Hand Washing Clothes – Easiest Method

It may or may not be a coincidence that my manual washer came the same week my washing machine stopped working properly. Either way, it was just the push I needed to give hand washing clothes a try.

Today, I pulled out my wash tubs and new plunger washer, and set to work getting our laundry done. It was a beautiful, warm and sunny day. Perfect for the task.

Why You Should Hand Wash Your Clothes

There are all sorts of reasons why you should consider hand-washing your clothes. Not only can this help preserve the longevity of your textiles, but it can also keep details intact and keep delicate items, like wool, safe from washing machine damage.

These unique fabrics will retain their shape and color best when they are washed by hand.

Handwashing is also a great way to stop stains from setting in. If you happen to spill red wine on a white blouse or you dabbed marina sauce on your favorite pair of jeans, handwashing can help get the stain out fast, before it has the chance to embed itself into the fibers.

Handwashing tends to be gentler on fabrics and since there is no agitator, you don’t have to worry about your clothes getting caught and snagged during a spin cycle.

Handwashing is better for the planet, too, as it uses significantly less water than a washing machine. You’ll save money, too – after all, washing and drying clothes at a laundromat can cost upwards of five dollars per load.

Tips for Hand Washing Clothes

Honestly, even if you aren’t ready to fully make the change to handwashing all of your clothes, you’ve got to consider handwashing at least a few of your garments.

I recommend handwashing all delicates, including underwear, bathing suits, and bras. You should also handwash delicate fabrics like silk, lace, wool, and embellished clothing, too.

Something that caught me off guard the first time I handwashed my own clothes was that the water in my bin became colored after a few rinses! This isn’t anything to panic over (although I, of course, did!). sometimes, the fabric dye releases color. This happens. You shouldn’t notice any loss after completing the washing process.

To help reduce the likelihood of dyes bleeding into each other, though, only wash like items together, ideally those of the same color and fabric type.

Always read the label on the clothes, too, to make sure you aren’t handwashing something that’s really meant to be dry-cleaned. Otherwise, any kind of clothing can be handwashed- even clothing that you wouldn’t normally put in a washing machine.

The one exception is silk fabrics. These should not be handwashed if they are patterned, bright-colored, or darkly-colored, as the dyes can bleed.

When it comes to choosing the right water, use cool to lukewarm water to wash your clothes (unless the label specifies otherwise).

Use a teaspoon or so of soap or detergent, and always use gentle movements instead of scrubbing or twisting actions.

You can also purchase handwashing tools that will help you save time if you are regularly handwashing your clothes.

Do not let your clothes sit in the water (especially soapy water) any longer than necessary. Use a mild detergent or consider a no-rinse detergent, which will eliminate the need to rinse multiple times.

A tip for drying? To dry clothes as quickly as possible, lay the item on top of a towel. Make sure it’s laying flat and in its original shape, then roll it like a sleeping bag in the towel to wring out excess water. You can do this several times and use a second or third towel, too, to help get out moisture.

Where to Do It

You have a few options when it comes to where you choose to hand wash your clothes.

The classic choice is to handwash in a sink or bathtub – but if you’re doing lots of laundry, this can get crowded, cumbersome, and annoying pretty quickly. That’s especially true if you only have one bathroom!

You can also purchase or repurpose a dedicated wash tub (which is what I did).

If you hand wash your clothes in a sink, make sure it is clean and not filled with any kind of contaminant. Don’t make the mistake of using a sink that was recently cleaned with bleach, either – that is, unless you want your whites really white!

plastic rain barrel

My Experience With Hand Washing Clothes

One of our 55 gallon rain barrels was overflowing from a recent downpour, so I used the collected rain water for all of today’s washing.

I made a note to myself that we need to get a hose to connect to the tap, so I can run the water directly into the wash tubs instead of hauling it one bucketful at a time.

For detergent I used Soap Nuts and a sprinkling of Borax. I wasn’t too impressed with the results. I’m going to have to experiment with other natural laundry detergents to find which works best with cold water.

my two boys washing clothes by hand
My two boys washing clothes by hand!

Of course once I started washing all of the kids were fascinated with my new gadget, and wanted to give it a try. Little Elias was so funny.

It was all I could do to get my laundry done without his little hands grabbing a hold of the handle and trying to “help”. And then he wanted to throw muddy sticks into the water. Which was lovely.

Speaking of mud… see how much water was all over the ground around the tub? It took me a few minutes before I realized the cause:

leaking tub

Water was trickling out of a seam in the side of my wash tub. A LEAK! In my brand new, never used tubs. Bummer.

I realize these galvanized tubs probably weren’t the best idea after all. I’m going to get two of those big plastic toy storage tubs (the round ones with rope handles) to use instead. They seem heavy duty enough that they wouldn’t break easily, or spring a leak.

I was also thinking I’d like to have my husband install a faucet/spigot at the bottom of each tub so that I could drain the water easily when I’m finished with it (like what you see on the rain barrel above).

Today, when the water got too dirty to use, I had to scoop it out with a bucket and haul it into the woods to empty. The wash tubs were much too heavy to lift and carry to a good place to be dumped out.

That scooping and hauling took a lot of time and energy. If I can drain the tubs through a faucet, and maybe attach a hose to direct the flow to a good runoff spot, that would make things easier.

Another thing that would have made laundry easier is having the tubs raised a foot or so off the ground.

I ended up having to bend over most of the time I was doing the plunging. I’d love for Jerry to build a wash tub stand for me to put my tubs on. That would also make draining them with a faucet easier.

I could tell the manual washer was working because the water got really dirty.

When it comes time to wash my jeans (especially my work jeans as I’m so fashionably sporting above), I’ll break out my washboard and scrub brush and see how much of that dirt I can get out with a little elbow grease.

I wasn’t really sure how long I should continue plunging, so I just counted to 100 with each load.

clothes hanging out to dry

A wringer would have been nice. I twisted each garment the best I could before hanging it on the line to dry. Maybe one day I’ll luck up on a wringer for a good deal.

It took a while to get everything washed, mainly because of the time spent hauling water. The leak didn’t make things any better in that regard.

I think laundry day will go much more quickly once I put the changes I’ve mentioned here in place.

Since the clothes were still pretty wet when they were hung, I’ll have to leave them on the line overnight to finish drying tomorrow.

I noted that I used 3/4 of the water from the barrel. That’s quite a lot. Again, I attribute that to the leak.

I was pretty conservative, and used the rinse water as the wash water when the wash water got too dirty to use anymore, and just kept swapping them out like that.

I also followed the rule of washing the cleanest items first, and dirtiest last. I’m confident that next time around I won’t use nearly as much water.

My hands feel dryer than usual now. Maybe it was the Borax. I’m thinking I’ll probably have to make a nice herbal hand salve to restore the moisture to my hands after a day of doing laundry.

Those are pretty much all of my observations during my first attempt at hand washing the laundry. It really wasn’t bad at all! I’m excited to get a proper washing station in order so that I can really knock it out quickly.

Any tips from those of you who have been hand washing for years? What’s your favorite natural detergent to wash with?

hand washing clothes Pinterest

59 thoughts on “Hand Washing Clothes – Easiest Method”

  1. I came across your article from Facebook of all things.
    We live in the city with 6 kids but want to live off grid as much as possible anyway.
    I have been interested in hand wash I g for awhile. Do you still do it? I am fairly certain my teenagers will balk at the idea but I would like to try with my younger guys.

    • I still hand wash a little, but the bulk of my laundry is done in the washing machine (I figure I’ll take advantage of having it for as long as possible, lol!). Give it a try though! Your teenagers might find it therapeutic.

  2. Hello Kendra, I’ve emailed a couple times and not heard anything, so I hope this one gets to you: I am wondering if this plunger moves or is stiff? Like the 2 parts of the “blue cup” move in and out of each other. I bought the Washing Wand and the cup is all one piece, so doesn’t move. I guess I had it in my head that it would move as a toilet plunger would to really “suck” the dirt out of the clothes. Thanks in advance! Amanda

    • Hi Amanda! I’m so sorry, I haven’t seen any of your emails. I’ll have to check my Spam folder. The Wonder Washer doesn’t move, it’s a solid piece. But it does suction if you do it right. 🙂

      • No problem! I just figured it was b/c I sent them regular email (like through a link in your page, ie: one was a link towards the bottom of the still page re: eo’s) Ok, thanks! I haven’t tried using mine yet, just opened & looked at it.

  3. When I was a child we frequently stayed with my grandmother in South Wales in the UK.. I can remember her having a galvanized pot over a brick support in a corrugated area outside the house which was open to the elements.. At the bottom of the brick support she lit a fire and all the “white” clothes used to be boiled in the pot.. she had a large pair of wooden “pinchers” which she used to push the clothes down in the pot.. I can remember playing with them as a a child when it wasn’t in use and pinching my own fingers..I thought this might be something you might consider building for those washes when you need a hotter temperature for health reasons..

  4. I was wondering if you have any updated posts about hand washing laundry. My hubby found your blog as we are starting our own homestead and are learning where we want to start. This is something I feel I could do to help lower our bills but I’m curious to know what you think after it being about a year later and if it is still worth it. Thanks 🙂

  5. Also (with this method,) to reuse the wash water you can just put the clothes you’ve already washed in a bucket so you can wash more before you put rinse water in the tub.

  6. In the past, I bought a pair of thick, tall rubber boots (stop about 3-4″ under my knees, but then I do have long legs) from Ace Hardware
    that I could use on my feet to ‘agitate’ my clothes in the bathtub, in both soapy water and rinse water (I tried it first barefoot, after washing my feet first, and wow did my feet get sensitive quickly from the soap!).

    At about $23 for the boots, it was a great option for me at the time as I didn’t have a washer or dryer in my place and money for the laundromat adds up quickly. I was having trouble financially, and after just 3 times doing the laundry that way, the boots paid for themselves. Then after that I saved money I would have had to spend at the laundromat.

    It was funny when I went to buy them, they asked if I muck out horse stalls. I said no, why do you ask? He said that is why most people buy them.

    Wanted to mention this as I thought it might be a good option for people in apartments who don’t have space to do laundry outside.

    It is quite the workout! That said, at the time I only had my own laundry to do, so it might be a bit much to do it that way for multiple people.

    However it might be good to have as an extra option for once you do go off the grid, especially if you happen to have a wrist or arm injury, so it is easier for you to agitate your clothes.

    One helpful thing is you can squish some of the water out by standing on the wet clothes with the boots, before you wring them out.

    The wringing is definitely still a pain though, by hand.

    One tip I figured out is to twist a large heavy item (like a towel) into a ball (or just a part of it if it is too big), then push it against something solid (like the back wall above the tub, or maybe a post outside for your clothesline?) with the heel of your hand. This gets quite a bit of the water out, and I found it saved my hands a lot of energy from wringing.

    Also, one option that can be good for air drying clothes in small spaces is to get a clothing rack, something like this:


    It should fit right in the tub, is versatile and easy to take apart.

    Hope this helps!

    Thanks for sharing!

  7. I think someone already mentioned a spinner. Of course, the washing machine is basically a big ol’ salad spinner. Instead of electricity or hand-cranking, you could rig up a bicycle and power it with legs! And if you’re going to be doing a lot of laundry by hand, and you’ve got a spare barrel or two, look at some of the plans for bike washers. Fun for the kids too.

  8. Did not read all the comments so this may be a repeat. Sorry if it is.

    For a good laundry additive you can make your own washing soda by baking in an oven at about 350 f (until all moisture is gone) regular old baking soda. Doing so changes the ph of the baking soda to be alkaline. It won’t make much as far as suds go but it will clean very well. Home made lye soap is what my grandmothers used. If you have wood ashes you can even make your own homemade lye to make your homemade lye soap.

  9. I fill a condiment bottle w detergent (ketchup squeeze bottle w narrow tip) and I squirt a tiny bit into the sink. Line dry California is so dry it takes no time and smells like ozone and sunshine.

  10. I use the sink, draining and refilling 2-3 times for 1-3 pieces. I love how I can see the dirt and oil. A big laundry sink is ideal so you can refill and drain numerous times. Or something like that so you can fill/drain easily even if its a hose. I’m amazed how clean my shirt is. Its never felt this clean. I’m surprised that I enjoy it! Its therapeutic!

  11. Hi, I’ve seen a few videos using 55 gal barrels. Solarcabin on youtube has one that looks easy to make. I thought I might try it out this summer.

  12. RE: “a squeeze type wringer, which I thought about using. It’s a pretty small slot to wring in, though. I’m thinking my towels won’t fit.”

    There’s a type of mop bucket which uses a ‘box’ for a wringer. They are often made out of yellow heavy duty plastic. You push a flat piece attached to a handle down onto the pile in the box. I haven’t used mine yet to be able to say how well it works.

    I’m glad I came back, that clothes basket idea seems great. I just wonder if I can find one which fits the shape of my mop bucket.

    And, I had No idea there was such a thing as soapberry trees and soapberry nuts. Seems almost surreal.

  13. So inspirational! I would love to be here someday! We use soap nuts for our cloth diapers and I’ve heard that if you’re not using warm water to first steep the soap nuts in a cup of hot water and make a ‘soap nut tea’ then pour the tea and soap nuts into your washer. The hot water activates the soap nuts. Could be something to try? Happy washing!

  14. My soapberry tree is now 15 feet tall. I have to wait about 3 more years before I get soapberries. I am looking forward to washing my clothes in free soap. I was very interested in the fact that you use them also.

  15. Kendra, before I tried the 3-bucket squeeze-out method, I used to put my clothes in a small-ish round laundry basket with holes punched in the bottom and lower it into one of the big round tubs with rope handles, wash with plunger thing, and then raise the laundry basket up out of the water and set aside to drain for a couple of minutes or so. Then I would lower the wet-clothes-in-round-basket (basket and all) into my SECOND round-tub-with-rope-handles into some clean rinse water with just a smidgen of white vinegar (to neutralize the soap), swish around a bit, then raise back out and drip again. I suppose if you were really careful you could put a sit-on bucket into the hole-y basket and really squish the rest of the water out. Anyway, that method worked well for me until I became a single mother of three and had no time left over for hand washing. (And two degree winter days had something to do with it too!)

    • That sounds like a genius method. I read on another forum where somebody suggested the laundry basket idea. I thought that was so brilliant. Hadn’t thought about using white vinegar in the rinse water though. Thank you so much!! You had it all figured out! 🙂

  16. I have been making my own laundry soap for about a year. 1 bar Fels-Naptha, Borax and Arm & Hammer Washing Soda. It only takes a few minutes to make, works very well, although I have not tried for hand washing. It does not suds to much so I think it would actually work well. I also have sensitive skin, most detergents make me itch. I have never had a problem with this soap.

    The best part is, I buy 4 bars of the Fels-Naptha, 1 box of Borax and 1 box of Washing Soda and it will make four 5 gallon buckets of soap (one at a time of course). That way I usually have 3-4 month supply on hand, ready to make, great for emergency storage.

    I would be happy to send you the recipe if you are interested.

    • Thanks, Jenna!! I’ve actually made laundry soap quite a bit, but I’ve found that it didn’t work well at all for us over time- there was a lot of buildup. I think it’s because our well water is so hard, the detergent just didn’t get stuff clean or rinse out well. It might work better with rain water, which is softer than well water. It’s definitely cheaper to make your own, that’s for sure!!

  17. Thank you, Kendra!

    I was thinking along the lines of you using your plunger instead of the rocking back and forth and the height would be perfect.

    Also, if it were possible to do all the wash laying it aside and then dump the dirty water in the garden, rinse the wagon and then fill with rinse water. I guess it would depend how often a person does their laundry and how much they have.

    One thing for sure is that you could use a greater amount of water than just in the tubes.

    Hoping you can come up with your own ideas that work for you from the video.

    God bless and have a great day!

  18. I like that bucket press idea, Crystal B. Thanks for that. I’m not sure if that would be easier than using the wringer on a mop bucket, or not.

    I’m thinking two mop buckets with a mop wringer on each, one for washing, one for rinsing. They usually have wheels to move them in order to dump them. Or, building an irrigation channel (to the garden?) of some type might be worthwhile, especially if you dump other water such as from gray water lines?

    If I had the space and the place I’d get a barrel to dump the water into in order to slowly utilize it for a garden.

  19. Wow, this sounds like a lot of work! My mother used to handwash when we were kids, but quickly gave it up when we could afford an automatic washer. I hope it gets easier over time… it sounds like you have lots of great ideas to improve the process!

    • Caitlin, I think it makes it easier knowing I have a choice. I WANT to hand wash, it isn’t being forced on me by circumstance, so I don’t think of it as something to dread. Although… ask me again in a year and I might sing a different tune, lol. We’ll see!! 🙂 Sounds like your mother was a very productive woman. 🙂

  20. Kendra, we bought a mop bucket with the wringer to have for laundry just in case. The heavy duty kind is about 60 dollars. It has a duel purpose and will wring the cloth out well. And the bucket has wheels so it is easily moved to an area you want to dump it.

  21. Hey Kendra. Wonderful that you got to experiment with washing clothes by hand. I’ve had to do it a few times myself and it can be difficult, especially trying to wring out the clothes by hand. I found this nifty idea for getting water out of clothes on another blog that I like: http://peaceofpreparedness.com/Resource%20Library/Emergency%20Prep/Non%20Electric%20Laundry%20Press.pdf
    You might try it to see if it works for you while you wait to get a wringer, which I know can be expensive. Good luck and love your blog!

  22. Depending on your financial situation this may be a great set up for you.

    I follow a ton of people on You Tube and this fine lady is my favorite person on You Tube.

    I have a dry homemade laundry detergent that I found in a comment section of another video by another lady I just love on You Tube. I don’t have the recipe handy, but, as soon as I find it I will place it here.

    Back to the video of the washing system that I found really neat, but also, hilarious. Works as a pea sheller, also. Check out her other videos for some very helpful info.


    • Thank you so much for that video, Janet! Now I REALLY want a wringer, lol! I’m not sure the agitating she was doing by rocking the cart back and forth would be sufficient for our super dirty clothes, but I love her ingenuity. Also, I think it’s important to have two tubs, one for washing and one for rinsing, especially to conserve water (so you don’t have to dump out good wash water to refill with rinse water). She’s right about hand wringing towels and how hard it is on your hands. I was hating towels by the end of the day, lol. LOVE the pea shelling, hahaha! What a great idea. Hopefully that wouldn’t damage the wringer. I’m all for dual-purpose equipment. 🙂 Awesome link, thanks again!

  23. I’ve seen a lot of suggestions online about swapping out the short handle of the plunger washer with a long broom/mop handle to save your back. I have yet to try it, just keep forgetting, but I’m going to go get a new handle this week so I can try breaking out the washer again!

  24. Have you considered washing them in the bathtub–especially for winter? That way the water could go down the drain and the plunging might be easier.

  25. Hi Kendra!

    After reading your post and seeing your want for a clothes ringer I let my fingers do the clicking. I came across this instructable (see below). It looks plausible. I would like to say you and others like you are inspirations to me. I grew up with the lessons of cooking from scratch more or less. But with all the helpful information you and others living the “New/Old” ways that you share through your posts about your lives, recipes, and how-to’s will make it easier for those of us who are in our infancy stage to becoming self-sufficient people like you all are. Here’s to a better life, better health and a better planet. As the saying goes take care of Mother and she will take care of you. Thank you for all your hard work and inspiration. Have a wonderful day! 🙂

  26. Excellent! Go Kendra! Someday I would like to try the same thing…you know, when we move somewhere south maybe so I can actually hang the clothes outside…and not have so much snow still:)

  27. At a dorm in England, we used a hand-crank spinner (kind of like a rotary chicken plucker) to get the water out before hanging on the boiler room racks. And here’s a low-cost wringer- also I like how to adapt a toilet plunger so I don’t have to buy a washing plunger

  28. Wow – I’m amazed, Kendra! All of that laundry by hand – good for you! My fave hand moisturizer? Equal parts of coconut oil and white sugar. Scrub in for several minutes, add a bit of warm water and soap, scrub again, and rinse thoroughly. You’ll love it!

  29. I handwashed for three months before our van of household goods arrived at our farm. The two things that really help (as you mentioned) was a wash stand. My back really began to suffer and so I highly recommend that as soon as possible. Also, a wringer makes all the difference, especially on those colder days so that your laundry will dry. Twisting the clothing by hand did take a toll too. But finding an affordable wringer? I was amazed at the prices. Yikes! May your endeavors be blessed!

  30. Hi Kendra,
    Thank you for this article you have posted on BIN.
    You sure brought a loads of memory and my full admiration for you and your family.
    I grew up on a small farm (in Poland) a long , long time ago.
    When I left Poland and moved to States over 30 years ago, I couldn’t grasp the concept of buying parsley, chives, tomato, eggs, etc, because I was used to have this at home!
    And yes, I do remember doing laundry by hand 🙂
    If I may suggest couple of things:
    **presoak your laundry, soaped up the most grundgy spots(we used ordinary soap you find with all cleaning stuff at your store)
    **Soap nuts. I also use them, but presoak them in a jar, actually I keep them in a jar soaking all the time as laundry is done frequently.

    You have one awesome family and your children are precious.
    God bless You and Your Family.

  31. I have been meaning to get a plunger to do this myself. Right now my husband does all our laundry and he uses rain water whenever it is available too.


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