How to Wash Delicate Clothing and Undergarments by Hand: An Illustrated Guide

Updated on October 3, 2016
Cynthia Hoover profile image

Cynthia is a homesteader who grows, harvests, and stores many foods, and prefers natural, homemade remedies for her family.

Washing delicate clothing and undergarments by hand will extend their wearability. Tossing items like panties and bras in the washing machine will greatly reduce the amount of time they will last. Washing by hand, especially bras, keeps clothing from being beaten about by the agitator in a washing machine, which can cause the stitches and fabric to break down. If you are not hand-washing delicates, you are replacing them more often than you should.

I never used to hand-wash my undergarments. It was just easier to toss them in the laundry and set the washer to gentle. I was lucky if my favorite bra would last a month. Removing stains is extremely easy when hand-washing as well.

Did you know hand washing delicates and undergarments could extend their usefulness?

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Items Needed to Hand-Wash Delicates and Undergarments

Handwashing any of your laundry is not that complicated. Only a few items are required to get your on your way to clean laundry. You will need:

  1. Laundry detergent. The laundry detergent used is a personal preference. When dealing with delicates like bras and panties choosing a non fragranced natural laundry detergent is the way to go. You do not have to worry about the detergent causing any irritation to your sensitive areas. I choose Charlie's Soap, it is a plant based laundry detergent with no fragrance. Charlie's soap deep cleans like no other detergent I have ever used before, not just surface cleaning either, it gets deep down and pulls everything out. It is hypoallergenic, great for the environment, and safe for babies!
  2. A sink. Your sink should have a functioning plug to allow for soaking.
  3. A teaspoon. Since hand-washing takes just a fraction of the laundry detergent that a regular machine cycle would use, having a measuring spoon is a way to avoid using to much detergent, which will waste money and be harder to rinse.

Pretreating Stains on Delicates Prior to Hand-Washing

Stains are something we all deal with when it comes to laundry. Recently I ended up with a nosebleed, and as my luck goes, it ended up staining my white bra. Here are the steps for pretreating tough stains:

  1. Place the clothing to be pretreated in the sink.
  2. Put a small amount of the detergent in a measuring spoon. (Read the detergent package to find out the recommended amount for an entire load, and use about a tenth of that amount for one item.)
  3. Apply detergent directly to the stains.

Using my Charlie's Soap, I saw the stain start to immediately break down. Charlie's is not a colored detergent so I do not have to worry about the direct application possibly staining the fabric. However, many other detergents are green or blue and can leave a discolored area when applying them directly, so be careful. I did not leave the detergent-soaked bra sitting for more than 5 minutes while I filled the sink for soaking.

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Using only hot water to when hand-washing is not recommended. Once you have reached a warm temperature, it is time to plug the sink and allow it to fill halfway.
Using only hot water to when hand-washing is not recommended.
Using only hot water to when hand-washing is not recommended.
Once you have reached a warm temperature, it is time to plug the sink and allow it to fill halfway.
Once you have reached a warm temperature, it is time to plug the sink and allow it to fill halfway.

Step One: Fill the Sink

Most people automatically reach for the hot water when they are hand-washing delicates. Using scalding hot water on your clothing reduces their life expectancy. Instead, follow these directions:

  • Turn on both hot and cold water to a light stream
  • Continue to adjust the hot and cold water until you reach a warm flow
  • Once the desired 'warm' water is reached plug the sink
  • Put in a half a teaspoon of detergent
  • Allow the sink to fill to about half capacity

Step Two: Focusing on Stains

If you needed to pretreat the stains, now is the time to focus on the stains. As you can see, Charlie's Soap did most of the work on the stain for me, but here is how to proceed if you are dealing with a tough stain:

  1. Hold the item in one hand, with fingers on the back and your thumb on the stain
  2. Gently wipe back and forth with your thumb concentrating on the stained area

Do not use a huge amount of pressure, as this can actually grind the stain in rather than release it. A gentle amount of pressure will work it out, without damaging your fabric.

Avoid doing any of these things to your delicates and undergarments, as these can all cause unwanted 'pilling':

  • Never rub one side of the fabric against the other (this can cause stretched areas in your clothing)
  • Never use a scrub brush or other item on delicates
  • Never use excessive force

Step Three: Deep Cleaning

Now that you have worked the stain out, you can move on to washing the entire garment. Your sink should be filled to the halfway mark with warm water. Now you can proceed to the following:

  1. Completely submerge the article of clothing
  2. Lightly rub any heavily soiled areas with your thumb or fingers
  3. Dip the garment up and down out of the water frequently
  4. If you see the water becoming dark and dirty, don't worry—that is what you want

Resist the urge to twist and wring too much during this step. Since you are washing by hand, you are merely mimicking some of the movement of an agitator by dipping the item in and out of the detergent water. Doing so this way is a much safer alternative to extend the life of your delicate laundry items. When dipping, there is no need to be rigorous, you can dip pull out of the water and allow the majority of the water to drain out before putting back into the laundry solution water.

Step Four: Drain

You will likely notice that your water is now discolored. This is exactly what you want to see. The soap I use pulls out a lot more dirt than any others I have used in the past. If you do not see a significant color change in your water, you may want to consider switching detergents. Bras especially do become more soiled than we realize. Since they are designed to fit snug, they are also absorbing sweat and dead skin cells all day. This step is simple:

  1. Remove delicate clothing item from water
  2. Slightly squish water out—do not twist—set aside
  3. Rinse sink and re-fill with warm water

Avoid twisting your delicates or underwear at any time. When your delicate items are wet they are prone to becoming misshapen. Twisting can also damage and cause unwanted pilling, or even rip some of the seams.

You may notice when your bra becomes wet that the inner liner appears darker. This is not a sign of it being heavily soiled. Most manufacturers use a thin foam like liner inside that is a cream or taupe color.
You may notice when your bra becomes wet that the inner liner appears darker. This is not a sign of it being heavily soiled. Most manufacturers use a thin foam like liner inside that is a cream or taupe color.

Step Five: Rinse

Now that you have drained and rinsed the sink removing any particulates, it is time to work on rinsing. The instructions for this step are fairly easy:

  1. Put delicate clothing item back into the water
  2. Gently squeeze all areas of the clothing under water several times
  3. Raise clothing out of water and hold it over the sink
  4. Gently squeeze all areas of your laundry item above the sink to remove excess water
  5. Drain sink
  6. Turn on tap and run clothing directly under the water
  7. Turn off tap and gently squeeze again

You may find that if an item was heavily soiled or stained that you may want to drain and repeat this rinse cycle. If the rinse water becomes soiled, this is an obvious sign you need to rinse again. You may also notice bubbles in the water as you are rinsing—this is good because all the detergent is being rinsed out.

Step Six: Dry

Now that your item is completely washed and rinsed, it is time for drying. Under no circumstances should these items be placed in the dryer. Even using an air dry setting will have them being tossed around and beaten by the dryer. This will cause unwanted damage. Instead, here are a few alternative drying options:

  • Line dry
  • Hang inside
  • Dry flat

Normally I would line dry my delicates. Though this particular day the wind was blowing fiercely and would have blown them away. So I decided to hang my bra inside to allow it to dry properly. I hung it directly over a utility sink to ensure that all the water that dripped down didn't cause a mess. Hanging in the shower is another alternative to line drying.

I have mixed opinions on drying delicates and undergarments on a flat surface. Bras do retain a bit of water and that can cause issues with getting surfaces wet during the drying process, if you choose drying flat. Lighter silks and satin panties do dry flat well, since they do not absorb the amount of water that a bra would.

Step Seven: Fold

After your delicate laundry dries, fold it like you would any other laundry. When it comes to bras, be careful to fold them so that the natural shape is not interrupted and you are not creating any unnatural lines. Hanging bras is a great way to keep them from becoming misshapen and ensuring that the will retain a form-fitting shape.

Looking at the care instructions on the label of the piece of clothing will also give you an idea of how it should not only be laundered, and how it should be treated after washing as well. Many items suggest hanging the article of clothing over folding and putting in a drawer until you are ready to wear it again.

Do you hand wash delicates?

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Multipurpose Green Deep Cleaning Laundry Detergent

Charlie’s Soap – Fragrance-Free Laundry Liquid detergent – 160 Loads (128 oz, 1 Pack)
Charlie’s Soap – Fragrance-Free Laundry Liquid detergent – 160 Loads (128 oz, 1 Pack)

Charlie's Soap liquid laundry detergent is effective for all my laundry needs at home: Hand-washing as well as in my washing machine. It takes very little of the detergent to get the job done, and is safe enough to use on even my son's cloth diapers without worry that it will cause any skin irritation. This detergent has become the only one I use in my home, as it is a money saver in the long run, as well as being non-toxic and completely biodegradable. It gives my laundry a deep clean that I have never experienced with any other detergents.

 

Choosing a Detergent for Hand-Washing Delicates

Not all detergents are the same, nor are all laundry detergents suitable for hand washing your delicate items and undergarments. Here are a few key things to look for when choosing a laundry detergent for hand washing:

  • Suitable for all clothing types (silk, satin, etc.)
  • Hypoallergenic and safe for all skin types
  • Contains no dyes, phosphates, ultraviolet brighteners, or perfumes
  • Rinses thoroughly without leaving residue
  • Effectively removes trapped odors

Seeking a laundry detergent with these qualities will ensure not only the cleanliness of your delicates and undergarments, it also adds to the length of time they remain wearable. I use one detergent to cover both machine washing, and hand washing my delicate items. If I launder something in the washing machine with Charlie's Soap laundry detergent that I would like to have a fragrance (bedsheets and linens), I can easily add a scent booster to the wash.

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    © 2016 Cynthia Hoover

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