Extending the life of your wardrobe is good for the planet and your finances. One of the simplest ways is by eschewing your machine and getting your hands wet - even if the care label states otherwise. For delicate items, including bathing suits, underwear and knitwear, as well as luxurious fabrics like silks, woollens, lace, chiffon, velvet, and intricate embellishments, careful hand washing is often the only way to prevent shrinking or fading. So, how best should you hand wash your clothes and hand wash delicates?

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Blue cashmere sweater



The first step when considering how to wash your clothes by hand is to clean the sink or bathtub you’ll be using, to prevent any transfer of dirt or grease. Then, check the care labels for washing temperatures and fabric care.

If you are unsure how to properly hand wash your clothes, find out the fabric content of the garment first, then use a detergent specifically for woollens, silk or delicates, especially one without enzymes, bleach or brightening agents to protect the fabric from fading.

Although it is possible to hand wash most delicate items, those containing structured details, such as pleats, could be misshapen or damaged, so it is safer to dry clean.


  • When it comes to washing your clothes by hand, always fill the sink or bathtub with water before adding your clothes as water added on top can stretch delicate fibres.
  • Another crucial consideration when deciding how to wash delicates is the water temperature; handwashing should be done either in cold or tepid water - using warm water on delicate fabrics increases the chance of shrinking and fading.
  • Similarly, always put the detergent in the water before adding your clothes, making sure it is completely dissolved and distributed well. A liquid detergent will dissolve faster and be less likely to remain on clothing and leave it looking dull.
  • Hand washing laundry can be a slow process so to save time, wash similar colours and fabrics together, being careful not to overfill the sink or bathtub. You'll have greater success with only a few items at a time.


  1. When it is time to wash, it is important to turn all garments inside out. Then, make sure everything is fully submerged and saturated. Leave the item to soak for at least five minutes (but no more than 30 minutes) as oversoaking can also cause fading.
  2. Gently swish and plunge the garment through the water, never twisting or scrubbing (which could stretch or damage it). After you’ve finished, lift it out and drain the sink.
  3. Refill with clean water, again cold or tepid, and rinse the item, swishing gently. Repeat this step until no suds are visible. If it’s the first time an item has been washed, keep a close eye on running dye. This is also essential when working out how to wash silk clothes, as they frequently shed colour.


How you dry hand-washed laundry is as important as how you wash it. Excess water should not be wrung out as this may damage the fabric. Instead, gently squeeze or press out as much liquid as possible. If the garment is still sodden, place it flat on a thick white towel (to prevent dye from transferring to the clothes) in its original shape and roll together until the excess water is absorbed. Never put hand washed pieces in a dryer. Some items may need to be air-dried flat, especially knitwear and cashmere, so best to check the label.


Although throwing your bra in the washing machine may save you time, it can damage the item’s shape, fit and material. The steps are essentially the same but bras should not soak for longer than 15 minutes, and take care to ensure the detergent reaches into all the nooks and crannies. Then when you lay your bra out to dry, reshape the cups and dry it flat.

For knickers, working out how to wash underwear to kill bacteria is key to their success. It is possible to sanitise without using bleach or harsh detergents (which may damage the fabric) and the most effective way is to use a laundry sanitiser or antibacterial laundry spray alongside your delicate detergent.

Blue cashmere sweater
Wedding pictures


The collars and cuffs are the areas to focus on when hand washing a shirt, as these are especially prone to discolouration from sweat, make up and skin care products. Using a gentle stain remover beforehand will ensure a cleaner result. It’s also useful to hang your shirts on a coated hanger to dry - this will help them keep their shape and protect against rust or marks from the hanger.


Again, the method for washing wool and cashmere is essentially the same, while being mindful of the delicate material. There are three essential tips for how to wash wool:

Invest in a wool detergent which protects the fibres during washing

Gently wash the garment in cool water and avoid agitating it too much to minimise the possibility of shrinking and felting

Dry the item by laying it out flat in its original shape on a moisture resistant surface, preferably mesh, so that air can circulate.

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Speed is of the essence when considering how to hand wash a swimsuit. The first step is to rinse your swimwear as soon as possible. Do not leave items rolled in a towel as it allows the water to damage the fabric and breed bacteria. A prompt rinse protects the elastic fibres and prevents stretching or deterioration, then you can wash your bathing suit or bikini as you would any delicate clothing to fully remove chemicals and body oils.