There are many ways to wash your clothes by hand. Not all are as effective as the other. The oldest and most used way in third-world countries is just to go to your nearest river and get soaked. I won’t say that this doesn’t work, but there are better ways. I will explain how to do laundry by hand in the most common way. Obviously, there are still much better ways, but they require some of the products that I review on my site.
First of all, you will most likely get wet. So make sure to wear clothes that you don’t mind to get water and soap on. This can be very important especially if you are planning on using some stronger soaps and cleaners as they can stain your clothes if left on for extended periods of time. Also, if you don’t want to get rough hands be sure to wear rubber gloves.
Next, you will need to have a source of abundant water as you will use a lot. This could be in a bathtub, shower, faucet, or with a garden hose outside, and even down by the river if all else fails.
You will need to have some kind of bucket or container (your bathtub will work as well) that will be big enough to hold all the clothes that you intend to wash. (I’ve found a great 15.5 gallon tub) It needs to be a durable container because it will take some beating over time. Clothes get heavier and harder to manage when wet.
Then you will obviously need some kind of soap or detergent to use. If you use a liquid soap go ahead and pour it in your container, but if you’re using some kind of powder it would be better to dissolve it in a small amount of water first. Using too much detergent will mean having to do several rinses, so only use a teaspoon to a tablespoon per small – medium size load.
Before you add your clothes to the container, remember to sort them. Colors can still fade and your whites especially can pick up some of these colors, even when hand washing. After your clothes are added to your container, fill the container with water until the clothes are covered. You will usually be using cold water that should be no more than 30 degrees Celsius or 86 Fahrenheit for your normal clothes. You can use warm water for silks or hot water for clothes (especially socks) that might have fungi or other kinds of mold to kill. Warm water is better for heavily soiled clothes, but hot (over 60 degrees Celsius or 140 Fahrenheit) can shrink cotton and wool.
You will then need to let the clothes soak for a good 20 – 30 minutes, depending on the size of your load. Make sure not to leave your clothes soaking too long as they have a greater chance of fading the color of your clothes and even damaging the fabric itself.
There are a few options that you can use to mix or agitate your clothes with. The most obvious one is just your hands, but you can also use a never-before-used toilet bowl plunger if you so desire. If you do use your hands, knead your clothes as if you were kneading bread. My favorite option would be to use the rapid washer, as it is made especially for this step and works amazingly.
After you are done mixing your clothes, take your clothes out of the container and let them drain for a few minutes. I have found that putting the clothes in another container with a drain, a sink, a bath tub, or any other clean place where the force of gravity will take the water away.
After they have drained for a few minutes, put them back into the original container and fill it with water again, but don’t add soap. You will then need to mix them again, drain and repeat until the soap is gone. It usually will take 3 – 4 changes of water to completely remove the soap. Rinsing the clothes until the water runs clear will also work, but this requires more water.
When there is no more trace of soap on the clothes they are ready to be dried. Take them out and allow them to dry for several minutes before hanging them up on a clothesline. A great way to speed up this process is to use the clothes wringer. It saves quite a bit of time.
And there you have it, clean clothes. This is the basic way to clean your clothes by hand, but there are many great and affordable items that can speed up the process quite a bit.
I’ve written about some of them here:
Things that help with washing: Things that help with drying: