Sep 02, 2020
We know — washing your clothes by hand can be a painstaking process even if the steps themselves are straightforward and simple. It’s okay if you want to cut some corners! Many modern-day washing machines can help you do just that with most of your hand-wash only clothing.
Of course, the obvious answer involves little mystery — but the reasons behind hand-washing can help you make sense of how seriously you should take a label’s “hand-wash only” instructions and when it’s safe to toss it in the machine for a hand-wash cycle, instead.
You can expect any item that needs hand-washing to be made of a material, or with a technique, that can be damaged by excessive temperatures, agitation or harsh chemicals. “Hand-wash only” is a red flag for the consumer to know this fabric needs special care and close attention for one, some or all of these reasons.
This could be traced back to early developments in washing machines, which were quite vigorous in their duty to make cleaning clothes quick and painless. Unfortunately, the painless part didn’t include considerations for the constitution of every kind of clothing, and so natural fabrics or intricately woven or decorated pieces were deemed delicate and therefore in need of hand-wash only care.
Fortunately, the market heard the cry of the laundry-burdened but fashion-conscious consumers and began making machines with a lighter touch. These days, these features that mimic hand-washing are definitely gentler than their earliest predecessors — but they’re not always the perfect answer in every case.
First, let’s understand some of the basics about washing machines so you can figure out which of your delicate garments can be cleaned in a washing machine’s hand-wash cycle.
You can distinguish washing machine types by the way in which you load the clothes, and whether or not the machine uses an agitator. Front-loading washing machines do not use an agitator, but some top-loading ones do. Fans of front-loading machines usually prefer them because they save on space, they can stack with a dryer, and they can handle fairly bulky loads.
Those who prefer machines you load from the top tend to like a more straightforward set of controls and have smaller or less-bulky loads of laundry to do. Agitators seem to be preferred by anyone who has laundry that needs heavy-duty cleaning, while machines without agitators are better for large items like blankets or lots of delicate items that need as little disturbance while cleaning as possible.
You can expect to find a variety of detailed settings on any washing machine these days — fine-tuning each cycle is the name of the game for the modern-day market. But, the fundamental function of a washing machine remains the same across all brands. You should be able to change the temperature of the water used during each cycle, the intensity of that cycle, and whether or not the cycle finishes with a spin-dry to remove excess water.
You can expect to use the same supplies for machine-washing your delicate clothes as you do when you hand-wash them yourself. Here’s a quick rundown of the basics, but you can always revisit our hand-washing instructions for your favorite garment type for more specifics.
Stain removal can be both a process and a product. In some cases, you can just spot-treat stains with a concentrated dollop of your usual detergent. Other, more stubborn stains may need some elbow grease or a special soak. Unless you’re absolutely certain your garment won’t be harmed by a bleach or bleach-like substance, avoid using these harsh chemicals for items you’re putting in a delicate wash.
If you’re washing extremely delicate items or pure and precious wools and wool blends, you will be better off picking a detergent that specifically states it is wool-safe. Otherwise, most of the laundry detergents you find in the stores these days are mild enough for all items. You should just steer clear of any detergents that contain bleach, when necessary.
Conditioners aren’t appropriate for all delicate, hand-wash only clothes, but they can be an important step for some items. For this decision, always consult the care instructions on your garment’s label, first. Some life-hackers promote using regular hair conditioner on natural fibers like wool, reasoning that it’s a hair and therefore would benefit from conditioning — but consider there may be risks inherent in this choice. As with our own hair, product build-up can lead to dullness and breakage.
Even if your machine’s delicate cycle is so gentle it could wash a flower and not disturb a petal, your hand-wash only clothes will fare all the better when you use a mesh laundry bag. These come in a variety of sizes, so choose a few that fit your needs best. Clothes should have enough wiggle room that water can move through the layers easily, but not so much room that clothing can become stretched or misshapen within the bag itself.
Ultimately, it’s up to you to weigh which factors are most important for each delicate garment in your collection. Here are some basic guidelines for when to choose which type of washing method.
Washing delicates by hand may work best for:
Washing delicates by machine may work best for:
If you have a lot of hand-wash only garments but can only toss some of them into the delicate cycle of your machine, try to keep them separated both where they belong in your closet and where they’re kept while waiting to be laundered. This helps you avoid mixing things up when it comes time to get the laundry done.
It’s also important to note that machine-washing clothes is not automatically better at cleaning certain substances off of a garment’s fibers when compared to hand-washing. Remnants of perspiration can persist even after a wash cycle, but you may not see the tell-tale yellowing stain it leaves until it’s sat in storage for a while.
This may not seem like a big deal to some, but a stain like that means clothing may be vulnerable to clothes moth infestation — which is why it’s so important to bring your long-term stored items out for an occasional off-season cleaning even if they looked pristine going into storage.
Remember, when in doubt — hand-wash it out. Most machines that feature a delicate or hand-wash cycle are great for a lot of basic or durable items, and their convenience can’t be beat. But, they won’t work for every type of garment, so wash carefully!
Done with washing? Read our blog post on storing delicate clothes!
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