Pro-Tips for hand-washing clothes?
August 20, 2011 7:18 PM   Subscribe

What are the your ProTips for hand-washing clothes?

I'm not sure I can even explain why I want to do this, but I want to be able to come home, take off my clothes, wash them by hand, air dry them, iron them, then wear them again. Does anyone out there do this? Would it make it easier if I invested in a good steam generator iron? Is Woolite the king of hand-washables, or merely a false God?

Thanks for any advice along these lines.
posted by facetious to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (16 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Lots of people do this on trips when they don't want to take a lot of luggage with them. Keep in mind that, unless you're extremely active during the day or work in a really dirty environment, you really don't need to wash your pants each time you wear them. And if you're indoors where it's climate controlled, probably not even your shirt. Socks, underpants, and undershirt all get washed. You can wash the pants, too, if you want, but the color will fade faster and you'll reduce their lifespan.

The method is pretty easy. (And easy to find online.) Here's what I do:

Run a sink full of warm water. Put in an appropriate amount of detergent. Put clothes in and make sure they're saturated. Let them sit for a few minutes and go do something else. Go back in and agitate the clothes. Take each item separately and kind of smush it together on itself several times in the soapy water. Inspect each item for stains and rub any stains together until they come out. Let them sit for a few more minutes. Drain water. Run fresh water again and rinse out all the soap. Wring out clothes, give them a few solid shakes (gets the wrinkles out), and hang dry.

You can use whatever kind of detergent you want. Woolite is usually what's recommended for hand-washing because it's really gentle, and (generally speaking, in this country) people don't hand-wash clothes unless it's something really precious and delicate that they don't trust running through the machine. But you can hand-wash clothes in any kind of soap you like.
posted by phunniemee at 7:35 PM on August 20, 2011

"Pro" tip: for delicates, I use dishwashing detergent.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 7:39 PM on August 20, 2011

I find that for spot cleaning, a bar of Fels Naptha soap and a soft toothbrush are usually all I need for stains of any sort. I rinse thoroughly through the area afterward to make sure to get all the soap residue out, and you'll want to be careful about whether the fabric's dye will run with too much direct pressure (you can test a spot that won't be seen, like the inside of a button placket). Woolite's nice for hand washing, but you could experiment with using a soap like Dr. Bronner's instead.

I do have a professional grade steamer (not just an iron; I'm talking about the kind with a sort of wand that emits steam, attached to a tank of water) and it is fantastic for refreshing clothing after a wear. Mine is a Rowenta that I found for about half of retail price when a newer model came out.

Ex Officio makes excellent undergarments that can easily be handwashed and that will dry in a matter of hours; we have them for travel and camping but they're comfortable and functional enough for daily use.

In nice weather, if you can hang clothing outside to dry (or even just hang it outside unwashed or just-steamed), it'll freshen up more than hanging indoors. Keep it out of the sun if fading is a concern.
posted by padraigin at 7:44 PM on August 20, 2011

If you're looking to wash something small or thin, buy a good (sufficiently well made to be free of snaggy plastic bits) salad spinner. They're basically miniature manual washing machines. Put your garment and water and suds in, spin; do a rinse cycle, do a spin cycle, done. Great for lingerie...

I am a laundry-product freak and my 'hand wash' section is focused on Eucalan for wool and cashmere, and the "President's Choice" "Fine Fabrics" for everything else. Woolite's good, tho.
posted by kmennie at 7:45 PM on August 20, 2011 [5 favorites]

Asian stores will carry bar soap and clothes brushes. Very useful for edges where dirt tends to get stuck and stains etc.
posted by infini at 7:46 PM on August 20, 2011

When I wash clothes by hand , I use same soap that I use for my hands . Because my hands are important , too . (The simple soap , not the expensive one full of oils and perfumes ).
This way I need way less clothes .
posted by Oli D. at 7:52 PM on August 20, 2011

I like unscented Soak better than Eucalan but the difference might be in my head.

I've got an 1$ unimaginatively named "Pail" from Target since I only hand wash delicates, if you're doing outerwear you probably want a 5-gallon flatback bucket. Because sometimes you wanted to use that sink to wash your hands or something... I use the handheld shower attachment to fill mine, specifically I fill it while I'm waiting for the water to warm up (if you turn the water to full hot+full cold or medium temperature you will still have hot water when you want it, without actually getting hot water in your laundry). If you get a bucket without gallon markings use something sharp to gouge them into the side. I use a cheap measuring spoon to add Soak, although it's not compulsory.

For line drying inside (on rainy days or just when you're lazy): You need a beach-size towel that you don't mind getting a little grungy and a plastic garbage bag. Cut the garbage bag open down one side and across the bottom, it should now be about the same size as the towel. Tape the corners of the towel to the corners of the garbage bag. Place under your drying rack, towel side up. The towel keeps drips from bouncing and pooled water from running, the garbage bag keeps the towel off of the floor. Pull it apart and wash the towel occasionally.

Less is more, if you put too much laundry in at once it will not get sufficiently clean (you'll get a sense of how much is optimal).
posted by anaelith at 8:07 PM on August 20, 2011

I wear a lot of vintage and hand wash accordingly. It's fun and satisfying and so much cheaper than dry cleaning, and once you start you won't go back.

Pro-tips: Cool water is gentler than warm. Don't twist/wring clothes out to get the water out, just press gently--some fabrics, like rayon, are weaker when they're wet and the twist action can break fibers. Also, there are these cool lingerie dryer gizmos for hang-drying in small spaces.
posted by Scram at 8:08 PM on August 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: these are all such great answers! thank you!
posted by facetious at 8:16 PM on August 20, 2011

After rinsing I like to roll the garment up in a large towel, gently squeeze the roll, then unroll it before hanging it up to dry. It will cut your drying time by quite a bit.
posted by corey flood at 10:30 PM on August 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

for gnarly stains on vintage fabrics, or to get whites looking great, I soak them in a bucket with a heavy dose (2-3x normal - more if heavily stained) Oxi-Clean. It's an enzymatic cleaner, so it doesn't harm fabric. Leave them in for at least two days, rinse well, and no more stains.
I've rescued countless thrift-shop finds this way, and do all my cloth napkins (white, never more than .25 at garage sales) that way.
posted by dbmcd at 10:55 PM on August 20, 2011

What I do with my t-shirts and blouses (but I'd hesitate to call it a pro-tip) is hand-wash as described above (I use a Dutch brand called Biotex that can be used for both soaking and hand-washing), wring out, iron with a normal non-steam iron, put everything on clothes-hangers and hang up on my balcony to dry. This may sound weird but clothes are much easier to iron when wet or damp, I seem to recall reading somewhere that ironing clothes when they're wet or at least damp reduces the risk of the heat of the iron damaging the fabric, and ironing before hanging out cuts drying time by quite a bit.
posted by rjs at 11:57 PM on August 20, 2011

A couple of other things:

when adding detergent or fabric-softener to the water, make sure they are completely dissolved before adding in your clothes. This is especially important with fabric-softener, which has a tendency to act like bleach on any garment it comes into contact with in its undiluted state (at least this is what happened with the brands that I've used);

it's useful to have one or more buckets or pails for hand-washing clothes. For instance, they're handy if you want to wash / soak not entirely colour-fast clothes in different colours at the same time.
posted by rjs at 2:34 AM on August 21, 2011

Save your hands and get a plunger to use as an agitator. You can buy one specifically meant for clothing (do a search for "rapid washer mobile washer" to find them), but a toilet plunger works almost as well in a pinch.
posted by squeak at 9:41 AM on August 21, 2011

In most fabrics, gunk mostly sticks where the threads cross and in the pores, and rubbing the fabric on itself doesn't reach into those spaces much. Woven fabrics have an inbuilt gunk-release mechanism that you can use by making the fabric sopping wet, then grabbing it either side of the spot and agitating it so as to flip the weave between
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This also works for knits to some extent but is fairly likely to stretch them.
posted by flabdablet at 8:27 PM on August 21, 2011

Beware using a black rubber toilet plunger to agitate light-colored clothes. Black rubber sometimes leaves indelible marks. Test your plunger on something you don't care about first.
posted by flabdablet at 8:29 PM on August 21, 2011

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