The Basics of Hand-Washing
I deliberately kicked off the Facebook Live portion of Laundry School with a demo of how to hand-wash clothing so that I could refer back to it in this column. The reason for that is that even though I can, and will, give you written instructions, hand-washing instructions are one a thing that really come alive when done in a more visual medium. So! If you would like to watch the companion video segment on hand-washing, please step this way.
With that said, it’s still helpful to have written instructions to refer back to. Plus, this is a column and a columnist peddles in the written word, so the written word you shall get.
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The Where: You don’t need a particularly fancy setup for hand-washing, but you do need a place large enough to completely submerge what you’ll be washing, and with enough room for you to get in there and move things around without splashing water all over the place. The kitchen sink is generally the right spot for a hand-washing operation, but the bathroom sink, a utility sink, or a wash bucket are also fine. The bathtub is a good choice for oversized items.
The Washing: Fill the sink up with water and add a small amount of detergent, being careful not to add too much—a little bit goes a long way, and if you use too much soap, you’ll be rinsing for days. Put the garment in the wash water and use your hands to submerge it, while also swirling it around to create some agitation. Then, allow it to soak in the detergent solution; use a shorter soaking time—say, 10-15 minutes—for delicate items, but allow heavily soiled items like pit-stained shirts or grimy duvet covers to soak for an hour or longer.
The Rinsing: Post-soaking, drain the wash water and wipe any soapy residue from the sink before refilling it with clean water. Using your hands, swirl the garment around in the clean water to begin rinsing it free of detergent. Then drain that water and do a second rinse.
The Drying: While the garment is still in the sink, bear down using your hands to push excess water out. Then lay the item on a towel and roll it up like a burrito to squeeze out more water; hang or lay the item flat to air dry.
Using Steam Cleaning & Pressing to “Fake” Clean Clothes
Way back in the very first column I wrote for Esquire, we covered a whole bunch of de-wrinkling techniques, from steaming and ironing to the use of wrinkle release sprays and the old “turn on the shower” trick. Because that deep dive exists, we’ll keep this part of the Laundry School lesson short and sweet: Steaming, in particular, not only eliminates wrinkles but can also freshen up a garment that’s been worn a few times.
Provided it doesn’t have any visible staining, the steam will not only remove wrinkles and creases, giving a pair of pants or a jacket the appearance of being freshly cleaned, but can also help to remove stale odors. De-wrinkling sprays, like Downy Wrinkle Releaser, will also do double duty when it comes to odors and wrinkles, though the perfume used in the product can leave behind a cloying smell.
How to Avoid the Dry Cleaner
I deliberately structured today’s Laundry School lesson to cover hand-washing and de-wrinkling as a lead in to this part of the fun: Once you’ve mastered those two skills, you will, should you so choose, be able to cut way, way back on the amount of clothes you send to the dry cleaner.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with opting to outsource the care of your finer clothes to the dry cleaner. But not everything that claims to be dry clean only actually is, and a lot of folks would rather avoid the hassle and expense of a trip to the cleaners by taking care of matters at home. Enter: Hand-washing and ironing/steaming.
A good way to determine if something can be safely hand-washed at home, either by doing a traditional hand-washing using your actual hands or by using specialty settings on your washer, is to check the care tag to look for one very specific piece of information: the fabric content. You don’t actually need to understand those rune-like symbols (though that’s helpful!), you just need to know the following character traits of common materials. Here they are:
Polyester, nylon, and spandex: These fabrics are machine washable, though they are best left to air dry rather than machine dry. Nylon has a tendency to become staticky, but that effect will be reduced by air drying.
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Cotton and linen: These two natural fibers are entirely washable, but fading and shrinking can be an issue. Avoid both problems by washing in cold water and air (rather than machine) drying, as heat will exacerbate the potential for shrinkage and color loss.
Wool, silk, and rayon/viscose: These are the prickliest of the bunch because water can cause wool to become matted and shrink, or cause staining or color loss in silk or rayon/viscose. If you do opt to hand-wash these fabric types, make the wash a quick endeavor by skipping the soak to reduce the exposure to water.
Brightening Up Dingy Whites
White clothes and bedding have a tendency to go dingy or get yellowed over time, so if you’re a person who wants their whites to be bright, bright white, here are a few products and techniques to know about. These aren’t the sort of things you need to do on the regular—these are deep cleaning-type jobs that you’ll do just a few times a year.
The Long Soak: Soak items for a few hours up to overnight in a solution of water and a whitening booster like Biz Stain Fighter, oxygen bleach, Borax ,or Cascade Powder (yup!) and then launder as usual. Sometimes dingy items just need a good long soak to bring them back up to their original white color.
The Double Wash: If your laundry set-up makes soaking inconvenient, try doing a double wash by laundering your whites once using regular detergent, and then doing a second wash. You won’t need to use detergent in the second cycle, but you should use one of the whitening boosters—sometimes it just takes an extra washing to do the trick.
Re-Whiteners: Products like Rit White Wash or White Brite are great options for reversing the appearance of stubborn grime. Liquid bluing, such as Bluette or Mrs. Stewart’s, which adds a trace amount of blue to whites that serves to counteract yellowing, is another product that will make yours whites appear whiter.
Washing Oversized Items
Since we just touched on bedding like white sheets, let’s detour for a sec to talk about laundering oversized items like duvets, blankets, pillows, and suchlike. First, always check the care tag to determine if machine washing is sanctioned by the manufacturer, and for details on things like what water temperature to use and what products, such as bleach, to avoid.
If your home washing machine isn’t large enough to handle oversized items, consider heading to a laundromat—almost every laundromat will offer high-capacity machines and since things like duvets aren’t items that need to be washed often, making a once- or twice-yearly trip to your local fluff’n’fold will hopefully not be too irritating of a chore.