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It’s Just as Effective to Wash Your Clothes by Hand

Your sink and some soap can do everything the washing machine can

This quarantine has been a boon for old-timey activities: bread baking, veggie growing, drinking beer throughout the entire day, reading books, what have you. As for me, I’m feeling like one wholesome colonial bitch by washing my clothes by hand.

My apartment doesn’t have laundry facilities, and I’d really like to avoid the laundromat. So, when I’m running low on undies, I become the washing machine. And you know what? I like it. All it takes is a sink, some detergent and a little muscle, and your clothes will be perfectly clean and wearable. You probably should have been handwashing some of your clothes, anyway.

Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations surrounding household cleanliness and coronavirus, their only major points for laundry are to follow the instructions on the label and use the warmest temperature water your clothes can handle. In other words, washing by hand can be just fine.

Depending on the size of your sink, you’ll probably only want to wash a few garments at a time as the sink needs to be deep enough for the clothes to be submerged entirely. And obviously, for grimier clothes, undies or bigger items, less is better. Some detergents state the proper amount of soap to use for washing by hand on the label, but you can generally eyeball it, too. The New York Times recommends using a teaspoon per pound. I use The Laundress brand Delicate Wash, which calls for about a capful.

My technique is to set the water on hot, and run my clothes under it for a minute or so. Then, I pour some detergent directly onto the clothes, and scrub either by hand or using a small nail brush. After I’ve scrubbed each item, I block the drain to the sink and fill it up with hot water. I add another teaspoon of detergent to the water, swirl the clothes around to get it bubbly, and then I let it sit for about half an hour. Every 10 minutes or so, I give it another swirl. After half an hour, I give another light scrub to the clothes, drain the water, and rinse. If you can, leave the water running over the clothes for a few minutes — if you don’t rinse well enough, the soap can cling to the clothes and cause a rash on your skin. Not fun.

Once all traces of soap are gone, turn off the water, squeeze the items to get rid of the water and hang ‘em up on whatever to dry. If you have the outdoor space, I highly recommend hanging them out in the sun. Sun-dried clothing is one of the most simple, perfect luxuries — a dryer could never produce such a balance between crisp and soft.

Depending on exactly how delicate your particular item is, your technique might need to be different. Some fabrics can’t soak as long, while others should be washed in cool water rather than hot. As long as you’re using soap and give the items a good rub, this should still be enough to clean your clothes.

I mainly use this for undies, to help extend the amount of time I can go before I need to go to the laundromat. Hypothetically, though, you could do all your laundry like this. Bras, vintage tees, wool socks, silk ties and other items you might want to protect from the heavy-duty spin cycle will last a lot longer this way. Neither the washer nor the dryer is actually that good for your clothes.

More than that, though, I kind of enjoy washing my things by hand. It sounds dumb to say I feel a little bit more “in touch” with them this way, but I do! I feel productive! And I’m doing something with my hands!

Best of all, I get away from my phone for a few minutes without even having to leave my house.