How To Hand-Wash Your Beautiful Delicates

I’m still getting to grips with this whole “adulting” thing, but I thought that at least I knew how to wash my clothes. Well, recently my husband and I moved house—and I discovered that I was still a pitiful domestic n00b, through and through.

PSA for any other totally naive first time renters out there: Most houses don’t come complete with washer/dryer combos. I know, right?! Shocking. So, we had the house, but none of the “bits” that we really needed; basically, real life is like Sims, because you have to buy annoyingly expensive expansion packs all the damn time.

Instead of being sensible and forking out a fat stack on laundry facilities, I rolled up my sleeves and began hand-washing everything. I rigged up a janky drying line (which, really, was a feat of domestic ingenuity: a roll of twine that had been sitting in the car for months, plus a paint can to weigh it down). I thought it would be easy, giving everything a good soak and a squeeze and hanging it up to dry in the desert heat.

I already told you I was naive; it turns out that hand-washing garments is a science in its own right. Not to mention tedious, time consuming, and a whole upper body workout to boot.

So, yes, we did ultimately remove our cheapskates and buy some domestic machinery. But this whole escapade led me to wonder: How should I hand-wash clothes? What should I hand wash? Never had I bothered to properly launder the fragile garments that instructed the resident washing wench to “HAND-WASH ONLY.” So I decided to get to grips with some proper laundry etiquette, and here’s what I found out.

What should I hand-wash?

Well, for starters, if it says, “HAND WASH ONLY,” on the care label, then you’re best off hand-washing it. Throwing that gorgeous jacket, a cashmere cardigan, or an easily snagged silk blouse in the washing machine is begging for disaster—your result will be a misshapen, shrunk, or snagged version of something you used to adore.

That said, you can hand-wash “dry clean only” clothes, too. If you’re particularly attached to a certain item, then yes—you might want to comply with the instructions and suck up that dry cleaning bill, just to be safe. In most cases, though, “dry clean only” labels are attached as a “cover all” to save the manufacturer’s back, but you’re probably going to be just fine to hand wash.

As a rule, don’t try hand washing suede, leather, velvet, taffeta, rayon, and anything with fur or down. Suits, pleated skirts, and anything with significant or oil-based stains are also too tricky to tackle alone. But wool, silk, cotton, linen, and durable polyester fabrics are all probably safe to DIY.

You can perform a simple spot test on an item of clothing by dripping a little water (and perhaps the detergent you plan to use) onto a discreet portion of your garment, then rubbing a cotton swab across the area. If the fabric’s dye stains the cotton swab, it needs to be dry-cleaned. If you come away with a clean Q-tip, you’ve got the green light.

But how do I actually hand-wash my clothes?

1.) Use a clean sink or other large basin filled with lukewarm water. Don’t add too many items, or lots of different colors, just the same as if you were filling the washer—but, in this instance, try to keep it to only two or three items. The water will make everything heavy and prone to tangling up.

2.) Put in a few drops of mild detergent such as Woolite—or, interestingly, you can use baby shampoo too. (Will the LD baby shampoo obsession ever end? Probably not.)

3.) Gently swirl or knead the clothing in the sink for a minute or two just enough that it’s all soaped up.

4.) Gently rinse with lukewarm water. If you’re washing silks, you can then repeat the process with a few drops of hair conditioner, instead of detergent this time, to add extra silkiness.

5.) Rinse thoroughly then gently squeeze out the water. But really, though, be gentle! You don’t want to mess up the texture or shape of the fabric.

6.) Lay the garment flat to dry.

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