Let's talk handwashing people! And drying things to be handwashed! And I will give you my diatribe against woolite, while we're at it.
Basics first: What to handwash?
Welp, handknits, sweaters, fancy things that tell you to handwash on the label, many things labeled just "dry clean" (which is different from "dry clean only"), items with embellishments, bras, fancy undies, slips, etc. Essentially, anything you're worried you'd trash in the washer or the dryer.
So what do you need to handwash? A sink or tub or basin of some kind (a tub trug works really well for this kind of thing if your sink is wee). Water, der. Soap of some kind. A towel or two. A flat space to lay things to dry.
So soap. SOAP. Note I say soap, not detergent? They are two different things, and while both are useful, one is more useful than others.
I may be the only person in the world who doesn't like tide. I dunno what it is, I can't deal with the smell, or the packaging, or what. I'm an All Free and Clear kind of girl and that's what it is. I just can't with the overpowering smell of shitty laundry perfumes.
UNLESS we're talking handwashing stuff, in which case my tastes run toward ALL THE SCENTED PRODUCTS! Maybe because only some of the clothes fall into the handwashing category? Or because it's more tactile, washing something by hand and I therefore don't mind it when I wind up smelling like Mandarin Bergamot Cedar whatevers during the process? Or maybe because the scents for handwashing stuff are WAY BETTER than the shitty Proctor and Gamble mass smells? (yeah, I KNOW most of the products I'm suggesting you use are probably in fact, subsidiaries of P&G or someone else. Don't care. They still smell better.) Basically, I'm a fragrance snob. I own it. (Don't get me started on perfumes--I have SO MANY.)
And herein lies my diatribe against Woolite. THEY ARE RIPPING YOU OFF, FOLKS. It's watered down regular laundry detergent. They add water and jack up the cost, and claim it won't fade your darks or whatever. I call bullshit. It's still watered down tide in a smaller bottle and a tiny cap for measuring. It doesn't rinse out well, like many laundry detergents, especially if you use their (overly large) recommended amount. And in handwashing, not rinsing out well is even more of a pain in the ass.
Listen, I don't have anything against using detergent for handwashes. It can be the best tool for the job. But if you're going to get dinged in the wallet to buy something that you already have on hand, just go for the better smelling, better formulated slightly fancier handwashing stuff. You're going to use less of it than you would the woolite, so the price comes out in the wash (see what I did there?). And if you want to save money, there are lots of other options that aren't woolite that are cheaper and better for handwashing.
And here's the thing about price. Some of the fancy soap brands are great for handwashing, so long as you like the scent. Because that, really, is what you're paying for, the smell and the packaging. If you don't like how the fancy brand smells, DON'T BUY IT, it's not worth it. If you don't want to or can't shell out the cash for them, DON'T BUY THEM. There are so many other cheaper options, don't pay for shit you don't want or need or can't afford.
Non-woolite options for handwashing:
- Caldrea, fancy smelling (I like mandarin vetiver), mild plant based detergents. It's a bit pricey, but I've been using the same medium sized bottle of their laundry detergent to hand wash for over six years, and I'm not even halfway through the damn thing. Not a bad price performer all told.
- The Laundress, another fancy smelling, pricey line of plant based detergents. Again, thinking of long term price performance, it's great. One bottle will last you ages. Also, I cannot say enough about their wash and stain bar for spot treating and washing bras. FAN-fucking-TASTIC. Again, I've had mine for about 5 years, and I still have about 3/4 of it left.
- Mrs. Myers Clean Day, fancy smelling, slightly cheaper and becoming more widely available at Target and grocery stores. I love their counter spray, and their laundry stuff is great for handwashing. Try their lavender scent for woolens. Use either their laundry detergent or their dish soap, both will be fine.
- Dr. Bronners, pure soap, not detergent, great for handwashing, and bonus reading material from the batshit label. They say to use it for everything, and you totally can! But don't, for the love of god, brush your teeth with it, no matter what your hippie friends at burning man say. It's disgusting. Great for handwashing though!
- Charlie's Laundry Soap. The sworn-by-cloth diaper-users best laundry soap out there. I personally have never used it, but I know many who do. There are many other brands like this, often marketed to the cloth diaperers, that would work well for handwashing.
- Wool washes, like Soak or Kookaburra These are designed specifically as no-rinse wool washes for the handknitter (which essentially means they're super watered down, low or no sudsing detergent), but they are fantastic for delicates as well. Note that Kookaburra contains lanolin, which is great for wools, but I am meh on it for clothes in general.
- Dish soap, I like Dawn, personally. But you pick your brand. They are fantastic surfacents that are designed to lift oils and dirt. Many a fiber person uses Dawn to wash raw wool from the sheep. I used Dawn to wash wool and cashmere for YEARS.
- Shampoo. YOUR shampoo (unless you are No-poo, or wash with conditioner only or something very very specific). Smells good, you already have it, and it lifts oils and dirt. Animal fibers like wool are hair, so why not use shampoo for them?
- Laundry bar soap, like Fels-Naptha or Zote. No fancy smells, but damn if they aren't cheap, effective, and time-tested (the fancy Laundress bar linked to above is a pricier, fancy smelling, smaller version of these bars). They're in your grocery store, you just may need to look on the bottom shelves for them. Also, they are fantastic for spot treating stains on your regular laundry.
Okay, so you've picked your soap. Awesome. Let's run through how to wash a sweater or two, since those are the pickiest in terms of technique.
- First, fill your sink, tub, basin or whatever with warm water. I like warm because it'll help lift the dirt, and won't freeze my hands when I'm lifting the sweater in and out of the water. But wait! you say, won't I shrink my sweater or felt it or fuck it up if I wash it in warm? Well, no, probably not. Felting and shrinking happen with temperature change, agitation and soap. We are not going to change the temp or agitate the item. So it'll be fine. Now, dyes may run with warmer water, so if your item has more than one color, stick to the cooler end of the water temp.
- So anyway, fill your sink, and add a tiny bit of your chosen soap. I mean TINY. Swish it gently with your hand to distribute, and then lower your item into the water, pressing down gently to submerge it (wool wants to float, so you really have to shove it down to get it fully soaked). Swish once or twice, and then go leave it alone for 15 or 20 minutes. If you used a no-rinse woolwash like Soak, skip to step 4.
- Come back, drain the water, leaving your item in the sink while it drains. Fill the sink back up with the same temp water, and squish the clean water through a bit. Let sit another 10 minutes. Drain. Repeat if necessary to get all the soap out.
- Press the item against the walls of the sink to get more water out. DON'T WRING IT. Just press or squeeze. Lift your item out with two hands, supporting the whole thing so no sleeve is just dangling there stretching out from the weight of the water. Lay it on flat on a towel. Roll up the towel with the item inside, and step on the towel/item jelly roll to get as much of the water out.
- Unroll, and put the item on another towel (if you have one) on a flat surface to dry. As you're laying it out on the new towel, gently nudge it back into shape. Make sure the shoulder seams and side seams are aligned, straighten and pat the sleeves into place, nudge the ribbing at the hem and cuffs in a bit. We have a heating vent in the floor that is fantastic for laying things out flat to dry, so long as you have a high tolerance for the cats sitting on it. The hot air won't bother anything or shrink it, because unlike a dryer, there is no tumbling involved (again, heat + agitation is shrinking).
That's woolens, handknits, and the like. For other delicates, you can follow the exact same treatment for the washing. Water, soap, let sit, water, let sit, drain and press out water and lay flat. Blouses or shirts you may want to hang dry instead of laying flat, depending on the material. If something has some weight to it when wet (or dry), don't hang it, as it'll stretch out of shape. But a silk cami or slip? Go to town.
Bras and lady stuff, follow the same procedure, but you can get a bit more scrubbing action going on. Bust out the soap bar and once the bra's wet, get in there and scrub with your hands a bit more if any places are really dirty. Then let it sit, drain, rinse, and hang to dry. Don't stick your bras in the dryer, the heat degrades the elastic and wears them out quicker.