Tips For Hand-Washing Clothes In The Tub

Doing laundry at home during the coronavirus pandemic? Experts share their tried-and-true ways to clean clothing by hand.

Even if you’ve spent the past two months of the coronavirus lockdown in pajamas, you have undoubtedly accumulated at least some laundry during that time. And without handy access to an in-home washer or dryer, you might be tempted to start hand-washing your leggings.

Gwen Whiting and Lindsey Boyd know a thing or 30 about washing by hand. They are the co-founders of The Laundress, an all-things-laundry-all-the-time brand that offers a wealth of products and knowledge about how to clean just about anything. Now they’re sharing some of that knowledge with us.

Below, their tips for hand-washing your clothes in the tub.

Start with a clean slate.

This one might sound like a no-brainer, but your bathtub is likely covered in germs. Whiting and Boyd recommend doing a deep clean before stopping the drain and filling it with water for your laundry.

Consider the temperature.

Different materials require different water temperatures, Whiting and Boyd explained. Items like woolens, faux fur, down jackets, bedding, delicates and denim should be washed in cool water. Activewear and everyday laundry, on the other hand, can be washed in warm water.

Be discerning with detergent.

Whiting and Boyd recommend using “an effective, plant-based detergent that’s formulated to whiten, brighten and preserve color while removing stains.” Laundry expert Patric Richardson recommends items from The Laundress’ brand, like their signature detergent and bleach alternative, while Richardson also recommends brands like Eczema Honey’s hand soap and Sonnett organic liquid laundry detergent.

Prepare the water before you put the clothes in.

Without the machine-operated, suds-making mechanisms available in a washing machine, it’s important to make sure the water is soapy before putting the clothes in. “Agitate the water with your hands to create a soapy solution,” Whiting said, “then let the garments soak in the soapy water for 30 minutes.”

Watch the clock.

You might be inclined to let your garments soak while you take care of other things around the house, but Whiting and Boyd say they should sit only for 30 minutes before rinsing. “Remove the laundry from the tub by pressing each garment against the edge of the tub and placing in a clean bucket or sink,” Boyd explained. “Then, open the drain to release the soapy water and close the drain again before filling with clean, warm water. Swirl to thoroughly rinse away the suds and drain once more.”

Don't do this.
Aryo Hadi via Getty Images
Don't do this.

Resist the urge to wring.

Your clothes might still have some suds left over, even after rinsing. If that’s the case, Whiting and Boyd advise against wringing them out and suggest running them under the faucet instead until the water runs clear. “Wringing will cause damage to the fibers,” Boyd said. “Instead, press garments against the edge of the tub to get rid of excess water.”

You *can* hand-wash dry clean items, but not all of them.

“Fur with skin cannot be washed, as the skin can shrink or dry out with wet washing,” Whiting said. “Another tricky fabric is viscose. Viscose is a type of rayon, and although many rayons can be washed, viscose has been known to shrink to extreme proportions.”

Whiting also noted that rayon and viscose are often not labeled properly, so she doesn’t recommend washing either at home because shrinkage, elongation, distortion or puckering is not reversible. “We also don’t recommend washing structured materials like blazers with shoulder pads, as they can become distorted in the wash. Instead, you can spot treat and freshen.”

Not sure about a material? Test it.

Whiting and Boyd insist that materials like silk, lace, wool and cashmere can and should be washed in the tub, but if you’re not sure, there’s a way to see how the material will react to hand-washing.

“Find an inconspicuous area on the item, such as a seam or hem, and submerge it in warm water,” Boyd said. “Look for changes in character or texture in the wet area: tightening, shrinking, stretching, warping or the formation of ripples or wrinkles. Also be on the lookout for fabric elongation, which may not happen instantly. If you encounter any of these problems, dry clean the item.”

Finally, hang it out.

Whiting and Boyd are partial to line drying for its energy-saving and fabric preservation properties ― but not everyone has access to an outdoor space to do that. In that case, they have a few tips for in-home drying.

“Most everyday garments can be hung on a hanger,” Whiting said. “But be sure the hanger is properly shaped to prevent annoying shoulder bumps.”

For delicates and larger items like bedding, Whiting and Boyd recommend laying them flat on a table or surface, if possible, or hanging a blanket over a chair. Hanging something like a blanket on a shower rod, they said, could cause rust.

Finally, be aware of where you’re drying them. “Be careful not to set delicate fabrics near a heat source like a sunny window or radiator, as this can cause the items to shrink,” Whiting said.

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