Doing The Laundry Without Even A Machine | Anyclean

updated: 15/11/2023


One of the least natural and most toxic things that you can do in your home is to dry clean clothes. The fluids/substances they use to get dirt out of delicate fabrics is downright dangerous. So how do you go about cleaning delicate items made of silk or wool, or chunkier items such as children’s toys? (Incidentally, children’s toys are the last thing that should be dry cleaned – the toys are going to be cuddled and held close to the face all night long, and if they’ve been dry-cleaned, they are continually giving off toxic fumes for a child to breathe in.).

The answer to this dilemma (do you wash the delicates in the machine and wreck them, or do you dry clean them and subject yourself to toxic fumes?) is to hand wash the clothes.

Handwashing is harder to do than just tossing things in the machine, admittedly, but it is less of a nightmare than it was in days gone by where you had to pump the water by hand, heat it in a copper over a fire and use either lye (eek!) or strong soap (even urine – fact!). Modern plumbing and soap, plus modern fabrics, which are more stain resistant, make the job easier. And you don’t have to do the whole washing load by hand, unless your machine is broken down and you don’t have a laundrette (or a friendly neighbour who will let you use their machine) nearby.

Handwashing carefully will not hurt silk, wool or leather. People have worn these natural fibres for centuries, and they wouldn’t have done this if the choice was either to let the fabric get grubby or have it fall to pieces.

To hand wash clothes, you will need water – plenty of it – and some soap. You may also like to have a pair of rubber gloves, some hand cream and a radio chattering pleasantly in the background. The method of washing clothes is the same whether all you need to do is wash a pair of lacy, silky knickers or whether you need to wash the whole family load of sheets, towels, T-shirts and socks.

The first part of washing by hand is soaking. Water is the closest thing to a universal solvent and will float much of the dirt out of the clothing, given time to work. Often, leaving the item(s) to be washed overnight in a bucket of cold water can do wonders. However, if the item in question is not colour-fast (sari fabric is often guilty of this), then you should not soak it. If the item is all one colour, you can give it a short soak in cold water for about 10 minutes, but if the item has more than one colour, then just spot-clean it, blotting, rubbing and rinsing just the dirty patch and nothing else. Cold to lukewarm water is best for soaking, as hot water can damage delicate fabrics. Hot water can also set protein stains such as blood or egg yolk. Be generous with the water – the items should be able to float (if you’re doing a large load, fill the bath to about three-quarters full).

Ordinary hand soap is best for washing delicate fabrics. You can just rub the soap onto the damp/wet garment and work it up to a lather, but you can also add the soap in the form of a gel to the soaking water so it can start doing its work. To make soap gel, collect those little slivers and scraps of thin soap that are too puny to wash hands and armpits with and put them in a container. Pour boiling water over the soap scraps and let the soap melt. It will cool and set into a pale grey jelly which is excellent for hand washing clothes, and can also be used as liquid soap or for other home cleaning purposes.

Once the items have soaked a while, it’s time to slip on the rubber gloves and turn on the radio. Move the items around in the water, swirling them back and forth (easy for knickers; a pretty intense workout for a large load). Check each item you’re washing all over for dirt, and rub, squeeze and add more soap to get the dirt out. Don’t wring and twist delicate items or scrub them vigorously or you’ll be worse than a washing machine.

Once each item is clean, squeeze it gently and get rid of the old soapy water. Then run fresh water in. This is the first rinse. Again, swirl the items around gently and squeeze each one a few times. Then repeat the process of squeezing gently and getting rid of the water before running more fresh water in for the second rinse. Adding a touch of vinegar to the final rinse acts as a fabric softener for woollen items, and adding essential oil puts a delicious bit of fragrance in. Swirl and squeeze again.

Finish by putting the items to dry, preferably flat and out of direct heat or sunlight, especially in the case of wool. The items will take ages to dry – woolly jerseys can take days, as can leather/suede. Leather and suede may be a bit stiff after drying, but this goes away quickly if you roll the item up and unroll it a few times.

Soft toys can be washed the same way and can be done by any child over the age of three – and it is a much less heart-wrenching task than putting the beloved bear into the washing machine and waiting for hours. Instead, the child is “giving Teddy a bath”. Toys can usually be spun in the regular machine after handwashing to get excess water out; they take ages to drip dry otherwise. If a child washes their own toys (which can be a fun activity on a sunny day), apply a bit of barrier cream to the hands and arms (and maybe legs, depending on how enthusiastic the child is), and follow up with moisturizer afterwards while Teddy is spinning in the machine.

About the author 

Nick Vassilev

Nick blogs about cleaning. He is a cleaning expert with more than 25 years of experience. He is also an NCCA-certified carpet cleaner. Founder and CEO of Anyclean.