Published on september 13, 2019

Skip the Machine: How to Properly Hand-Wash Clothes and Make Them Last!

written by Team thredUP


When the equivalent of one truck full of clothes is landfilled or burned every second, properly taking care of your clothes is a small way you can make a huge difference! Making your favorite sweater or dress lasts through the season and beyond means you can buy less or, if you’re cleaning out, ensure they’re in tip-top shape for their next home! To help you make closet a little greener, Elizabeth L. Cline, the author of The Conscious Closet, gave us handy clothing care tips that will help you save energy, water, and your clothes (duh).

Start upping your laundry game now with general tips for cleaning your clothes sustainability, as well as specific care instructions for different fabrics like silk, wool, cotton, synthetics, and more!

Wash Everything in Cold Water

Yep, you read right, say no to hot! One of the most important things Cline recommends is washing clothes in cold water. Contrary to popular belief, cold water will actually get your clothes just as clean as hot water since detergents are now made to work in cooler water!

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How to Wash Silk

Your favorite silk top probably doesn’t belong in the washing machine. Silk is a delicate material, so it’s best to hand wash it, but before you do that, try spot cleaning any areas that are dirty.

Make sure that you’re using distilled water on silk when spot cleaning so that a ring doesn’t form on the fabric. You should also test the quality of the silk before washing to determine if you can hand wash or if you need to get it dry cleaned. To do this, squeeze the fabric in your hand and let go of it. If it smooths out quickly, you should be good to go on washing it yourself! If it holds wrinkles, take it to the dry cleaners or give it a light steaming.

Now, back to hand washing silk! To hand wash silk garments, fill a bucket with cold water and add in a few drops of laundry detergent. Swish around and make sure that all parts are covered. Pour out the water and add in clean water with ¼ cup of white vinegar to rinse. Pour this water out again and rinse with clean water again. If the item is completely soaked, lay flat on a towel and roll it up to soak up any excess water. Hang to completely dry.


How to Wash Wool

Wool can be finicky, leaving your favorite sweater to the whims of the washing machine or dryer can be pretty risky. For treasured items, Cline recommends hand washing. Yes, it takes a little more time but that cashmere sweater will come out snag and shrinkage free!

To hand wash wool, fill a sink or bucket with cold water and add in delicate detergent or a few drops of mild shampoo. Make sure that it is completely dissolved before adding in the wool. Swish the wool around in the water and make sure you don’t wring it out. Let the garment soak for about 15 minutes and then gently squeeze. Pour out the dirty water and rinse with fresh cold water. Keep doing this until the water runs clear through the wool. Dry by placing on a flat towel and rolling from the bottom up. Do not hang because this will change the shape, it can be extremely difficult to get it back to how it was before!


How to Wash Cotton

You can rest easy throwing cotton items into the wash. A resilient, everyday material, cotton can take the beating of a washer and dryer, but the material can still age rapidly over multiple washes. For items you want to last (which should be every item!), hand wash them to save more money and energy.

To hand wash cotton items, fill a sink or bucket with cold water. Add in a few drops of laundry detergent and place cotton clothing in the water. Swish around and saturate the item. If it’s super dirty, you can soak for 15 minutes and then agitate the item again in the water. Pour out the used water and rinse item again with clean and cold water. To remove excess water, push the garment down in the bottom of the basin. If it’s still super wet after this, lay flat on a towel and roll. Even though its cotton, make sure that you don’t lift it up while it’s extremely saturated. It can still change shape! Once it feels a little dry, hang the item to completely dry it or place on a drying rack.


How to Hand Wash Synthetics

Synthetics like nylon and polyester make up items like yoga leggings and workout clothes and give them that signature stretch and lift. While these are great to work up a sweat in, they are also notorious for trapping odors. Make sure that you’re hand washing and drying these all the time because machine washing and drying breaks down these fibers easily! This means your leggings won’t last as long and the shedded fibers, also known as microplastics, drain into the ocean and ultimately into our food chain! If you do feel like you have to use a machine, make sure you up your washing game to make it more sustainable.

Once you get home from the gym, rinse items with cold water and a few drops of detergent. You can also hang them up to air out and let odors escape. When hand washing synthetics, fill a sink or basin with cold water and hand wash with clear dish soap. If you can’t seem to get odors out, mix 1 part vinegar to 4 parts water and soak for 30 minutes then wash again. Hang or place on a drying rack to dry.

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Washing Dry-Clean Only Items (Yes, you can!)

Always check the tags of clothing to see if they need to be dry cleaned. Unfortunately, dry cleaning isn’t the most sustainable practice. Dry cleaning requires a lot of energy and oftentimes toxic chemicals are used in the process. Luckily, there are ways that you can practice being a little more sustainable when having to dry clean clothes.

Dry cleaning actually extends the lives of clothes, and it’s okay to skip a few washes before doing to the dry cleaner! Opt to spritz your clothes with 1 part vodka to 4 parts water to remove any odors. When choosing a dry cleaner watch out for a chemical called perchloroethylene. It’s super toxic and often remains on the clothes! Ask your dry cleaner about what they use and make sure they are non-toxic.

The best kind of dry cleaning is actually called “wet cleaning” which is when water and soap are used in the machines rather than chemical solvents. Remember that being green doesn’t mean doing something huge all of the time! Something small that you can do is to bring a reusable garment bag instead of using a disposable one from the cleaners!
Want more clothes cleaning tips? Check out the Conscious Closet! If you’re already a laundry master, tell us your best energy, water, and clothes-saving tips.