If you’re anything like me and you’re constantly looking for new ways to decrease your environmental footprint, here’s something new to add to your list: you can learn how to hand wash underwear! After all, your new high waisted underwear or men’s boxers will really appreciate a gentler handling.
Read on for the why, the where, and the how to hand wash underwear—starting with the environmental impacts of washing machines, what temperature of water to use, and how best to wash your fave sustainable fabrics.
WHY HAND WASH UNDERWEAR?
I get it, you’re busy, and the idea of having to hand wash underwear sounds like yet one more way to make your life harder. I mean, washing machines were invented for a reason, right?
Unfortunately, washing machines and dryers aren’t always the best option for washing clothes—both for the clothes themselves, and the planet.
I mean, did you know that washing machines cause excess water pollution, water waste, and energy consumption? The average washing machine uses about 41 gallons of water per load. And every time you wash your clothes, they release microplastics into the water. It’s estimated that between a few thousand and twelve million fibers (microplastics) can be released per load of laundry. OUCH.
Also, if you hand wash underwear, it also tends to make it last longer, which is kind of the point of buying sustainable underwear, eh? Those washers and dryers can be tough on your delicates.
But don’t worry, I’m not asking you to grab a flat rock and head to the river. Just a sink, some detergent, and some water! I swear, it’s actually easy and not all that different from throwing it in the washer—and once you really learn how to hand wash underwear, it will be even faster! Plus, way nicer to your clothes and the environment.
HOW TO HAND WASH UNDERWEAR EASILY IN THE SINK: THE STEPS
Yep, there’s a super easy, and super sustainable, second option to using the washer: hand lingerie washing! I’ll provide a super easy-to-follow guide on how to hand wash underwear easily in the sink—it'll make your undies last longer, and make you feel a whole lot better about your environmental impact.
1. GRAB A SINK
Choose a sink that plugs—usually a laundry or bathroom sink—and give it a quick wash. You definitely don’t want to do that lingerie washing in a dirty sink!
2. CHOOSE A NATURAL LAUNDRY DETERGENT
Since we’re trying to be kinder to your underwear and the planet, a natural, sustainable laundry detergent is the way to go! This is pretty easy to find these days, as even the major brands are making a greener version. I still like options that are all-around sustainable, like hemp soap, because the packaging tends to be more eco-friendly, too.
3. GATHER AND CHECK LABELS
Now, grab those dirty undies! Washing like colors together always works better. And make sure to double check the labels to make sure they aren’t dry clean only! If you aren’t sure, you can do a quick home test: dab a drop of water on the fabric of the underwear. If the color doesn’t bleed, or if there isn’t a water spot, you should have the green light to do some lingerie washing right at home.
4. PLUG DRAIN, FILL WITH WATER AND DETERGENT
Plug your clean sink, fill with **lukewarm** water, and several tablespoons of detergent. Lukewarm water is key here, as too-hot water can damage your delicates. Also, lukewarm uses less energy, which is also the point! I find 2-3 tablespoons of detergent is the sweet spot, but adjust as necessary.
5. SWIRL, SCRUB & SOAK FOR UNDER AN HOUR
After you place all of your underwear in the sink, swirl them around vigorously, turn them inside out and repeat. Give the gusset a little extra (gentle) scrub, then leave to soak for less than an hour. The school of thought varies on just how long you should do, but I generally find 20-30 minutes is a pretty good bet.
If you’re worried about stains, you may need to soak a little longer, or treat the stains right before washing. There are certainly natural stain removers out there, but, Pro Tip: if you’re wondering how to get blood out of underwear, you can try the spit trick. Yep, you heard me right! Enzymes in your saliva break up the proteins in blood, so spit on the stain, give it a lil scrub, and let it sit.
If you’re worried about soap residue, you can add some white vinegar into the sink while your underwear is soaking. Just rinse (spoiler alert: next step) extra well to avoid lingering eau du vinegar.
6. DRAIN AND RINSE WITH COLD WATER
When you’re satisfied your undies are nice and clean, unplug the sink and rinse each pair with cold water as the sink drains. Repeat if necessary. Gently squeeze out any excess water—do your best to avoid wringing out your underwear, as this can cause wear.
7. HANG TO DRY
Dryer? Never heard of her. Air drying your clothes is so much more sustainable, and there’s so many options based on your living arrangements. If you have a big backyard, you can use an old-fashioned clothes line. If you’re still living that apartment life or prefer to keep your undies behind closed doors, a drying rack works great.
8. WEAR AND REPEAT
Wear when dry, and repeat the process as needed! Oh and please, hand wash underwear after every use. No matter how much you want to help save the planet, it’s not great for you to re-wear underwear. Also… it’s kind of gross, no?
4 EXTRA TIPS TO HELP YOU HAND WASH UNDERWEAR
Do you feel like you’ve got a good handle on how to hand wash underwear, but are wondering if anything changes with different fabrics, like hemp vs wool? What about with different items of clothing, if you’re ready to branch out from lingerie washing? Well, I’ve got ya covered! Read on and weep (from JOY, maybe. I hope).
1. HOW TO HAND WASH DIFFERENT FABRICS
- FABRIC: HEMP. Wondering how to hand wash underwear… when it’s made of hemp fabric? It’s all the same rules as above! Just make sure to treat stains before they set, and err on the cooler side of lukewarm. (Also, here’s a quick refresher if you’re confused about what is hemp!)
- FABRIC: COTTON. When it comes to hemp vs cotton, hemp will always win when it comes to underwear, but cotton is a solid second choice. But, how to hand wash underwear when it’s cotton (preferably organic)? Again, follow the directions above, but make sure to wash inside out, and avoid super hot water.
- FABRIC: WOOL. Wool can be especially prone to shrinkage, so cool/cold water is best! After washing with similar colors, lay flat on a towel to keep the shape and to speed up the drying time.
- FABRIC: SILK. Really make sure you check the label of silk, as it’s often “dry clean only.” With silk, it’s very prone to running colors, so wet a cotton ball and dab it on the fabric, ideally on separate colors, if necessary. If no color comes off, you should be safe. It’s also best to wash silk items individually—in cold water!
- FABRIC: SYNTHETICS. Synthetic fabrics tend to hold onto odor more than natural fabrics, so a higher temperature of water is necessary. In addition, a longer time swirling, and a longer time soaking will be sure to get out any lingering smells.
2. HOW TO HAND WASH UNDIES WHILE TRAVELING
All you need is a travel-size detergent (most brands offer these) and a sink, tub, bucket, etc! I’ve even emptied out trash cans (that were lined) and used them after a quick clean. If you get creative, you can wash your clothes anywhere! And yes, even a river technically… just promise you’ll use eco-friendly soap, k?
3. HOW TO RESHAPE YOUR UNDERWEAR AFTER HAND WASHING
What about if you love the environmental impact of that hand wash underwear life, but you’re not loving the results… Your lacy underwear is folded in all the wrong places, or your cotton underwear is freakin’ wrinkly?
The solution is to reshape your underwear before you hang them to dry. The easiest way to do this is to lay them flat on a towel in exactly the shape you want them to be. FYI, though—this method is a little bit more time consuming, and you may have to swap out the towels to make sure everything dries properly.
4. HOW TO HAND WASH OTHER CLOTHES
Okay, we’ve covered how to hand wash underwear, but what about everything else? For most other clothing, the above rules apply. With a few small adjustments, you can hand wash all of your clothing, if you so want/need!
Treat any stains, then turn the shirt inside out to target the hot zone (aka armpits), and follow the directions above, depending on the fabric. Since shirts tend to be bigger than underwear (I mean, duh), three or four per sink load works best!
Double check the label, as sweaters can be finicky—and this will also help you discern the fabric. Always wash sweaters inside out to help prevent excess piling, and when finished washing, then (delicately) squeeze before rolling into a towel. Gently add pressure to the towel to soak up excess water, then lay flat to dry.
Bras are, well, pretty much the same as underwear. But if you want to be nice to that fave hemp bra of yours, wash in lukewarm water with like colors, agitate carefully to avoid catching the hooks on anything, and soak until clean. Remove from the sink and place carefully in a towel. Fold the towel to blot up any extra water, then hang to dry. Treat ‘em well and your racerback bralette and triangle bralette will last you, like, a super long time.
You really don’t need to wash jeans all that much, but sometimes you just need your jeans to feel clean. Put your jeans (ideally just one pair at a time) into cold, soapy water and agitate. Leave to soak for thirty minutes, then—and this is the only time I will say this in this entire post—wring out, and hang to dry.
IN CONCLUSION: HOW TO HAND WASH UNDERWEAR
And that’s it—now you know how to hand wash underwear! You’ve reached expert status. After a few go-arounds, you’ll become lightning fast, too. Your underwear will thank you, by lasting longer and staying softer—and the planet will thank you, too!
For those who already know how to handwash underwear, any more tips for washing those panties and clothes sustainably?
How else do you make sustainable choices for your clothes? Let us know in the comments below!