The Ultimate Guide to Hand Washing Your Laundry

The Ultimate Guide to Hand Washing Your Laundry

Jennifer Hunter
Aug 30, 2015

Stop dropping big bucks at the dry cleaner. You really can clean your delicates at home in your bathroom sink as long as you do it the right way. Here's everything you need to know.

What can I hand wash?

First, a disclaimer: I have safely hand washed many items that read "dry clean only" but do so at your own risk. If you're nervous, err on the side of caution and drop it off at the dry cleaner. It'll be worth your peace of mind.

Here's what I routinely hand wash at home:

Here's what I never hand wash:

  • Bright or deep colors — I want my colors to stay vibrant.
  • Rayon — If rayon garments say, "dry clean only" they really mean it.
  • Clothes with embellishments like beading.
  • Leather

Tools you need:

  • Mild soap — I often use organic regular laundry detergent but baby shampoo works too.
  • Drying rack — I have a cheap, foldable mesh version that I keep under the bed. You can always use a towel, but a rack really does make a difference in drying time.
  • Clean towels
  • Steamer — Mine was 30 bucks at Target.

If you have a lot to wash, you can put a few items of similar color in together, but just like regular laundry, don't mix darks and lights. Use cold or room temperature water — never hot — add a small amount of soap and swish your item around in the sink or a bucket (you can use any clean water-holding vessel, but I think it's easier to go ahead and use the bathroom sink). If you see a little bit of color come out in the water, don't panic, that's normal. Drain the sink and fill it up with clean water and rinse well. Don't wring the water out, but gently squeeze as much as you can down the drain. Then roll it up in a towel to get it as dry as possible. If you have a stain that doesn't come out, you can try washing it twice paying extra attention to that spot, but be careful not to rub too hard and damage the fabric — for big jobs take it to the dry cleaner.


Your clothes are at their most delicate when wet so treat them with care so you don't stretch them out or damage them as they dry.

Stuff to hang:

Silk — silk is incredibly strong and won't fall out of shape so it's fine to hang your shirts and dresses on a hanger while they dry. They will come out wrinkled and that's where your steamer comes into play. A quick steam after they're completely dry is all you need to get them looking freshly dry-cleaned.

Stuff to lay flat:

Linen, sweaters — Wet linen will stretch out terribly so I always lay it flat to dry. It will dry in a flash. Damp sweaters are too heavy to hang (you shouldn't be hanging sweaters anyway) so I carefully lay them out in the shape I want (called blocking) and leave them for at least 24 hours.

When they're dry, you're done! Go treat yourself to something fun with all the cashola you just saved, you smartie.

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