A Step-by-Step Guide to Hand Washing Clothes

by | Read time: 4 minutes

Take a peek at the tag on your favorite top and chances are it’s crammed with a head-spinning number of little symbols. There’s ‘Machine Wash Delicate,’ ‘Tumble Dry,’ ‘Do Not Iron’ (and the list goes on). But the most dreaded icon is the one with the little hand dipping into a washbasin, a.k.a. ‘Hand Wash Only.’

In real life, this means:

  1. You take your chances and toss the top in the washer anyway; or –
  2. That top doesn’t get washed for a long, long time.

Woman Who Learned How to Hand Wash Clothes Cleaning Orange Garment in Suds-Filled Sink | Vitacost Blog

Fear not, laundry doers! Washing clothes by hand just has a bad rap. People often say it’s time-consuming, messy – a task on the chore list we tend to avoid at all costs. But hand washing your clothing isn’t nearly as difficult or time-consuming as you think. Plus, it offers some benefits that just might tip you in favor of ‘getting your hands dirty’ with your laundry.

The benefits of hand washing clothes

There are a number of reasons hand washing is an ideal choice for cleaning your clothes. Hand washing helps to:

Increase garment lifespan: Hand washing is much gentler than machine washing, so it helps to preserve fibers and detail-work on your garments.

Save water: Washing machines use a ton of water (around 20 gallons per load). Washing clothes by hand uses considerably less water – especially if you opt for using cold water.

Cut back on electricity usage: All large appliances use a fair amount of electricity. Hand washing your clothes will help cut down on that usage.

Relieve stress: There’s something deeply satisfying about doing something with your own two hands. Washing clothing by hand is a chance to practice mindfulness and really live in the moment.

Get you moving: While the convenience of a washing machine is helpful, hand washing clothes will get that blood pumping a little more– which will help to burn calories and boost your mood!

How to hand wash clothes

Whatever your reasons for hand washing, whether it’s clean your more delicate items (stockings, underwear, wool/cashmere/silk), or for chasing the romance of doing something with your own two hands, read on for an all-inclusive guide for how to hand wash your clothes!

Step 1: Read the labels

The first step for anything is to understand what you’re working with. So, to make sure you know what your garments can (and can’t) handle, read the tags and review the care instructions for each item. Some will require specific temperatures, and others, specific products, so make sure you’re in the know.

Step 2: Prep

Next, you’ll need to gather these supplies:

Now separate dark and light clothing, and try to keep like-fabrics together, too.

–> Create your own Homemade Laundry Detergent 

If you like the thought of concocting your very own laundry detergent, try this back-to-basics recipe:


Use approximately one teaspoon per hand washing load.

Step 3: Fill ‘er up

Fill your washbasin with cold or tepid water – never hot as you can damage the fabric or cause colors to bleed – then add in ¼ to one teaspoon of your laundry detergent.

As you wait for the basin/tub/sink to fill, apply stain remover to any fabric that needs it.

Step 4: Submerge and soak

Pull on gloves to protect your skin from the drying effects of water and any chemicals in the detergent. Dunk your like-colored/fabrics into the basin, agitating the water and the clothes for about two to three minutes, until garments are clean. Focus on your shirts’ underarm areas, your stockings’ foot areas and remember to be gentle, as you don’t want to risk damaging the fabric.

Step 5: Rinse and repeat

Dump out the basin (don’t worry too much if the water is discolored as it’s natural for clothing to release some amount of dye), then refill the basin with cool or cold water. Rinse clothing thoroughly, pulling clothing up and down until all the soap is removed. Repeat as necessary.

Step 6: Dry

Press items against the washbasin/sink to push out excess water, then gently squeeze out the rest of the water, taking care to not stretch the fabric.

Lay items on a towel, then blot with a lint-free towel to soak up water. Either let items dry on this towel or hang-to-dry according to the fabric.

For an extra bit of all-natural freshness, and an irresistible scent of sun, hang-to-dry your items outdoors – as long as it’s a nice day, of course!

Bonus: Strip your laundry

This is a step reserved for more durable fabrics, including towels, sheets, pillowcases and sports clothing.

What is laundry stripping?

This is a deep cleaning method involving soaking items in a cleaning solution mixed with hot (and we mean HOT) water for hours at a time. The goal is to leach out built-up residues (body oils, detergents, fabric softeners, etc.) from the fabric and into the water.

How do I ‘strip’ my laundry?

Step 1:

Fill your tub or basin with very hot water and mix in:

Step 2:

Submerge items, and allow them to soak for four to six hours, stirring every hour. Prepare for a surprise (and don’t be grossed out), as the water will start to turn a nasty brown color from all the gunk that’s being stripped away.

Step 3:

After the allotted time, remove items from the discolored water, rinse with cold water, then either hand wash them, or run them through a wash cycle without detergent.

Step 4:

Enjoy your freshly deep-cleaned laundry items!