Probably the least expensive and most gentle way to clean your clothes is by hand. Hand-washing is the original old school way of cleaning clothes; before washing machines, people washed their clothes on wash boards in a bucket of soapy water, then hung them on a line to dry. To clean a whole family’s clothes must have been a very strenuous and time-consuming job.
Today, we use convenient washing machines to clean our clothes but for some garments, hand-washing is the best way. If you want to clean a fine sweater, for example, if you have delicate clothing that you don’t want to put through the rigors of a wash cycle, or if you need to clean an individual garment instead of washing a whole load, opt for hand-washing. It’s a good way to gently clean your clothes without the risk of damaging your garments with the agitator of the modern machine.
Start with a large bucket. If you don’t have a bucket, you could do the cleaning in your bathtub. Fill with warm, tepid, or cool water and add a liquid laundry soap of your choice (use mild laundry soap for fine things). If you’re cleaning a sweater, let it absorb the water and try not to handle it too much – the trick is to let it soak for a few minutes, then squeeze the suds through the sweater. Rinse by soaking in fresh cool water to release the suds.
Next, lift out the garment and squeeze out the excess water – DO NOT WRING OUT YOUR SWEATERS! Knits are woven on a grid and wringing a sweater will cause the yarns to warp and pull out of shape, perhaps forever!
Once you’ve squeezed out the water, gently shake out your sweater and shape it to lie flat on a large towel. Starting from one end, roll the towel and the sweater away from you and smooth the sweater as you go. Apply gentle pressure to the towel roll; roll all the way up. What you’re doing here is transferring the heavy water from the sweater to the towel. You can leave the roll for an hour or more, then unroll, gently lift out and shake your sweater, then lie flat on a table or other surface to dry.
Almost any piece of clothing can be hand washed: collared shirts, t-shirts, undies, etc. (denim and trousers are best washed in machines then hung to dry). Go through the steps to hand wash a sweater, but swish your non-delicate garments in the bucket to get the soap through the weave of the fabric. Rinse. Men with strong hands will have an easy time squeezing water from their garments, but take care to gently smooth out the wrinkles you’ve created afterward because your clothes will dry this way.
Notes on drying
Drying clothes in an electric dryer not only uses a lot of energy, it slowly but surely eats away at your clothes – check the lint trap if you don’t believe me! The sheets of lint in the lint trap is actually bits of the fibers of your clothes, and it’s a good way to slowly break down your clothes. Better alternatives are to hang wet clothes out on a clothes line if you have access to one, or drape over a drying rack.
To dry shirts, hang them on a wood or plastic hanger – fasten the top button of a collared shirt to retain the shape of the collar, and smooth out the garment (watch that the button placket, cuffs, and sleeves are smooth because they dry in the shape you leave them). Wire hangers are too thin to hold a garment that is heavy with water – the thin wire will cause the wet garment to stretch in the shoulder but a thicker hanger will solve this problem. More on clothing storage and hangers next post.
Taking the time to hand wash clothes is a great way to save on energy and save your clothes from becoming thread bare. If you are environmentally conscious, feel good about your choice to hand wash and even better, seek out a bio-degradable laundry soap to come full circle.