How To Hand Wash Clothes At Home

If the coronavirus outbreak has you feeling less than enthusiastic about going to the laundromat—or even using your building’s shared-laundry facilities—I’m here to tell you that you can indeed wash by hand nearly everything that needs washing at home; I’ve done it before, often for extended periods of time.

Yes, even denim.

Yes, even towels.

Yes, it goes a lot faster if you’re washing lightweight fabrics that dry quickly, and it goes a heck of a lot faster if you’re only doing laundry for a single person, but I’ve done my own laundry in five-gallon buckets, bathroom sinks and bathtubs and it is possible.

(I actually recommend a bucket or the sink over the bathtub; this is one of those situations where you’re going to want as little opportunity for splash-back as possible.)

Here’s what you’ll need and how the components work together:

A water-filled receptacle

Get yourself a bucket, a sink with the stopper in or a tub with the plug in. You’re going to fill that receptacle with water at the temperature at which you’d like to wash your clothes.

Some kind of soap or laundry powder (but not detergent)

Your enormous jug of extra-strength laundry detergent is probably going to be too highly concentrated to use here; unless you’re very careful to only dribble in a few drops it will be very difficult to get all the soap out of your clothes. I like using dish soap, honestly. Laundry powders also work well, and washing my delicates in a moisturizing shampoo always makes them feel extra soft.

An agitator

Once you add soap to your running water and turn your receptacle into a sudsy mess, it’s time to add your clothes and begin agitating. (Remember that clothes take up space in the bucket, so don’t fill it so full of water that it overflows.) Although you can probably use a big wooden spoon or something if you really want to, the best agitator I’ve found is my own two arms. Just get in there and start churning and squishing and squeezing until everything gets really, really soapy. If some of your clothing has food residue or other grit on it, pay a little extra attention to those particles until the surfactant does its work and they float away.

Rinse water

You’ve got to get that soap off your clothing somehow, and I like to use whatever faucet is nearest to my water receptacle. If I’m washing clothing in the bathroom sink, for example, I’ll let the sink drain, leaving the sudsy clothing still in the basin. Then I’ll pick up one item of clothing at a time, rinse it under the sink faucet until the water runs clear, turn off the faucet, wring out the piece of clothing until it no longer drips and hang it up to dry.

A drying rack

If you already have a dedicated drying rack, great. If not, you can hang clothing over your shower curtain rod, drape T-shirts over the backs of chairs, string a makeshift clothesline across your bedroom (I’ve done that before), or strategically position them wherever your freshly washed clothing will be exposed to enough airflow to turn into freshly dried clothing.

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Many of us have probably done this kind of laundry before, whether we’re rinsing out swimsuits or hand washing our bras. This is the same concept on a larger scale—and yes, I understand it doesn’t scale super well, especially if you’re used to taking multiple loads of laundry to the laundromat at once. But we’re all trying to stay at home as much as possible these days, and this is one more crucial way to keep you indoors and physically distanced.

And remember: we aren’t supposed to shake out our dirty laundry anymore, especially if we’re in a household with suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19. Just put those clothes directly into your bucket or bathtub and get to work—and when you’re done, wash your hands. Again.

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