How to Hand Wash Clothes in 5 Steps

Woman washing pink garment in grey tub of soapy water

Kyryl Gorlov/ iStock/ Getty Images Plus

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 10 - 20 mins
  • Total Time: 20 - 45 mins
  • Estimated Cost: $5-10

Hand-washing clothes saves time for small stains on a garment when you don’t want to go to the laundromat or do a full load of laundry at home. Hand-washing is also more gentle on fabrics and can be done with just a few supplies.

There are a few rules you should follow to ensure successful washing:

  • Don't forget to read the care tag: Before you wash an item, double-check the care label. Always use the recommended water temperature and obey any "dry clean only" labels unless you are experienced in doing laundry. The label means that water or excessive agitation may damage the garment.
  • Don't mix colors: If you are washing more than one item, don't mix colors because one item may not be colorfast and may cause dye transfer.
  • Don't hand wash structured garments: Even if the outer fabric is washable, like polyester, the inside interfacings that give the garment like a suit jacket its shape may not hold up in the water.
Detergent Laundry detergent
Water Temperature Warm or cold water
Cycle Type Hand wash
Drying Cycle Type Varies by fabric type
Special Treatment Hand-wash each item separately
Iron Settings Varies by garment

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • 1 Large sink or plastic tub
  • 1 Soft-bristled nylon brush
  • 1 Drying rack or automatic dryer
  • 1 to 2 Absorbent towels
  • 1 to 2 Sturdy hangers (optional)


  • 1 bottle Laundry detergent
  • 1 bottle Enzyme-based stain remover
  • 1 box Baking soda


The Basics of Hand Washing Clothes

  1. Pretreat Stains

    Pretreat visible stains and heavily-soiled areas with a dab of laundry detergent or an enzyme-based stain remover. Work the cleaner into the fabric with your fingers or a soft-bristled brush (an old toothbrush works great).

    Allow the cleaner to work for at least 15 minutes before you wash the garment so the enzymes break the bond between the stain and fabric.

  2. Clean the Sink or Tub

    The sink or tub you plan to use for hand-washing clothes needs to be spotlessly clean. Kitchen sinks can have traces of grease that will transfer to clothes. Bathroom sinks may have traces of skincare products that will bleach fabrics. Clean the sink and rinse well so that no cleaning product remains.

  3. Create a Washing Solution

    • Fill the sink or tub with water and detergent before adding the clothes. Make sure you have enough water to completely submerge the garments.
    • The water should be warm or cool—read the item's care label. Hot water can cause color bleeding or shrinkage in some fabrics.
    • Add 1 teaspoon of laundry detergent. You don't need lots of bubbles to get a clean garment, and too much detergent means lots of rinsing or detergent residue left in the fibers.
    • Always add the detergent to the water before adding the clothes, and give the water a quick stir to be sure the detergent is dissolved and distributed well.


    If you're out of laundry detergent, there are some products that you can use as an emergency substitute.

    • A gentle shampoo like baby shampoo. Do not use a combination shampoo and conditioner or one that tints hair. Use only one teaspoon for a sink full of water.
    • Bar soap. Shave a bit into a cup of hot water to melt or rub heavily-soiled areas with the bar. Choose bars that do not contain oils or skin softeners to prevent spotting.
    • Liquid hand soaps. Use one teaspoon or less and choose one without added moisturizers or sanitizers.
    • Dishwashing liquid. Use the smallest amount possible and double-check that the formula does not contain bleaching agents.
  4. Soak and Swish

    • Add the garment to the washing solution and make sure the fabric is completely saturated.
    • Leave plenty of room in the sink (never overload it).
    • Allow the garment to soak for at least 10 minutes (up to 30 minutes is fine), and then gently squeeze the fabric through the water.
    • Check stained areas and rub the fabric against itself to remove traces of stains.
  5. Rinse and Dry

    • Lift the garment from the sink and drain the soapy water.
    • Gently squeeze the soapy water out of the fabric.
    • Fill the sink with cool, clean water and put the garment back in the sink to rinse.
    • Swish it through the water.
    • Repeat this step until no more suds appear.
    • Gently squeeze out the excess water.
    • Hang or lay the garment on a drying rack or place it in an automatic dryer.

How to Hand Wash Delicate Garments and Sweaters

Delicate items like lingerie, knitted items, and sweaters require a gentle touch. Follow the basic steps but only use a gentle detergent, cool water, and NEVER wring the fabrics. Wringing can cause stretching and leave you with misshapen garments.

How to Hand Wash T-Shirts, Shorts, and Jeans

Follow the basic hand-washing steps. You can be a bit more aggressive in scrubbing these fabrics and let them soak longer to release soil. If you are washing them in a small sink, only wash one garment at a time. The fabric needs to be able to "swim" in the cleaning solution to get thoroughly clean.

How to Hand Wash Gym Clothes

Use cool water, an enzyme-based detergent, and add one cup of baking soda to the cleaning solution to help combat odor. Allow the clothes to soak for at least 15 minutes (longer is fine). Do not stretch the pieces and never wring. Squeeze out excess water and roll the garment in a dry towel to remove as much water as possible before air drying.