Knowing how to hand-wash delicate clothing is an essential part of extending their lifespan and keeping them looking their best. It’s also frustrating, risky, and time-consuming. White clothes can turn pink; size XLs can shrink (to near baby clothes); and precious hours can be spent coddling clothes that require extra attention. Washing delicate items can take quite a few steps, with no guarantee of the outcome you desire — delicate clothing that looks, feels, and smells as fresh as the day you bought it.
Below are simple instructions for how to hand-wash delicate clothes correctly, including basic dos and don’ts for keeping your delicate clothing looking as good as new.
Do you really need to hand-wash clothes?
The need to hand-wash clothing depends on the fabric and the garment. Delicate items like lingerie, cashmere sweaters, silk blouses, bras, and t-shirts with embellishments should be hand-washed instead of thrown in the washing machine. Washing machines can be too harsh for delicate items and damage them, so it’s best to play it safe. Some other benefits of hand-washing include:
- Reduced water and energy consumption: Hand-washing only requires a small amount of water, so it uses less than machine washing. Plus, you don’t have to use electricity to power the washer to do a load of laundry.
- Fixed items: If a delicate item has been repaired or fixed – things like adding a button or shortening a hemline – hand-washing will ensure it stays fixed. Machine washing is harsh and can undo hand-sewing.
- Reduced risk of fabric damage: Machine washing can be too harsh for certain delicate items and cause them to become damaged. Hand-washing is gentler on fine fabrics and helps extend their lifespan.
- Improved stain removal: Hand-washing gives you better control over the pressure, temperature, and movement of water. This makes it easier to remove stains in a way that won’t harm your clothes.
- Reduced water use: Washing machines can use up to 40 gallons of water per load. Hand-washing delicate clothing reduces your washing machine use, which is a boon to the environment.
- Reduced air pollution: Washing machines generate a lot of air pollution. Hand-washing is a far more eco-friendly way to clean clothes.
- Improved overall garment care: Hand-washing is a slower and more gentle process, allowing you to take extra special care of your clothing without visiting the dry cleaner.
How do you prepare clothes for hand-washing?
Before you start hand-washing delicate items, some preparation is required. First, sort items based on color and fabric type, paying close attention to the care instructions on the tags. For example, wool items should be washed separately from non-wool items. Next, gather necessary supplies, such as gentle detergent, a soft-bristled brush, and fabric softener (if desired).
What is the right technique for hand-washing clothes?
To start, fill your sink or basin with lukewarm water and mix in a gentle detergent. Submerge items in the soapy water and slowly swish them around for about five minutes. Don’t scrub or rub them too hard, as this can damage the fabric. After five minutes, empty the sink and fill it with cool water to rinse clothes. Repeat this process until water runs clear.
For extra protection and softness, add a gentle fabric softener to your final rinse. If the item is particularly fragile or has stains, use a soft-bristled brush and a mild detergent to spot-clean it. Gently rub the brush in a circular motion on the affected areas until stains are gone. Then, rinse the area with clean water and continue the normal hand-washing process until all suds are gone.
How do you hand-wash different types of delicates?
The above instructions are for basic hand-washing across all fabric types. To ensure clothes aren’t damaged, however, different types of fabrics may require different approaches. Here are tips for hand-washing specific types of delicates:
Silk is a delicate material that must be washed with care. Avoid fabric softener or chlorine bleach, as this could damage fabric. Instead, combine lukewarm water and a mild detergent, and gently swish the item in the soapy water for five minutes, avoiding any pulling, tugging, or rubbing. Rinse in cold water until all suds are gone. Air-dry fabric away from direct sunlight.
Lace is even more fragile than silk and can easily get damaged in the wash. To ensure a safe clean, fill your sink or basin with lukewarm water and a mild detergent, and swirl the item for five minutes. Rinse in fresh cold water until all suds are gone before drying. Dry by gently squeezing the fabric before leaving it to air-dry. (For lace pieces that only have one or two stains or spills, consider spot-cleaning instead of a full wash.)
Before washing in water, remove surface dirt and lint with a dry, soft-bristled brush. Then, fill a basin with cold water mixed with mild detergent. Submerge the item in soapy water and let it soak 10 minutes. When done, rinse thoroughly in lukewarm water until all suds are gone, then rinse again in cold water to remove any soapy residue. Don’t rub the fabric, and don’t wring out the garment. Instead, press or squeeze out excess water and roll the garment into a dry towel. Lay flat to finish drying out of direct sunlight, periodically reshaping the garment to ensure it stretches evenly.
Cashmere requires a little extra TLC because it’s made from a delicate yarn with extremely fine fibers. That’s why cashmere often gets fuzzy after you wash it, as the goat’s fur that makes up these fibers gets fluffier after you wash it. Use a mild detergent and lukewarm water to swish the item for five minutes. Use a soft-bristled brush on any stained areas before rinsing with cold water until all the suds are gone for optimal results.
You don’t want the sequins or beads to fall off your favorite embellished items. As with lace, consider spot-cleaning any stains or problem areas whenever possible. If the stain is dry or non-oily, simply mix a teaspoon of detergent with a cup of cool water, then dip a cotton swab in the solution and use it to gently work between the embellishments. For oil-based stains, use the same method, swapping the detergent mixture with a dry cleaning solvent. Finish the job by blotting the area with a clean paper towel.
To hand-wash a complete garment with minimal damage, fill a basin with cool water and add a mild detergent. Gently swirl the fabric in the sudsy water for about five minutes. Don’t scrub or agitate it too much, as this can damage embellishments. Once done, rinse until all suds are gone, then lay flat to dry.
What is the right detergent for hand-washing?
When it comes to hand-washing delicate clothes, not all detergents are created equal. Choose one that’s specifically designed for hand-washing delicate items. It should be free of harsh chemicals and fragrances and mild enough to protect the fabric from damage.
How do you dry delicates?
The best way to dry delicate items is to air-dry them. This reduces the risk of shrinkage or damage from heat. To do this, lay items flat on a drying rack or a towel in a well-ventilated area. Avoid direct sunlight or heat when air-drying, as this can damage the fabric. Additionally, make sure to flip the items over once or twice to ensure they dry evenly.
Can you iron delicates?
Ironing delicate items requires caution and patience. Read the care instructions on the article’s tag, which typically includes an ironing temperature advisory and recommendation. Be sure, too, to use a pressing cloth to protect the fabric. Finally, make sure to move the iron slowly and evenly, taking care not to press down too hard.
How should you store delicates?
It’s best to store delicate items in a dark, cool place away from sunlight and heat, as these can damage the fabric. Additionally, be sure the space in which they’re kept is free of sharp objects and edges that could snag and tear fabric. If possible, hang delicate items in garment bags or on padded hangers.
Common Mistakes To Avoid
When it comes to hand-washing delicate items, there are a few common mistakes that can easily be avoided.
- Using too much detergent: Too much detergent can damage delicate clothing and make it look dull — be sure to use just one teaspoon of gentle detergent when washing.
- Using hot water: Hot water can damage dainty fabrics like silk, lace, and cashmere. Always use warm water when hand-washing your delicate clothes. A good rule of thumb: If you can’t comfortably submerge your hands in the water, don’t wash your delicates in it.
- Not soaking: Letting your clothes soak in water for a few minutes before washing helps loosen dirt and stains, making them easier to remove.
- Not rinsing thoroughly: Not rinsing your clothes thoroughly can leave trace residues that damage fabric. Make sure you rinse the item until all of the detergent is removed.
- Not air-drying: Air-drying your delicate clothes maintains their shape and prevents shrinking and wrinkles. Hang the item, place it on a clothesline, or lay it flat to air-dry instead of using a machine dryer.
- Not reading labels: If you don’t check the garment’s care tag, you won’t know which type of detergent or water temperature to use. Always read the label before washing delicate items.
- Scrubbing too hard: Scrubbing delicate fabrics can damage the fibers. Be gentle when washing; use your hands or a soft brush to remove dirt and stains.
- Twisting or wringing: Twisting or wringing your clothing can stretch and tear delicate fibers. Instead, carefully press out excess water with a towel.
Treat stains on delicate items as soon as possible. Start by pretreating the stain with a gentle detergent and cold water. Then, gently rub the stain with a soft-bristled brush in a circular motion until gone. Rinse the area afterward to remove detergent. To avoid staining in the future, treat spills and stains immediately.
Are all stains created equal?
Different types of stains require different treatments — and this is especially true for delicates. For example, oil-based stains should be treated with an enzyme-based detergent, while water-based stains can usually be washed away with cold water. Ink stains can be removed with rubbing alcohol, while food stains may need a pre-treatment with a natural oil like coconut or olive. Read the garment’s care label and do a patch test on an inconspicuous area before attempting to remove any stains.
Clean as a whistle!
Taking the time to hand-wash delicate items will keep them in good condition for longer, and is essential for delicate fabrics such as silk, wool, and cashmere. To do it correctly, sort the items based on color and fabric type, gather the necessary supplies, and use a gentle detergent specifically designed for delicates. After washing, air-dry and iron delicates carefully, and store them properly. With the right technique and care, delicates can last a lifetime!