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Do You You Really Need to Hand Wash Those Clothes?

woman washing delicate clothes by hands in plastic tub
ConstantinosZ/Shutterstock

There’s a reason your washing machine has a cycle for delicates—it’s for those clothes labeled “hand wash only.” When it comes to using the washer for delicate materials, though, you’ll want to move forward with caution.

Why Hand Wash?

The idea of hand washing your clothing is that it is more gentle on fabrics than the washing machine. Hand washing doesn’t come with hot water temperatures (since you have to get your hands in there). It doesn’t use agitator that may be rough on certain types of fabric.

Bras, pantyhose, and anything made with lycra or elastic all have the potential to break down in hot water and on agitating spin cycles. Most items that require being hung to dry should technically be hand washed, but it always helps to read the labels on your clothes.

Here is a list of things you should always hand wash (as they have a high probability of being damaged in a washing machine of any kind):

  • Hand knit items
  • Beaded or sequined clothing
  • Clothing with lace or lace embellishments
  • Ties

How to Bypass Hand Washing Clothes

Just because your shirts says to hand wash only, that doesn’t mean it’s your only option. Now that you can invest in a washing machine without a central agitator, you can safely machine wash many of your hand wash only items the same way you’d do with other machine-washable delicates.

  • Always wash hand wash garments in cold water or on a delicate cycle. Cold water is less likely to shrink your clothing or alter the colors. The delicate cycle offers less agitation, even in machines with a central agitator. If you don’t have a delicate setting on your machine, use a short wash cycle with cold water.
  • Use mesh laundry bags for extra protection. Sometimes clothing items require hand washing because they could get snagged by other clothing in the washing machine, damaging them. If you put delicates and bras in mesh garment bags and follow the last tip, you can save yourself some time by washing in the machine instead of by hand. You can even find structured mesh bra bags made specifically for helping bras keep their shape.
  • Use a different detergent than you do for your other clothing items. A detergent made for delicates will be gentler on the fabric and the colors.
  • Always hang dry your hand wash only garments. It’s the safest way to dry them and will help you hold onto those pieces of clothing for longer. The heat of your dryer can damage the fabric of delicate clothing.

Rather Hand Wash Anyway?

If you have the time and patience for hand washing your clothing, or you just don’t want to risk putting your hand wash only garments in the washing machine, there’s nothing wrong with following the care instructions given on your garments. Here are some tips on properly hand washing clothes.

  • If you only have one or two items to hand wash, you can wash them in a clean tote. For larger amounts of clothing, you’ll need a large basin or a big enough clean sink (or you can do it in the bathtub if it’s clean enough).
  • You don’t want to freeze your hands, so don’t use water that’s too cold—lukewarm, room temperature water will work.
  • Only use mild detergents, something made for hand washing clothes or delicates. Stir some into the basin of water.
  • Submerge your clothing, piece by piece, into the water. Move them around (like you’re a gentle human agitator) for five minutes. Don’t do any scrubbing. If you have stains, treat them ahead of time.
  • Do a few items at a time, leaving plenty of room to move the clothes around, so they have clean, soapy water flowing through them. And change the water after a couple of loads.
  • Rinse each item under the tap to remove soap, without scrubbing or squeezing.
  • Some clothing tags will say not to wring out an item, which is one of the easiest ways to get rid of all of that excess water. You can squeeze without wringing, to avoid damaging fabrics.
  • To get even more water out, lay individual items on a dry towel and gently roll it up to absorb water before you hang dry the article of clothing.
Yvonne Glasgow Yvonne Glasgow
Yvonne Glasgow has been a professional writer for almost two decades. Yvonne has worked for nutritionists, start-ups, dating companies, SEO firms, newspapers, board game companies, and much more as a writer and editor. She's also a published poet and a short story writer. Read Full Bio »

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