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Need to wash your clothes by hand? Here's how to do it right

If you don't have a washing machine and the laundromat isn't an option, then it might be time to learn how to wash your clothes by hand. Here's a complete step-by-step.


Ry Crist

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Steve Conaway

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Rich Brown

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The old-fashioned way

Most of us have a washing machine, or at least have access to one, but if you don't -- or if social distancing has left you wary of the laundromat -- then it might be time to learn how to properly wash your clothes by hand at home. 

Fortunately, it's easier than you might think. Scroll through and we'll walk you through it.

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Tub time

First things first: You'll need a washtub, and preferably two of them. If you only have one, you'll need to soap up all your clothes, then set the soaked garments aside while you dump the tub and refill it with clean water. Having two tubs makes things a lot easier.

And, yes, in a pinch, you can wash your clothes in the bathtub, but don't look at it as a long-term solution (and give the tub a good scrub before you wash your clothes in it, too, because bathtubs are grimier than you think.)

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Washboards welcome

You'll also want to pick up a good washboard. We used this one, a midrange pick you can snag on Amazon for less than $20.

Want something fancier? Check out sites like Etsy, or perhaps the Columbus Washboard Company, which bills itself as the last American washboard manufacturer.

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Seek some soap

You'll need soap, too, obviously. A bar of laundry soap like this one is your best bet, but you can use liquid detergent, too. Just steer clear of powder detergents if you can -- those require lots of heat and agitation in order to clean properly, and are best left for the machines.

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Fill 'er up

Oh, and you'll need water -- typically lukewarm, soapy water for your wash tub and clean, cold water for your rinse tub. Check the labels on your clothing for extra guidance on temperature and care.

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In goes the washboard

Your washboard will sit inside of the wash tub at whatever angle is most comfortable to scrub against. And, speaking of which, guess what comes next?

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Start scrubbing

For a normal load of laundry -- no delicates, and nothing heavily soiled -- you can go ahead and start washing your clothes in the washtub. To do so, take one item of clothing at a time and start running it up and down the washboard. Taking the garment in both hands and rubbing it against itself is also an effective way to work the soap through the fabric. 

How long and how hard you scrub depends on how dirty each piece is. If you're washing clothes with things like buttons or imprinted logos on them, you should turn them inside out first to avoid any unnecessary damage.

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Soap on the washboard

Pro tip -- a little bit of bar soap on the washboard ridges goes a long way toward getting your clothes clean.

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Ready for a rinse

Satisfied with your work? Take the soapy piece of clothing and transfer it from the washtub to the rinse tub.

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Special care

Trying to wash something heavily soiled? Make sure you beat or shake out any large, loose debris, then apply a little bit of soap to the heaviest stains and soak the garment in warm water for about half an hour, giving it an occasional stir. Then, scrub-scrub-scrub like the rest of your load.

If you need to clean delicates, you'll want to replace the scrubbing altogether with a quick soak in warm, soapy water. Keep similar colors together and soak a few garments at a time for about 15 minutes before transferring them to your rinse tub. Don't soak anything for longer than 30 minutes, or the colors may run.

Items labeled "Dry Clean" can safely be hand-washed, while "Dry Clean Only" items could be damaged by the water.

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A good rinse

OK, we've made it into the rinse tub. Now what?

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Rinse the soap away

Your goal here is pretty straightforward -- clean the soap off of the clothes. To do so, gently swirl the clothes in the water to agitate them, and squeeze individual garments under the water to force excess soap out. Repeat until the garment drips clean, clear liquid with no visible soap residue. If you're having trouble getting there, try emptying your tub and refilling it with fresh, clean water.

Try to avoid wringing or squeezing your medium and more delicate items too hard. Also, there are "no-rinse" detergents you can pick up that allow you to skip this step altogether.  

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Time to dry

Congratulations -- your clothes are clean. Unfortunately, they're also soaking wet, which means you still have a little bit of work to do.

Your best solution is to hang the clothes up and let them air-dry. The bungee clothesline pictured here comes with 12 clothespins and costs just $10 on Amazon. It would work just about anywhere.

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How about a hanger?

No clothesline? No yard? No problem -- you can dry your clothes on hangers, too. Just try to use padded hangers if you can -- wire hangers might leave creases in your clothes. And hang them somewhere dripping water wouldn't be a problem, like over the bathtub. 

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A dirty job done well

And that's it! Laundry done at home the old-fashioned way. How's that for tech journalism.

For more advice, check out our full post on the hand-washing topic, and be sure to tell us all about your own hand-washing tips in the comments. 

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