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Forget Dry Cleaning, Learn to Hand Wash Your Clothes

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There are lots of reasons to want to avoid dry cleaning. The process can leave harsh chemicals on your clothes. It's expensive. The dry cleaner is never open when you get home from work.

The good news is that many "dry clean only" garments can be washed by hand! You just need to know how, which is exactly what we're going to talk about today.

Identify Where the Hand Washing Will Take Place

What you're looking for is a space that's big enough to submerge whatever it is that you're hand washing in water, with walls high enough that you can get your hands in there and move things around without sloshing water and detergent all over the place. In part, where you do your hand washing will be dictated by what it is that you're washing: hand laundering a pair of frilly underpants requires far less room than soaking a queen-sized duvet cover that's become dingy and soiled over time.

For most jobs, the kitchen sink is going to be the best bet for a hand washing operation. Other good options are the bathtub (great for those oversized items), the bathroom sink, or a utility bucket. Just make sure that sinks or bathtubs are clean before you use them for laundry; you don't want last night's dinner going in the wash with your bras.

If your wash can go in the machine but requires a long soak to eliminate older stains or general grunginess, and you have laundering facilities that can handle it, you can also allow the drum to fill with water and detergent and then stop the cycle for however long you want the soak to last.

Here's the Deal with Detergent

Once you've picked a vessel in which to do your hand wash and filled it with water (cool or cold for textiles like wool and linen; warm for general laundry; hot for heavily soiled whites), you'll need to add some detergent to the mix. But just some!

Here's an important thing to know about laundry in general that's especially true when it comes to hand washing — you're almost certainly using way too much detergent. This is totally normal though; there's a natural instinct that tells us that more detergent equals more clean. The problem with that is that the opposite is actually true, because overdosing on detergent will leave soap residue in your clothes even after rinsing, and sudsy clothes are definitely not clean clothes! One helpful way to ensure that you're not over-detergenting is to use a tablespoon to measure rather than the cap or scoop that comes with your liquid or powdered detergent.

But, Like, How?

You've got a place to wash, you've added some detergent, and now it's time to get your hands in there — this is hand washing, after all! Place the garment in the wash water and, using your hands to create pumping motion, press up and down to fully submerge it.

Next comes the hands off stage of hand washing, because you'll want to allow the item to soak for a bit in the detergent solution. The length of soaking time can vary greatly; heavily soiled items will benefit from longer soaking — from 60 minutes up to overnight — while delicate fabrics like silk or cashmere should spend far less time — 10-20 minutes — in the wash water.

Rinse and Repeat

After that soaking, the wash water will probably be pretty dingy, which means it's time to drain or dump it out. If you find that you're sort of grimly fascinated by the hue of the water, please know that you're not alone. The grossness is actually the best part!

Once you've drained the water, check for ring-around-the-sink (or tub, or bucket) and wipe that away with a rag, sponge or paper towel before refilling the washing space with clean water. Then swish the garment in the clean water to help coax out the detergent. That's the first rinse. Drain and do a second rinse, either by refilling or just running the garment under the tap.

Dry It Out

When it comes to drying, do your best to avoid wringing — that twisting can cause damage to the fibers — and opt instead to press down using your hands to push excess water out. Then lay the item on a clean towel and roll it up, which will help to extract more water before laying or hanging the item to air dry. Easy as pie! Now: What will be the first thing you hand wash?