How to Hand-Wash Clothes, from Bras to Cashmere & Everything in Between

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Whether you can’t get to your regular laundromat right now or just prefer to take matters into your own hands, it can be a very handy skill (pun very much intended) to know how to hand-wash clothes. But, of course, these methods differ a bit whether you’re cleaning cotton tees, lace panties, silk blouses or cashmere sweaters. Here’s how to wash almost everything in your wardrobe by hand, from bras to jeans and even workout leggings.

The Easiest Way to Clean White Sneakers (Using Things Under Your Kitchen Sink)

how to hand wash clothes bras
McKenzie Cordell

1. How To Hand-wash Bras

Hand-washing your delicates is actually recommended over machine washing and can help extend the life of your favorite bras. The same goes with underwear, although you might want to wash those separately, with a bit more vigor and at a higher temperature.

What you’ll need:

  • A basin or bowl large enough to submerge your bras entirely (a kitchen sink will also suffice)
  • Gentle laundry detergent, lingerie wash or baby shampoo

1. Fill the basin with warm water and add a tablespoon or so of detergent. Swish the water to get those suds going.

2. Submerge your bras in the water and lightly work the water and detergent into the fabric, especially under the arms and around the band.

3. Leave your bras to soak for 15 to 40 minutes.

4. Drain the soapy water and refill the basin with clean, warm water. Continue to rinse and repeat with fresh water until you feel the fabric is free of soap.

5. Lay your bras flat on a towel to dry.

how to hand wash clothes jeans
McKenzie Cordell

2. How To Hand-wash Cotton (e.g., T-shirts, Denim And Linen)

While throwing your tees, cotton undies and other light items into the wash after every wear is expected, you don’t need to clean denim all that often. If your denim jacket or jeans are developing a not-so-fresh smell, you can actually fold them up and stick them in the freezer to kill the bacteria and the resulting odor. But those stretchy skinnies or cropped wide-legs you wear four times a week should definitely get thoroughly washed at least once a month.

What you’ll need:

  • A basin or bowl large enough to submerge your clothes (a kitchen sink or bathtub will also suffice)
  • Laundry detergent

1. Fill the basin with warm water and a small amount of laundry detergent. Swish the water around to incorporate the soap.

2. Submerge your cotton items and allow them to soak for 10 to 15 minutes.

3. Gently work the detergent into your clothing, paying special attention to areas that might be prone to accumulating dirt or bacteria, like the armpits or the hems.

4. Drain the dirty water and refill the basin with fresh, cool water. Cotton is more durable than many other fabrics, so you can feel free to hold your jeans and cotton dresses right under the faucet to rinse them rather than using the rinse-and-repeat method you used for your bras (although that does ensure a gentler wash).

5. Squeeze any excess water out of your clothing, but don’t wring the fabric as it can stress and break down the fibers, eventually making your clothes deteriorate faster.

6. It’s best to lay your clothing flat atop a towel to dry, but if you don’t have room, draping them over a towel rack or your shower rod, or hanging them on a clothesline works, too.

how to hand wash clothes sweater
McKenzie Cordell

3. How To Hand-wash Wool, Cashmere And Other Knits

The first step here is to check the care label—if it says “dry clean only,” then you should not attempt to wash it yourself. It’s also important to know your knit. Synthetic fibers like polyester and rayon tend to hold odors more than cashmere, for example, so you might want to wash those blends at a higher temperature. On the other hand, wool is very susceptible to shrinking in hot water, so keep the temperature low when dealing with woolens.

What you’ll need:

1. Fill the basin with tepid water and a tablespoon of laundry detergent (this is one instance in which we highly recommend using specialized soap as opposed to your regular heavy-duty stuff).

2. Submerge your sweater in the water and lightly work any areas that need special attention, like the collar or armpits. Because sweaters take a very long time to dry, we suggest washing only one or two at a time.

3. Let the knit soak for up to 30 minutes before pouring out the dirty water. Refill the basin with a small amount of cool, clean water and swish your sweater about. Repeat until you feel the fabric is no longer holding any soap.

4. Press your sweater against the sides of the basin to remove excess water (don’t wring it out or you’ll risk breaking down those delicate fabrics).

5. Lay your sweater flat on a towel to dry. The thicker the sweater is, the longer it will take to dry, but almost all knits should sit for a full 24 to 48 hours before being put away. You may want to switch out the towel and flip your sweater over at some point to help the process. And, of course, you should never hang a knit, as it will stretch out and reshape the fabric in unfortunate ways.

how to hand wash clothes athletic apparel
McKenzie Cordell

4. How To Hand-wash Athletic Apparel

This can feel like a daunting task if you sweat a lot like I do (like, a lot a lot). But it’s not actually so different from washing any other clothing. One thing that can be super helpful is using a detergent like Hex that is made specifically for workout wear. Because so many technical fabrics are made from fibers that are closer to plastic than cotton, they require special cleaning formulas (but your regular detergent will do in a pinch).

What you’ll need:

  • A large basin or bowl (your kitchen sink or bathtub will also work)
  • Laundry detergent
  • White vinegar

1. If you find your workout wear to be a wee bit stinky, or if you’ll be using regular laundry detergent in place of an athletic formula, we recommend presoaking the clothes in a mixture of white vinegar and water. Fill your basin with cold water and add a half cup of vinegar. Turn your clothes inside out and let them soak for up to 30 minutes.

2. Pour out the vinegar/water mixture and refill the basin with clean, cold water, this time adding a tablespoon or so of laundry detergent. Swish the water and clothing to get the suds going.

3. Lightly work the suds into your clothing, focusing heavily on the armpits, necklines, waistbands and anywhere else you tend to get particularly sweaty.

4. Let your clothes soak for 20 minutes before pouring out the dirty water. Refill the basin with fresh cold water, and rinse and repeat until your clothing feels free of detergent.

5. Squeeze out any excess water and either lay your clothing flat to dry or drape them over a drying rack or your shower rod.

how to hand wash clothes bathing suit
McKenzie Cordell

5. How To Hand-wash Bathing Suits

Sunscreen and salt water and chlorine, oh my! Even if you don’t go in the water, it’s important to wash your swimsuits after every wear. Similar to your bras and sportswear, your bikinis and one-pieces should be treated with a gentle detergent or athletic formula.

What you’ll need:

1. Rinse out any excess chlorine or SPF that’s still lingering on your suit. To do this, fill your basin with cold water and let your suit soak for 30 minutes.

2. Replace the dirty water with fresh cold water and add a very small amount of detergent. Gently work the detergent into your swimwear, then leave it to soak for another 30 minutes.

3. Pour out the soapy water and run your suit under fresh cold water to rinse.

4. Lay your bathing suit flat on a towel and roll it up like a sleeping bag to remove any excess water, then lay the suit flat to dry. Pro tip: Leaving your swimsuit out in the sun to dry, whether flat or on a clothesline, will cause the colors to fade much faster, so stick to a shady spot indoors.

how to hand wash clothes scarf
McKenzie Cordell

6. How To Hand-wash Scarves

Let’s be honest, when was the last time you cleaned this outerwear staple? (Just a friendly reminder, it often sits right under your drippy nose and mouth.) Yeah, that’s what we thought. It doesn’t matter if you’re working with a chunky wool knit or a silky rayon number, this method should work for almost any type of scarf.

What you’ll need:

  • Baby shampoo
  • A large bowl

1. Fill the bowl with cold or cool water and add just a few drops of baby shampoo (you can also use a specialized gentle fabric cleanser, but baby shampoo works just as well and is often less expensive).

2. Let the scarf soak for up to ten minutes. Or up to seven, if it’s a very thin or small scarf.

3. Pour out the water, but keep the scarf in the bowl. Add a shallow amount of clean water to the bowl and swish it around.

4. Pour out the water and repeat until you feel the soap has been thoroughly removed from the fabric.

5. Pour out any remaining water and press the scarf against the side of the bowl to remove excess water (wringing the scarf can potentially damage the fabric or crease it).

6. Lay the scarf on a flat surface to dry.

Some General Hand-washing Advice:

1. These methods work best for gentle cleaning after normal wear.

If you’re hoping to remove a heavy-duty stain like paint, grease, oil or chocolate, you’ll probably want to use another method. Realistically, the best way to treat those stains is with specific products or the help of a professional.

2. Read the care label.

If something says “dry clean” as opposed to “dry clean only,” then you’re safe to treat the garment yourself. There should also be a symbol indicating the max water temperature to use.

3. Anything that has been hand-dyed (including dyed silk) is very difficult to clean without the color bleeding from the fabric.

For that reason, we recommend taking these pieces to a professional and being very careful when wearing them in the first place (e.g., swapping that dangerous glass of red wine for white).

4. Leather pieces also require special care when cleaning.

But don’t worry, because we already have a handy guide on how to clean a leather jacket.

5. Start with a small amount of detergent.

Like, a very small amount; less than you think you need. You can always add a bit more if necessary, but you don’t want to overload your clothing, or your kitchen sink, with a million bubbles. You might also want to try using detergent specifically formulated for hand-washing, like Delicate Wash from The Laundress ($20), although your regular laundry detergent will also work just fine for tougher fabrics like cotton.

Shop Our Favorite Hand-Wash Laundry Detergents:

best hand wash detergent the laundress
The Container Store

1. The Laundress Lady Delicate Wash


2. Dedcool Dedtergent 01 “taunt”

slip hand wash detergent

3. Slip Gentle Silk Wash

best hand wash detergent tocca beauty

4. Tocca Beauty Laundry Collection Delicate

best hand wash detergent woolite

5. Woolite Extra Delicates Laundry Detergent



Abby Hepworth is an RRCA-certified running coach who has worked in fashion for over 10 years. Want to know what shoes are in this season? She's got you. Need recommendations on...