How to Hand-Wash Clothes in the Sink

How to Hand-Wash Clothes in the Sink

In my great-grandmother's day, Monday was Wash Day. Back then, laundry was washed by hand with lye soap, and you were lucky if you had a crank roller to wring out heavy items like sheets and quilts.

Today's hand-washing isn't the backbreaking chore it once was. Generally, we reserve it for pricey and delicate items, to save money on dry cleaning, or occasionally, we find ourselves short of skivvies, so we do it to avoid wearing a bathing suit under our work clothes. Before you (or your delicates!) take the plunge, here's the least of what you need to know.

1 Start with a clean sink or bathtub. Scrub off scum, then make sure all cleanser has been washed down the drain. Bleaches and dyes from cleaning products could discolor or weaken your garments.

2 Keep your cool. Wash in lukewarm water, cooler than bathwater. Never use hot water—colors could bleed, and fibers could shrink.

3 Mild, not wild. Choose detergent formulated especially for delicates. It's not harsh enough to fade colors, and it dissolves in cool to warm water.

4 Keep it light. Save hand-washing for smaller, lightweight items. Lingerie, silk shirts, scarves, and dress socks are all good candidates. Don't use this method for towels and jeans—for one thing, you'll use gallons of water for a clean rinse, and for another, they require days to line dry.

5 Assess the risk. If a laundry item is marked "dry-clean only," you could ruin it forever by saturating it with water or the wrong soap.

6 Hand-washing does not equal the delicate cycle. Agitation causes stress on a garment. Even front-loading machines toss and tumble. For sturdier items, such as synthetic nightgowns or top-quality men's undershirts, washing on delicate with similar colors and fabrics shouldn't cause harm. If you have doubts, wash them in the sink.

7 Rinse, then repeat. This step takes time and effort. You'll need to fully drain the sink or bathtub, and then refill it with water twice—if not several times. Add ¼ cup distilled white vinegar to a sinkful of rinse water or 1 cup to a bathtub of rinse water to help dissolve detergent residue. Tip: You'll need to rinse at least twice after that to wash away the vinegar so you don't smell like a dyed Easter egg.

8 Squeeze, don't wring. After the final rinse, use your hands to push and squeeze out the water without twisting your garment. Twisting stretches and pulls fibers, leaving you with saggy clothes. Then lay the garment out on a drying rack or a clean towel (if using a towel, you'll have to switch out damp for dry one or two times).

When to Dry-Clean

"Do I really have to schlep to the dry cleaner and shell out the big bucks to clean this garment?" you may ask yourself. Maybe not. Many garments labeled "dry-clean only" can be safely washed on the gentle cycle or by hand. Use these steps to help you decide.

Decipher and interpret the care label. Manufacturers are required to list only one way to clean a garment. If the label says "dry-clean only," it's smartest to obey it. If it says "dry-clean," that means that is the recommended method, but not necessarily the only method.

Examine and think about the fabric. Unless the label says something different, dry-clean silk, acetate, suede, leather, velvet, wool, and taffeta. Cotton, rayon, linen, microfiber, cashmere, polyester, acrylic, and nylon can generally be washed at home on the delicate cycle, or by hand. First check for colorfastness: Moisten a cotton ball with mild detergent and a little water and dab it on a hidden seam or hem to see if any dye comes off. Wash noncolorfast items with like colors always.

Consider and test the detailing. Some care instructions are for the fabric only—not the embellishments or hardware, which may be attached at another factory. This is why some labels come with caveats, such as "exclusive of decorative trim". Before attempting to wash items featuring beads, sequins, fringe, or tassels, make sure they are sewn on (not glued) and colorfast.

Dry-Cleaning Myths Debunked

Dry cleaners may seem like magicians, but once you know the inside scoop, you'll feel more empowered when making the decision "to dry-clean, or not to dry-clean."

Dry-cleaning is not dry. Water isn't used, but a toxic cocktail of other wet chemicals is. The most common liquid used is perchlorethylene, and even socalled "green" dry cleaners use liquid carbon dioxide and silicone fluids.

Men's shirts aren't necessarily dry-cleaned. The placard outside the cleaners may say, "Men's shirts: $2.50," but that doesn't mean they're being dry-cleaned. They're laundered in a big machine with detergent, starched if requested, then pressed and dried on a shirt form.

You'll never get reimbursed for ruined clothes. Not fully, anyway. Legally, the dry cleaner can cite depreciation. In some cases, you'll get the full value if the garment is less than four months old. If your garment is older than two years, expect no more than 20 percent of its original value.

Say good-bye to lost clothes. Once gone, they're likely gone forever. In many cases, your garments will be sent home in a bundle with another customer who won't bother to return them. Wash irreplaceable items at home or pay top dollar at a reputable white-glove or French cleaner.

Some stains are permanent. Dry cleaners have tricks, but they aren't magic. The key is to rush stained garments in as soon as possible. Natural fabrics like silk, cotton, and wool absorb and retain stains over time.

Only half of complaints are resolved. According to the Better Business Bureau, in 2009, only half of consumer complaints to dry cleaners were even addressed. It's a good reason to take more control of your clothing's care.