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Step-by-Step Guide: How to Handwash Clothes the Right Way

wicker basket of folded clothes on a wooden outside table

If you’ve ever been in a situation where you didn’t have access to a washing machine, you probably wished you knew how to wash your clothes by hand! This little skill will no doubt come in handy if you don’t have a washing machine, or the one you have has suddenly stopped working. It’s also useful for when you’re traveling and, again, there’s no washing machine in sight!

Furthermore, contrary to what many believe, you don’t need any special equipment to handwash your clothes properly. While products like a washboard do help, they aren’t necessary. In fact, you can achieve desirable cleaning results with just a few, simple items.

Here’s What You’ll Need to Handwash Your Clothes

lady looking at the tag of a white shirt

  • Kitchen sink + stopper or large basin/bucket(s)
  • Laundry detergent
  • Soft brush (optional)
  • Rolling pin (optional)
  • Drying rack/line

When you have access to all the items listed above, you are then fully prepared to follow the steps below to wash your clothes by hand.

Step 1: Clean the Makeshift Washer Tub

lady handwashing clothes in a fawn coloured tub

Whether you are using a sink, basin, or bucket, it needs to be 100% clean and sanitary before you wash your clothes in it. For this, you will need two additional cleaning supplies – a scrubber and an all-purpose cleaner. 

To clean the surface, give it a good rinse first; preferably with hot water because this will help loosen grime and also kill bacteria. Then, dampen your cleaning tool, and spray it with the multipurpose cleaner of your choosing. Use this to scrub the interior surface thoroughly before rinsing it clean. If needed, give it another scrub-down and rinse. Once you have a clean and sanitary makeshift washtub, you can begin handwashing your clothes.

Step 2: Measure and Add Detergent

assorted blue laundry detergent on a white marble benchtop

It’s hard to determine the correct amount of detergent to use for a single load of laundry that is to be washed by hand; however, a good rule of thumb is to measure 1 teaspoon of laundry detergent per kilogram of clothing. 

If you are washing an average of 20 adult-sized clothing items per load, or a few heavy pieces of clothing in one load, adjust the detergent to half a teaspoon per kilogram. Remember, using extra detergent when washing laundry will not clean your clothes better but instead, leave them feeling stiff. Furthermore, it makes it tougher and longer to wash off the soap which, in turn, often leaves detergent residue on clothes that cause allergies and skin irritation.

Step 3: Add Water and Mix

woman handwashing white jumper in bathroom sink

Fill the washer tub with enough water to submerge the clothes. Bear in mind that you will be washing the clothes inside this makeshift washer and therefore, the water level must not be too high or else it will overflow as clothes are added to it. 

Room temperature water is advised because 1) you will be using your hands, and 2) the temperature will change quickly because it is exposed to air. At this stage, after the water has been added, you will need to swirl and swish it around to dissolve the detergent and create suds. If you have used powdered detergent, it may not dissolve completely but that’s alright; just be sure to combine the soap and water well before moving on to the next step. 

Step 4: Wash the Clothes

woman handwashing grey sweater in a large tub full of water

Add the clothes in one article at a time. Push them down gently until they are completely submerged in the washing solution. Now, this is where you need to recreate the functioning of a tumble wash (to the best of your ability, at least). The most important thing is to agitate the water so that the detergent penetrates the fabrics. 

Move the clothes around for a couple of minutes by pushing them downward, and stirring the water. Use both your hands to squeeze the clothes gently while they are submerged; you can also ‘knead’ the clothes to allow them to further soak in the detergent solution. Handwash your clothes in this manner for at least 5 minutes for a regular clean. If there are stains present, lay the article down on a flat surface, and use a soft brush to scrub the area before putting it back in the washer tub. Bear in mind that severe and/or old stains will not come off with this particular method; instead, they will need to be pre-treated with a stain remover.

Step 5: Allow the Clothes to Soak

woman scrubbing grey sweater in large tub full of water

The soaking time will depend on how dirty the clothes are; for a deeper clean, let the clothes soak in the tub for a good 45 minutes. If you are just washing a regular load of laundry, 15-20 minutes will suffice.

Depending on the duration of soaking time you choose, it’s a good idea to move the clothes around every 5-10 minutes. This will help the cleaning solution to further penetrate the fabrics.  

Step 6: Rinse Off

handwashed grey sweater being removed from large tub of water

When handwashing your clothes, they will require a few extra rinses than a washing machine gives because laundry detergent does not wash off too easily unless the clothes are rinsed vigorously. To do this, transfer the clothes into a clean, empty bucket, and drain out the soapy water. Rinse the washer tub thoroughly to get rid of detergent residue and suds. 

Then, refill the tub and dunk the clothes in the water. Agitate the fabrics to remove detergent; gentle squeezing will also help with this. Repeat this entire process – rinsing the tub, refilling it, and agitating the fabrics – until there is no more soapiness leaving the clothes. 

Step 7: Remove Excess Water and Dry

three blue business shirts hanging on a clothesline

The first rule of drying clothes by hand is to not wring them because soaked clothing is heavy and therefore, prone to stretching. The safest ways to remove excess water from hand-washed clothes is by gentle pressing or using a rolling pin. For the former, simply fold the piece of clothing 2-3 times, place it on a flat, dry surface, and gently press down on it to squeeze out water. It helps to fold the article of clothing in a few different ways, and then repeat the process 2-3 times before moving on to the next piece. If you’re using a rolling pin, lay the clothing flat down on a dry surface, and roll the pin over it to remove excess water. Do this on both sides of the piece.

Finally, hang the laundry to dry on a clothes rack or line. They will take longer to dry than machine-washed clothes, however, you can rest assured that they will be fresh and clean!

Trust us when we say it’s important to learn how to wash your clothes by hand because there’s a good chance that, at some point, you will need to! More importantly, don’t be swayed by the complicated methods and equipment used by other people; Maid For You’s cleaning guide above is really all you need to handwash clothes the right way!

Adriana Aziz is the operations manager at MaidForYou. With over 6 years of experience managing cleaning operations, she knows all the best hacks when it comes to cleaning residential and commercial buildings. With expert experience in managing house cleaning operations, interior design and logistics. She spends her free time with her family and as a freelance food critic.

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