Here's How To Do Laundry By Hand So You Don't Miss A Spot

Don't throw in the towel — here's your guide to washing clothes and bedding by hand at home.

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Here's your guide to hand-washing clothes when you don't have a washing machine.
Here's your guide to hand-washing clothes when you don't have a washing machine.

There are Sunday scaries. There are manic Mondays. But it might be laundry day that you dread the most — when finding that missing red sock could be the difference between a miracle and a catastrophe.

Whether it’s a hamper that’ll hold more than a week’s worth of clothes or a drying rack for all your undies, you’ve probably got your own tips to make laundry day suck less. You probably know you should be separating your lights from your darks, but you might not know all the tips to hand-washing your clothes at home.

Lots of states, including California and New York, consider laundromats “essential businesses” that can stay open right now. And experts that HuffPost talked to say that it’s safe to go to a laundromat — but you should still follow the guidelines for being outside, including practicing social distancing.

Still, you might be trying to stay home more right now — maybe going out only to get groceries and for essential errands. If you don’t have a washer and dryer, you could be looking for ways to do laundry at home that don’t require your neighborhood laundromat.

If you have questions whirling around about how to wash clothes without a washer — like if there are exceptions to the “dry-clean only” rule and if you can wash your laundry in the dishwasher — we got answers. And not just any answers, either. We spoke to the experts at Dropps, Grove Collaborative and The Laundress, who know the ins and outs of airing out dirty laundry.

Here’s what they have to say about doing laundry without a washer:

First, here’s what you need to do laundry without a washing machine

When you hand-wash clothes, you'll definitely want to have the right detergent on hand.
When you hand-wash clothes, you'll definitely want to have the right detergent on hand.

When your laundry bag or hamper is full, you’ll want essentials that’ll make hand-washing much easier.

To start, you can hand-wash clothes in your sink, bathtub or a separate basin with a drain or sink caddy. There are also small washers at Wayfair and portable spin dryers at Home Depot that won’t break the bank and are well-reviewed, if you’re looking for a small-space upgrade.

If you’re wondering if you can wash clothes in a dishwasher, (yes, people actually search for that), one of the experts we talked to didn’t give the green light on that. While your dishwasher uses hot water for your dinnerware, which helps break down food, that heat can be too intense for the clothes you wear every day, said Angela Bell, a cleaning expert at Grove Collaborative.

When it comes to detergents, you might be used to throwing in a Tide Pod at the laundromat, but you could turn to greener laundry detergents instead when hand-washing that’ll be easier on the environment, your clothes and your hands.

“An eco-friendly detergent will often be free of dyes and synthetic fragrances,” said Georgia Dixon, another cleaning expert at Grove Collaborative. “Because they use enzymes to break down food, they are gentle on fabrics but effective for stain removal.”

For sensitive hands that might be overly dry from all of that extra hand-washing Bell also recommends dish gloves with a long cuff when doing laundry to prevent dry skin.

In addition to everyday laundry soap, Gwen Whiting and Lindsey Boyd, founders of The Laundress, said you’ll want to have a fabric-specific detergent for “dry-clean only” items. Both recommended The Laundress’ Wool and Cashmere Delicate Wash for sweaters and Delicate Wash for lingerie and silks.

Boyd and Whiting also recommended having a good stain remover on hand, too. We recommend Method’s Stain Remover, Seventh Generation’s Laundry Stain Remover Spray or The Laundress’ own Stain Solution and Wash & Stain Bar, which are all top-rated with more than four stars.

In addition to a washbasin, detergents, gloves and stain remover, you’ll be able to find a scrubber for stubborn stains right inside your bathroom. Dixon said that a soft-bristled toothbrush can work out a stain without damaging the fabric.

Finally, how you dry your clothes is key to warding off wrinkles before they happen. You should hang and lay them flat immediately after washing, said Jonathan Propper, the founder of Dropps, a zero-waste, green cleaning brand.

According to Propper, you’ll want to “use a good wood or metal drying rack that allows items to lay flat,” like this one that he mentioned from IKEA that’s less than $10. You could also buy a foldable drying rack or hanging dryer with clips for things like undies and socks.

For lingering wrinkles, Propper recommends you have a hand steamer or iron on hand. We recommend this top-rated Black + Decker Garment Steamer at Wayfair that’s under $30 and this Conair Turbo ExtremeSteam Garment Steamer that’s got almost 300 reviews at Bed Bath & Beyond.

TL;DR...

To do laundry by hand, you’ll need a washbasin, eco-friendly detergents, gloves, stain remover, a soft-bristled toothbrush for scrubbing small stains, and a good drying rack.

Here’s how to wash dry-clean only clothes by hand

Turns out, those "dry-clean only" labels can be deceiving.
Turns out, those "dry-clean only" labels can be deceiving.

There are all kinds of rules for laundry. Your parents probably had “the talk” with you about how to separate your lights from your darks.

But then there are rules like this: Recently, Wirecutter got caught in its own spin cycle on Instagram when it suggested that you should wash your washing machine every time you use it and monthly — a recommendation that made most commenters balk. (Bell called that an “unnecessary measure” and said you should leave your washing machine’s door open “after each load to let excess moisture evaporate.”)

Those tags that say “dry-clean only” aren’t always true, either. Boyd and Whiting said that the majority of things that are considered only for dry cleaning can actually be washed at home, including silk, lace, wool and cashmere.

But you should be cautious about that blazer that you splurged on or business suit that’s hanging in the back of your closet. More structured items like suits and jackets should be spot-cleaned only until you can make it to your dry cleaner next. And be cautious with light-colored pieces and clothing with beading and sequins, Dixon said.

For most dry-clean only items, she recommends that you use cold or lukewarm water, soak an item with a little bit of detergent, rinse, roll it in a towel to remove excess water (don’t wring it out!) and lay flat to dry.

ICYMI...
Opt for detergent that’s especially for dry-clean items or delicates, like The Laundress’ Delicate Wash, TOCCA’s Laundry Collection Delicate or Woolite’s Delicates Laundry Detergent.

How to wash the things you wear every day by hand

Here's how you should hand-wash your favorite T-shirt and yoga pants.
Here's how you should hand-wash your favorite T-shirt and yoga pants.

These days, you might be living in your loungewear, wearing and rewearing the same sweatpants and T-shirts, which is good news for your laundry basket.

Instead of going to the laundromat for just one load or waiting until a few weeks of laundry piles up, you might save yourself the trip by learning how to hand-wash the things you put on every day.

First off, you should always hand-wash anything that you think of as delicate, like a garment made of fabric that can easily snag or shrink (think silk, cashmere, wool and organic cotton), as well as things that can tangle if spun in a machine, Bell said. Yes, that means bras and bralettes should always be washed by hand.

To start, Boyd and Whiting said that you’ll want to fill your sink or washbasin with cool water, add a little detergent for delicates and swish the soap around when your bra’s in, letting it soak for up to 30 minutes. Then you can rinse by running water through the item and let it hang dry, they said.

Hand-washing the T-shirts, joggers and jeans you’ve been wearing around the house isn’t as hard as you might think, especially if they don’t have stains. Keep in mind that you don’t actually have to wash your jeans that much. Dixon recommends waiting until you’ve had five to 10 wears in them.

Soak the clothes with a dose of laundry detergent, making sure to give a gentle rub to underarms and collars of T-shirts. Let denim and loungewear fully soak in soapy water, Dixon recommends.

Your Tide To Go pen might be your go-to fix for a spaghetti sauce splatter or spot of salad dressing from lunch, but some stains aren’t so easy to get rid of. In those cases, you’ll want to have a stain remover on hand when you’re washing clothes by hand. For a really stubborn stain, you can let a stain remover sit on it for five to 10 minutes before washing the item in water or scrubbing it carefully with a toothbrush, she said.

“Washing machines work because they agitate clothing in the soapy water, helping to work out dirt and smells. When you hand-wash garments, take the time to ‘agitate’ areas of the clothes that get smelly, sweaty or soiled,” Dixon said.

TL;DR...

Some items, like bras, should always be washed by hand. For T-shirts, leggings and other everyday items, soak them in detergent and gently rub underarms, collars and other areas that get smelly and sweaty. Use a stain remover and soft-bristled toothbrush for stubborn stains. Gently remove excess water, and lay flat to dry.

How to hand-wash your sheets, comforters and towels at home

You don't want to sleep on these tricks to hand-washing your bedding.
You don't want to sleep on these tricks to hand-washing your bedding.

You should probably wash your sheets and change up your bedding more often nowadays. And if you don’t have a washer, you can still clean your sheets from the comfort of your, well, bathtub.

First off, make sure that your tub is clean, Propper said. Then, fill your tub with warm water and add in your preferred detergent. Add your sheets and let them soak for 15 minutes. After your sheets have soaked, swish them around. Give them a light wring afterward to get out the excess water, and hang or lay flat to dry. But keep in mind, since your sheets can take up so much space, they’ll need more time to dry than a T-shirt.

“Be warned, air drying sheets indoors will take a day or two to completely dry, so if you live in warm, sunny climates, we recommend line drying outside if possible,” Propper said. “The sun is a natural bleaching agent and disinfectant.”

If you’ve got a backyard or a balcony outside your apartment, you can find retractable clotheslines and clothes pins to improve your at-home laundry setup.

The process for hand-washing a comforter isn’t much different than what you should do with your sheets. The main difference is you’ll soak the comforter for 30 minutes instead of 15. Once you drain the water, you’ll refill the tub with cold water and add your bedding back in to get rid of soap.

After draining the tub again, roll your bedding to remove excess water and then drape it over the tub or suspend it somewhere so that it dries off quickly, Whiting said. You can shake your comforter when it’s drying so there’s less fill clumping, and open up a window so your bedding dries faster, she said.

“Drying outside in the warm sun, if you can, is ideal,” Whiting said.

You can hand-wash towels in your bathtub, too. You’ll want to use hot water and not too much detergent, Boyd and Whiting said, since “too much will leave a soapy residue and cause stiff towels.”

They recommend letting towels soak for 30 minutes in your detergent and water mix, draining away suds and refilling your tub with hot water again to rinse the towels. Then wring them out and hang dry.

ICYMI...

Hand-wash bedding and sheets in the bathtub, soaking for 15 to 30 minutes in your preferred detergent. Comforters will need another rinse in clean, cold water to remove excess soap. Sheets and bedding take longer to dry indoors, so dry them outside on a clothesline, if possible. And for towels, you’ll want to use hot water.

Now that you know everything there is to know about hand-washing you might be ready to get your hands dirty. We’ve rounded up the hand-washing must-haves mentioned above into one easy-to-browse list below.

Everything you need to wash clothes by hand, below:

Everything You Need To Hand Wash Your Clothes At Home