How unhygenic is constant handwashing of laundry?
May 20, 2012 3:10 PM   Subscribe

For various reasons, it's significantly more convenient for me to handwash my dirty clothes/linens with detergent in the bathtub, and dry them on a rack in the living room. It's so convenient, in fact, that I'll bother to do my laundry, rather than wear rarely machine-washed and dirty clothes most of the time.

This solution doesn't seem terribly unhygenic to me, though it does seem like something my mom would frown upon (hence the anonymity). Am I missing something? How gross is it, exactly? And how can I make it less gross? It's not like I want to brag about it to people, I just don't want to catch a fungus or something.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It doesn't sound unhygienic at all, assuming your regularly clean your tub.
posted by dfriedman at 3:14 PM on May 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

What? You're fine. How do you think people did laundry before washing machines?
posted by HotToddy at 3:18 PM on May 20, 2012 [22 favorites]

This is basically what anyone who doesn't have a washing machine does. It's totally okay.
posted by Specklet at 3:19 PM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's not only fine, it's a lot more eco-friendly than running a washer/dryer. Go for it.

If you live somewhere warm, you could also consider a clothesline in the back yard (will dry faster and not clutter up the living room.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:22 PM on May 20, 2012

You know the pieces of clothing you have that say 'no machine wash'? The bathtub hand-wash is what you are supposed do with them.
posted by gmarceau at 3:27 PM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Did you mean to to ask about hand washing them in the toilet? That would be unsanitary and gross. But you said "bathtub" not "toilet", so I think you're fine.
posted by alms at 3:31 PM on May 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Unless you are handwashing cloth diapers, this sounds totally okay to me. (It also sounds fine if you are handwashing cloth diapers, but you'd want to have an extra step of scrubbing out the bathtub with lots of soap and hot water afterward, something I would not bother with if I were just washing shirts and socks and whatnot.)
posted by thehmsbeagle at 3:32 PM on May 20, 2012

Is hand washing unhygienic? It probably depends on several factors: how hot is the water, do you get all the dirt and soap out, are "dirtier" clothes contaminating the rest of your laundry etc.

According to The Hygiene Council (link to PDF):
"Clothes, linen, towels and other fabrics should be laundered at a high temperature (above 60° C) in order to prevent cross-contamination and illness. Many germs such as salmonella, Hepatitis A, and rotavirus can even survive drying so it is important that care is taken when drying clothes. As wet laundry can be a potential breeding ground for mould, clothes should be dried outside or in an ‘outdoor vented’ clothes dryer in order to prevent any increase in humidity in the home and prevent mould growth if possible.

Supporting evidence for the importance of laundry hygiene
• Research studies have shown that organisms such as and Staphylococcus aureus, E. coli and Pseudomonas aeruginosa are present in home laundry and that 44% of washing machines contain bacteria like E. coli
• One study found that a significant numbers of enteric viruses were found to survive washing and drying conditions commonly practiced in households. The addition of sodium hypochlorite with detergent significantly reduced the number of viruses. Treatment with bleach alone reliably caused reductions of greater than 99.99%"

Products like this or this claims to kill bacteria in laundry. Sunlight also helps to kill bacteria.
posted by iviken at 3:40 PM on May 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

It's perfectly fine. We even handwashed cloth diapers for over a year and hung them up to dry without any kind of problems.
posted by agent99 at 3:41 PM on May 20, 2012

If you are worried about bacteria or germs hang them outside in the sunlight that is a great sanitizer otherwise don't worry. I'd maybe quickly rinse the tub out first with hot water and soap if I'd been showering in it everyday just to make sure any soap, hair etc residue is washed away.
posted by wwax at 3:52 PM on May 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

I do this, though I tend to wash a few days' worth of shirts and socks piecemeal in the sink or a small bucket rather than letting what would be a whole load accumulate. I've found that detergents intended for HE washers (Biokleen powder is what I use, it's awesome, close to scent-free and economical) rinse more easily and get my clothes cleaner. If you're really serious, this kind of clothing plunger is a great way to agitate without using your hands/feet.
posted by pullayup at 4:06 PM on May 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

I used to do this with my 'work pants'. The biggest potential problem is annoying your roommates. If no roommates and clothes don't smell weird (insufficient rinsing, too long drying resulting in mildewy smells etc) then you are good to go.

Good for you! Don't bother telling your mom. Put it on your adult 'things I do my mom doesn't like but it doesn't matter because I don't live with her anymore' list!
posted by bquarters at 4:37 PM on May 20, 2012

Not only is this more eco-friendly, but it's a lot easier on your clothes, which you'll find will last longer. So kind of a win-win scenario. There are people who think this is gross? I would seriously question their judgement. Unless you are slaughtering animals or doing something else that causes your clothing to come in contact with blood and/or feces on a daily basis, handwashing is fine. How dirty can your clothes get anyway?
posted by triggerfinger at 5:22 PM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Research studies have shown that organisms such as and Staphylococcus aureus, E. coli and Pseudomonas aeruginosa are present in home laundry...

Given that Staph, E. coli and Pseudomonas are all native inhabitants of the human microbiome, I'm not sure I'd get all concerned about them potentially being in my laundry. Your clothing is not going to be much of a growth medium so as long as you're getting it visibly clean and dry it quickly, you are going to be the population reservoir for whatever we might culture from your laundry. (If this bothers you don't think to hard about mitochondrial DNA.)

In the winter, however, I'd consider the amount of moisture I was adding to the interior air, because unless your house leaks like a sieve all that moisture is going to condense somewhere, and if it does that in your walls (where it's closest to the outdoors, where it's cold in the winter) you're going to have issues.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:39 PM on May 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Washing your own clothes in your own home is certainly a lot more hygenic than using a public laudromat. Nthing trying to dry the clothes outside for extra cleanliness. Doesn't have to be sunny, just not raining. Wringing them out as thoroughly as possible hastens drying and gives you a hand-strengthing workout. You'll end up with the best handshake around (as long as you're careful). Remember to use as little detergent as possible to achieve clean; far better to use too little rather than too much. Detergent residue can leave your clothes feeling nasty, and isn't good for your skin, either. Remember, many people in the world wash their clothes in tepid water with the use of rocks.
posted by kestralwing at 6:03 PM on May 20, 2012

To speed drying, and increase the life of your clothes, don't wring so hard. Just put the clothes in a clean pillowcase. Go outside and swing the pillow case around your head in big fast circles.

And it's fun, too!

Then hang or lay each item to dry. I like laying them flat on a rack because sometimes hanging while damp makes things wrinkle funny.
posted by bilabial at 7:29 PM on May 20, 2012

Oh, I hit post too soon. No. This is not gross, unless you are mucking about in poop or other things that are truly disgusting.
posted by bilabial at 7:30 PM on May 20, 2012

Lots of people around the world still handwash their clothing...
posted by bearette at 7:58 PM on May 20, 2012

I happen to have a very serious medical issue. It is incurable. I have a compromised immune system and chemical sensitivities. A few years ago, I switched to hand washing and hang drying as one of many lifestyle changes I made so I could get well after doctors condemned me to death. For me, it worked better than machine washing.

Take care.
posted by Michele in California at 8:11 PM on May 20, 2012

It's totally fine and prudent for a lot of people. If you are interested in adding some useful tools, I'd recommend the Rapid Washer DIY washer and the Spin Dryer from the Laundry Alternative. For under $200, you can quickly wash your clothes and spin dry them (to a surprisingly dry degree).
posted by Little Orphan Ennui at 9:09 PM on May 20, 2012

Adding my voice to the chorus - when I was a teen my mom couldn't afford a washer so for a good 4 years I hand-washed my clothes in the bathtub and hung them out of my window to dry. If I stank or looked unclean, nobody told me!
posted by brownrd at 9:23 PM on May 20, 2012

Get a big stick to stir your clothes with. It saves your hands and allows you to use hot water when neccessary. You can also get hand-crank washing machines pretty cheap! Using rubber gloves rather than bare hands when wringing will help protect your skin from chapping/ abrasions. Rinse out your clothes 1 or 2 extra times since it"s difficult to get them fully rinsed by hand, and the soap residue is not good. Jeans may need to go in a dryer to reshrink them to proper size. And if you've got the nerve, I've heard you actually can hang clothes outside in the winter.

Oh, wait, sorry, you wanted hygene advice. All I've got is tips from all of the time I've been without a washing machine. I don't get sicker than anyone else, though.
posted by windykites at 12:35 PM on May 21, 2012

Not unhygienic at all. While living abroad, I used to wash my clothing by hand all the time. Ah, the memories of living is a small apartment with wet clothing hanging from wall to wall. . .

I would, however, like to echo what I saw in a previous post wringing out your clothing. If you wring them to hard, it’ll mess them up.
posted by WestChester22 at 1:04 PM on May 21, 2012

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