Washing Machine Stop Working? Here's How to Wash Clothes in a Bathtub

Woman's hands washing black garment in a white bathtub

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In This Article
Project Overview
  • Working Time: 20 - 30 mins
  • Total Time: 15 mins - 1 hr
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $5 to 10

Your washing machine is broken, you can't get to the laundromat, and you need clean clothes for tomorrow. Don't fret, you can wash a small load of dirty clothes in the bathtub.

Washing clothes in the bathtub is simple if you don't mind being more actively involved than just tossing them in a washer. Read on to learn all about washing clothes in a bathtub.

Detergent High-efficiency, enzyme-based laundry detergent
Water Temperature Cool to warm
Cycle Type Hand agitation
Drying Cycle Type Choose dryer cycle depending on the types of fabric or air dry
Special Treatments Pretreat stains
Iron Settings Depends on type of fabric

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • 1 Soft-bristled nylon brush
  • 1 Bathtub or large laundry sink
  • 1 pair Rubber gloves (optional)


  • 1 bottle High-efficiency (he) enzyme-based laundry detergent
  • 1 bottle Enzyme-based stain remover (optional)


How to Wash Clothes in a Bathtub

Cleaning clothes requires chemical energy (detergent), thermal energy (water temperature), and mechanical energy (a machine or person). Washing clothes in a bathtub follows the same rules as doing laundry in a washing machine or hand-washing clothes.

  1. Clean the Bathtub

    Just like a clean washer equals cleaner clothes, a clean bathtub will give you better final results. Start by removing all of the bottles and products from the edge of the tub so they don't fall into the wash water. Thoroughly clean the tub and rinse it well to remove any cleaning product residue.


    Many bathtub and shower cleaners contain bleach which can cause permanent damage to clothes, especially dark colors.

  2. Sort the Clothes

    Sort the dirty clothes by color: whites, colors, dark colors. Then, do a second sorting by type of fabric. Do not attempt to wash heavy cotton towels with lightweight synthetic blouses.

    Divide the sorted piles into manageable amounts for the tub. Don't try to wash too many items together—a load of two pairs of jeans and two or three shirts or one set of sheets is an appropriate amount.

  3. Read the Labels

    Before you toss in the clothes, read the care labels. They will tell you what water temperature to use, whether the item needs to be washed separately because it bleeds dye, and if the item should be washed or dry cleaned.

  4. Pretreat Stains

    Look at each garment and pretreat any stains or heavily-soiled areas.

    To pretreat stains, just use a dab of the liquid laundry detergent or an enzyme-based stain remover. Work the product into the stain with a soft-bristled nylon brush or your fingers. Let it sit for at least 15 minutes before adding the clothes to the tub. This gives the product time to start breaking apart the stains from the fabric fibers.

  5. Fill the Tub With Water and Add Detergent

    Fill the tub about half-full with cool to warm water. Add only one to two teaspoons of liquid laundry detergent, and swish your hands through the water to disperse the detergent.

    If you are using a powdered detergent, mix it with one cup of hot water so you are sure the powder dissolves completely before adding it to the tub of water.

  6. Add the Dirty Clothes

    Slowly add the dirty clothes and make sure that they are fully submerged in soapy water. Put on rubber gloves if you'd like, and use your hands to gently squeeze the clothes so you know that all areas of the garment are completely wet.

    Allow the clothes to soak for at least 15 minutes so the surfactants in the detergent have time to suspend the soil released from the fabrics.

  7. Agitate the Clothes

    After soaking, use your hands to agitate the clothes in the water. Lift them up and down in the water. Gently rub the fabrics against each other to loosen soil, especially on heavily-soiled areas. Then, gently squeeze the soapy solution through the fabrics.

  8. Drain and Rinse

    Drain the tub of water and gently squeeze the soapy water out of the clothes. Refill the tub with cool water to rinse the clothes. Agitate the clothes in the rinse water, then drain and repeat the steps until no traces of soapy water remain.

  9. Remove Excess Water and Dry the Clothes

    Gently squeeze out the excess water. Don't wring harshly or the clothes will have lots of wrinkles. Transfer the clothes to a drying rack, clothesline, or automatic dryer.


    To speed drying time, place the wet clothes in a single layer on a heavy, absorbent towel. Roll the towel up to soak up the water. Repeat with another dry towel before you hang the clothes to dry.

Additional Tips for Washing Clothes in a Bathtub

Here are a few tips to help you complete the task successfully:

  • Don't forget to clean the tub: A clean bathtub will result in cleaner clothes. Give the tub a good scrub but don't use a bathroom cleaner that contains bleach or you'll have unfixable spots on your clothes.
  • Don't forget the basic rules of laundry: Sort the clothes and wash similar colors and fabrics together.
  • Don't overload the tub: It is better to wash two smaller loads than to cram everything in the tub at one time.
  • Don't use too much detergent: Overdosing the tub with detergent will make it nearly impossible to remove the sudsy residue and clothes will be stiff and scratchy to wear.