Person folding their clean laundry after cleaning it by hand.

How to handwash clothes at home in 6 easy steps.

Last Updated: April 7, 2021

Handwashing clothes is an easy, effective way to clean any garment, especially delicates. We’ll break it down in our guide on how to handwash clothes.

If you love your duds and want them to last forever, washing them by hand is where it’s at. We’re here to guide you through handwashing clothes at home for a gentle, effective clean.

We’ve been handwashing clothes for thousands of years, but in recent times, with the advent of machines that wash our clothes for us, washing by hand has become a strange and scary prospect. Why would we throw our clothes into the kitchen sink on purpose?

The fact of the matter is that handwashing clothes is easy, effective, and often the only option (sans dry cleaning) for many delicates. With Grove's guide to handwashing, though, you'll have a new secret weapon in achieving a fresh, clean wardrobe.

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Is washing clothes by hand better?

Light blue illustration of two hands washing clothes.

Better is a bit subjective. Handwashing is certainly effective for clothes of all kinds. It’s particularly ideal for delicates, wool, cashmere, and silk, which usually can’t (or shouldn’t) be machine-washed or dried.

Handwashing can also help avoid that pricey trip to the dry cleaners.

Can you use body wash or hand soap on clothes?

Well, you could, but you really shouldn’t. Handwashing clothes isn’t all that different from throwing them in the washing machine. Both use movement, water, and a cleaning agent to clean and freshen clothes.

Using a cleaning agent formulated for clothes (rather than skin) is probably your best bet. The best detergents for your clothes are free of harmful chemicals like dyes and fragrances that are as bad for you as they are for your clothes.

Can you handwash more than one item at a time?

Yes! When prepping to wash laundry by hand, think of your clothes the same way you would if you were prepping for a machine-wash: pretreat stains and wash clothes of similar colors and fabrics together.

How to handwash clothes in 6 easy steps

With your laundry separated into like-minded groups, it’s time to roll up those sleeves and put your magic hands to work!

Step 1: Read the label

As always, your clothes’ care label will provide key details for best cleaning practices. Be sure to do a separate wash for clothes that need a different temperature or detergent than the rest.

Optional: Pretreat stains

Like you would for your normal laundry load, be sure to pretreat any pesky stains you’ve been glaring at, particularly in white clothes. To pretreat a stain, you can use a commercial stain remover, a bit of detergent, hydrogen peroxide, or a baking soda-and-water paste.

Step 2: Fill your tub or sink with water

Fill a clean tub, sink, or other large basin with water. For most standard garments, room-temperature water is the way to go. But, always check your care tags for details, since fabrics like wool, cashmere, and silk should only be washed with cool or cold water.

Step 3: Add the detergent

For most clothes, your go-to liquid laundry detergent will handle the job nicely. You are only going to want to use about a teaspoon of detergent — much less than you would normally use in your washing machine.

For delicates like wool, cashmere, and silk, consider a specialty detergent formulated for that fabric — or at the very least, choose a detergent that’s free of scents, fabric softeners, dyes, and other potentially damaging chemical add-ins.

Step 4: Submerge and soak

Place your sorted batch of clothes in your water basin. Use your hands to swish your clothes through the water, mimicking a gentle washing cycle. This will help activate the detergent and effectively clean your clothes. Water discoloration during the wash is normal — that’s just all the dirt and a little dye coming out of your clothes!

For a deep clean, press clothes against the bottom of the basin, like you’re kneading them. But avoid any twisting, wringing, or scrubbing, which can stretch and damage the fabric. You might be washing in a sink, but that doesn’t mean you can treat your clothes like dishes. Once you’re done swishing or kneading, let the clothes soak for 15 to 30 minutes.

Step 5: Rinse and repeat

After the soak, drain the sudsy water, and refill your basin with cool water. Rinse the now-sudsy clothes, swishing them around and occasionally pressing non-delicates against the bottom of the basin. Drain the water, and repeat this process until the water — and your clothes — are suds-free.

Step 6: Rinse again for good measure.

Drying clothes that still have detergent on them can be damaging to the fabric. It won’t hurt to give them one last rinse before drying to make sure they’re free from cleaning agents.

How to dry your handwashed clothes

Hand-drying handwashed clothes is more time consuming than using the ol’ dryer. But the hand-drying process is very gentle on fabric — clothes of all kinds will benefit from your hand-drying TLC.

Yellow arm muscle illustration

Step 1: Gently squeeze water from clothes

This works best by folding, pressing, and squeezing garments with your hands.

Avoid twisting or wringing at all costs, as both cause fabric to stretch and wear out.

Step 2: Lay flat and roll

On a flat surface you don’t mind getting a little wet, lay out a dry bath towel. One at a time, place your damp garments on top of the towel, and roll them up together like you’d roll up your yoga mat. When fully rolled, press the roll to remove and absorb excess water.

Repeat this process as many times as needed, until your garments are only lightly damp.

Step 3: Finish with air drying

Place a fresh dry towel across a flat surface or drying rack, preferably in a room or spot with good airflow and lots of sunlight. Lie your damp clothes flat on the towel, or drape them across the rack, and let them air dry. Flip them periodically. If your towel gets too damp, swap it out for a dry one.

Different clothes dry at different rates, so don’t be shocked when your athletic wear dries faster than your denim.

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