an absorbent towel, and roll the towel and garment together until the water is absorbed.
- Lay sweater top of a dry towel, and let it air dry. Once the front is dry, flip it over.
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