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Lacking a Laundry Room?? The Ultimate At-Home Hand Washing Laundry Guide

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photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: how we designed a family-friendly laundry room in the portland project

LAUNDRY, GUYS. It’s all I can think about. Riddle me this: how is it possible to wear the same few pieces every day and STILL amass piles of things to be washed? Did I break a time-space barrier? Is this physics? Did my spring cleaning unlock a black hole of clothing that’s been sitting, un-laundered, for millennia? Is this what you talk about in science class?

Like a lot of apartment dwellers, laundry day is a whole THING for me. I wasn’t #blessed with an in-unit (or even in-building) washer or dryer, so once a week, I load up a sack and haul my clothes, towels, sheets, and other unmentionables down the block to the laundromat. It’s the only place in the world where I can simultaneously turn my life savings into quarters and spend 2 hours testing the structural limits of the 10-load washer. Honestly, I don’t miss it much.

But now, since I’m trying to avoid any unnecessary schlepping, I figured HEY, what better time to finally figure out how to do laundry — and do it WELL — at home? I wasn’t sure where to start, but guys, after some trial and error I FIGURED IT OUT and I may never go back.

So if you’re like me, overwhelmed by an overflowing laundry basket, or if you’re a parent just trying to make it through the now-daily loads (“we’re going out LESS, how are you wearing MORE?”) here are some tried-and-true tips on getting everything clean from the comfort of your own home. (I promise if you are one of the people #blessed with an in-home laundry situation, there are still some tips for you too. And if you have any advice or if you’re just drowning in cups of detergent and want to commiserate let’s dish down below.)

Alright, let’s get started. Manual laborers are up first. 

Hand Washing

Castile Soap or Laundry Bar | Plunger or Laundry Wand | Tub or Trash Can

Yep, all you need are those three things. But first, let’s talk about the elephant in the room: the plunger. From personal experience, I promise that it makes this process so much easier. But first, let’s talk a little more in-depth about all of the tools:

  • Detergent: Because, duh. And some good news — your regular liquid detergent will work just fine for almost everything (be careful with your delicates since normal detergent can easily break down their fibers — I recommend this laundry bar for those)! If you’re nervous about touching detergent, a friend swears by this Dr. Bronner’s, but any liquid Castile soap will clean you AND your clothes safely.
  • A bathtub, a sink, or a container: I used my tub, but you can also make this work with a large plastic storage box, a bucket, or a (clean) garbage can. 
  • The plunger: I learned from trial and error that this is really a lot easier if you have what I now know is referred to as “an agitator.” Details below.
  • Bonus items: Vinegar, tea tree oil, spot treatments, or specialty detergent for delicates like this crowd favorite are great additions for “those extra attention jobs.”

EASY PEASY. You probably have most of these things in your home, and if not, they’re super affordable. (Cheaper than all the quarters I haul around the laundromat every week, at least.) I was able to safely pick up liquid detergent and a new plunger at my local Walgreens. If you want to get really fancy, you can buy something like this instead of a regular plunger, but come on…look at it. It’s basically the same thing.

INSTRUCTION TIME

  1. Place the plunger: Plop that plunger right into the middle of your tub and make sure it’s sealed tight to the surface. 
  2. Add in clothes: Place anything you’re ready to launder in the tub. Some people choose to run the water first, but I found that you can waste less water by just dumping your laundry basket in first.
  3. Pour in your detergent: You can use the same amount as you would normally — and fill with water till everything is submerged. Using cold or lukewarm water is fine as you’re about to let your clothes soak in this for a bit to loosen up the dirt.  
  4. Let them soak: You know how sometimes you’re just not in the mood to do dishes, so you just let them soak? That’s ACTUALLY relevant here. Take a break and do something else — you can let them rest for as few as 10 minutes and for as long as 2 hours, depending on soiling — and then come back for your workout. 
  5. Put the plunger to work: “Finally, it’s plunger time,” said no one ever…until today. You know how your washing machine tosses your clothes around? Start pushing on your plunger and it will agitate the water in your tub in the same way. Sure you can avoid the plunger and just swish everything around with your hands, but here’s the truth, I tried that and it made me miserable. Larger items are heavy when they’re soaked, I have a bad back, and I’m not particularly interested in leaning over a tub and getting water all over myself and the floor. Just plunge it. Channel your inner colonial woman churning butter and go to town for 5-10 minutes. (You know yourself and how dirty your clothes are. If they’re lightly soiled, you can just swirl them around. If they’re gross, throw in a teaspoon of tea tree oil (natural way to prevent fungal and bacterial infections), then pop on a podcast and try to make it 10 minutes with plunging. Feel the bicep burn. I believe in you!)
  6. Time to scrub: Once you’re done, you can hand-scrub any extra dirty or stained areas with a bit of soap. Hit those hot spots real quick!
  7. Drain the water: If you’re using a tub, drain it. If you’re using a plastic storage bin or trash can, you can dump the excess water down the shower drain.  
  8. Rinse it all out: Now, onto the easiest part: rinsing. Pick your preferred water temperature and location (the tub? A shower? The sink? A hose outside? The world isn’t your oyster at the moment, but the water sources in your home sure are!) so go to town. You’ll actually be able to feel when the items are detergent- or soap-free (who knew?!). 
  9. The end: YOU’VE DONE IT YOURSELF. Your clothes are clean. Congratulations! It’s time for phase 2.
Hot Tip

If you choose to use something skin-safe like Castille soap, you can replace a plunger or agitator with your children's (clean) stomping feet. They'll have fun stepping on clothes in the tub and shockingly, they'll get them cleaner, faster. A win-win!

Air Drying

photo by tessa neustadt |from: how our new laundry room came together

Okay. All your clothes are SPARKLING. But that’s because they’re still soaked — you’re just looking at water droplets, you silly goose. You’re going to need to wring everything out, which is admittedly the least fun part of the process. Wringing out underwear? Easy. Wringing out sweatpants? Not my favorite hobby. You can skip this, but everything will take WAY longer to dry.

Once you’re finished with the wringing, you can finally start hanging your laundry out to dry (or laying it out flat, if it’s something like a sweater). I sped up the process a bit by rolling my heaviest pieces in a clean towel, which absorbed some extra water before putting them out on a drying rack. (Where’s the Shamwow when I need it? Do you remember those commercials, too?)

Another confession: I’m a recent drying rack convert. The first time I tried washing laundry at home, I just laid things out over my shower rod (effective), over chairs (kind of effective) and over open doors (not effective AND not recommended). Drying racks store almost flat and promote airflow. Just invest in one — even a cheap one, like I did — and save yourself the headache. I’m lazy and I’m telling you that it’s worth it, so you know that means something. Jess, who is a hardcore air dryer (like 80% of her wardrobe), also very much agrees and loves hers.

Now, if you’re in a pinch — like, for example, if you opened your underwear drawer and saw that you only had your FANCY and uncomfortable underwear left, and you really wanna speed up the drying process of your newly-cleaned comfy pair — you can hit your lighter-weight items with a blow dryer. T-shirts, tanks, and undergarments are fair game. I know it sounds nuts but I have done it and it works. For anything else, set up your drying rack near a fan or heater to promote air circulation.

And if you’re washing sheets (guilty as charged), it’s worth looking into something like a hotel-style clothesline. I “installed” (read: somehow got it to stay up) something similar on my balcony, but that one’s only $15 bucks and seems like it’d save a lot of hassle. (If anyone has any additional tips on hanging sheets for those of us without outdoor drying spaces, I’d love to hear them!) Here are some of our favorite current indoor options:

1. Real Simple Adjustable Drying Rack | 2. Bamboo Wooden Clothes Rack | 3. Gold Retractable Clothesline | 4. Trenton Laundry Drying Rack | 5. Wall Mounted Unfinished Drying Rack | 6. Folding Drying Rack | 7. Silver Retractable Clothesline | 8.  Folding Sweater Drying Rack | 9. Hanging Laundry Drying Rack

And Some Hacks for Everyone (YAY)

photo by tessa neustadt |from: laundry closet makeover

You didn’t think I’d leave my in-home washer/dryer owners out of this, did you? Let’s close strong with a few pro tips to get the most out of laundry day, whether you’re rockin’ it by hand or running loads through a machine.

  • Vinegar: A half-cup of distilled white vinegar can boost softness AND brightness while destroying lingering odors. (Perfect for things like sheets or workout apparel!)
  • Chalk: Chalk can absorb grease stains. Just regular old .79 cent chalk, you guys. It’s super-absorbent, so grab some to keep on hand for kitchen spills (or if you’re just a messy eater, like me).
  • Shaving Cream: If you’re out of stain remover, try blotting some shaving cream on the affected area instead. (Transparently, I didn’t think this would work…until it did.)
  • Baby Shampoo: Baby shampoo can help remove sweat stains. Let it soak in for a half-hour before washing. I don’t know WHY this works — or who figured it out — but it can help extend the life of those white shirts. Pit stains be gone!
  • Shoe Drying Hack: If you need to throw shoes in the dryer but HATE the banging sound they make, shut the laces in the door — they’ll stay stationary AND get dry. (I learned this from experience because I’m a disgusting person who wears my Nike Flyknits barefoot, so I gotta wash them.)
  • Laundry Balls: This is a personal suggestion and not a hack, but I got these laundry balls from Food 52 a few months ago and I LOVE THEM. If you’re lucky enough to have a dryer, these made my towels SO FLUFFY, made the drying process faster (they actually saved me money, y’all), and I dabbed some beautifully scented essential oil on them to replace dryer sheets altogether. They’re incredible and the earth will thank you.

As it turns out though, I’m not alone: Em actually said that she’s also now racking up piles of laundry at unprecedented rates (HOW? Oh right, kids). Anyway, she was thinking that getting a pretty basket (instead of her plastic one) sounded like a easy way to make her wash and fold process a little more enjoyable. Em’s aware that sounds kinda crazy (especially now) but hey, we are a design people working for a design blog. It’s these little things that make us happy 🙂 I mean, if not here, where?! Let’s introduce our favorites if you’re also in the market…

1. Cotton Twill Laundry Bag | 2. Medium Mobile Canvas Bin | 3, Slim Rolling Hamper with Wheels | 4. Grey Laundry Basket Set | 5. X-Frame Collapsible Double Hamper| 6. Round Weave Laundry Baskets | 7. Seagrass Hamper | 8. Snap & Separate Laundry Bags | 9. Pom Pom Canvas Hamper| 10. Tosca Laundry Baskets | 11. White Ash Baskets | 12. Foldable Laundry Basket

I think that’s it for me today. Do y’all have any other tips or hacks to share? Do you have a laundry system that you LOVE, or are you still figuring it out? Do you want to talk about how you’re super lucky to live really close to a laundromat, but that it’s also kind of a curse in that now you have to carry 40 pounds of laundry for a block instead of driving it to somewhere further away? (Spoiler alert: that’s what I want to talk about.) LET’S CHAT.

Fin Mark

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Such good ideas! Thank you so much!

Rachelle Seguin

You can also buy a heated drying rack. In the London my flatmate had one which comes in super handy for sheets! (I’m Canadian.. and I don’t understand why dryers aren’t a thing there… most places have the washer in a rented space, but no dryers, it’s like collective denialism on the weather situation… which, although fascinating… cumbersome when one only has one set of sheets). It doesn’t get super hot, but does speed up the process, and is the same size as another kind of rack.

I learned SO MUCH from this post. Caitlin you are a national treasure!!

Leigh

Drill holes in the basic hardware store plunger and it moves more easily in the water and can’t be misused for something gross.

o SO smart!

Nichole

My only additional thought is to use the dryer on the highest heat possible on clothes you wear out into our new virus world ☹️. Obviously, if you have no dryer, you do what you can. Sunlight? Because doing your laundry at home is still better than exposing yourself and all your clothes to a laundromat.

Molly

Have used Peroxide when machine washing clothes for over 5 years. White cotton undies, white socks, sheets, towels, etc. get whiter and are sanitized. Use on colors as well; never had a fading problem yet.

Don’t have any experience of washing nylon/poly/rubberized/stretchy lingerie/sports clothes with it. Not saying it isn’t perfectly fine, just not brave enough to test my pricey bras.

Major cleanser I use in kitchen, bathroom, door handles–everywhere. Don’t use on granite or it will eventually pit. Google to check what you can/can’t and combine it with to avoid slightly harmful fumes. Wear gloves to avoid skin contact as it will eventually give you a rash. Other than that, it’s harmless, safe stuff.

Definitely am now adding Peroxide when washing clothes I wear out. 1/2 cup per half load, 1 cup per full load is what I am reading on leading medical sites to fight covid.

Michelle

Actually there are a number of articles about how soap, not heat or even bleach, is most effective against the coronavirus. https://www.realclearscience.com/video/2020/03/19/how_soap_destroys_the_coronavirus.html

That said, sunlight is a more potent disinfectant than heat alone, because UV rays. It also fades colors and both are harsh on natural fibers. So for sure, sun your feather duvet and pillows twice a year (I do spring and fall), but air dry most other things in the shade. They will last longer.

If you do need to sanitize, I’d rely on hot water in the wash cycle, where it can combine with soap, vinegar or bleach or whatever. Hot air drying is mostly just for convenience; not effectiveness. Although is there anything better than pulling on a hot sweatshirt in winter?

Amazing post!!! I admire the super efficient technique of handwashing big batches of clothes.

I airdry my sheets (along with everything else) at home, just fold in half and stretch over the drying rack or hang them on the bathtub curtain rod. I guess fold in half is the crucial tip 🙂

Oh, forgot to mention… For the more adventurous, airdrying sheets at home is also possible by hanging them up by the corners on curtain rods all over the apartment! You just need a long stick and some manouvering skills. This works especially well for fitted sheets as the elastic kind of hooks around the rods naturally. As a bonus, it filters light out so perfect for the bedroom, after the sheets are dry you don’t really want to take them down?

Brooke

I just drilled hooks into my walls and on laudry day if it’s raining outside I hang my line inside on the hooks instead. It’s made for a very fun background for a couple of zoom conference calls

Love it!

Brooke

I’ve been doing this for a couple weeks and have actually grown to really enjoy the process – well mostly I just enjoy hanging all of my white dish towels on the clothes line while a soft breeze blows through the air. For a few minutes I pretend I’m Laura Ingalls Wilder haha.

Tip – I’m using a 5 gallon bucket but today decided I’m gonna make a small adjustment to make my life easier. Planning on saving a couple of corks and drilling some drain holes in the bottom. Think it’ll make the draining/rinsing process a little bit faster and less cumbersome than dumping the bucket out!

Katerina

Hi Caitlin:

Great article! Since you washed your clothes in the tub, I’m just wondering if you were worried about the bathtub cleaner you use bleaching your clothes. I would wash my tub before washing my clothes, so that would be of concern to me.

Sara

Caitlin, hilarious AND helpful. Bravo!

Also if kids can walk on clothes to speed up cleaning, why not you? Sounds kind of fun!

Also, Nike fkyknitter here and I haven’t figured out *how* to wear socks underneath. Need to wash as they’re starting to offend! Our washer/dryer is in the kitchen so the shoelace tip is gold for me. Thanks!

Deb

You can use a salad spinner to remove water from lingerie, sweaters, blouses etc. Not big enough for pants though. I save the water and water my outdoor plants with it.

My house is small without a laundry room. I waste quite much money on laundry shops, and now it’s currently closed due to COVID break out. I think I should get my wife to read this.

Kim

I also like wearing my tennis shoes without socks. I use sesame seed oil (not the toasted oil used in cooking) on my feet. It moisturizes and it is naturally antimicrobial. I actually use it on my whole body. An Ayurveda practitioner turned me on to it.

Rachel

Air dry all the way, especially your clothes (it’s a bit hard with sheets and towels if you don’t have access to an outdoor area). It makes them last so much longer and they don’t pill. And use cold water too – spaces money and great for the planet. Plus if you have kids hanging out and bringing in the laundry is a super easy job they can do!

Sarah

Agree! I have a house with washer/dryer hookup in the garage, and instead of buying a dryer I got a selection of wall-mount clothes racks from Ikea (including a hanging curtain rod for hanging shirts) and put those in up the dryer spot. I have never missed having a dryer!

Rusty

Oh. My. Goodness! You threw me back to my poor uni student days when I didn’t have the money for a laundromat and had to wash everything, including sheets, by hand. I collected pine cones to burn in the fireplace for warmth in winter (those suckers are dangerous… they explode sometimes – my boyfriend at the time made me a widescreen or … there would’ve been a fire for sure!). My neighbours at the time were caravaners and once they realized I had to handwash, they gave me their old agitator that moves the clothes around with little grabby-bits. You push down and it spins one way…as it comes back up, the spin is reversed … back and forth swooshing, just like a washing machine. Note: I was only allowed to have the agitator as long as I promised to use their washing machine for my sheets, towels and jeans (those are all SO hard to wring out by hand!). Obviously, these people were angels!!! They bought my graduation dress for me, too! *grateful tears*. As far as drying goes … please, PLEASE, people dry your things outside whenever and wherever you can, because … one planet … global warming… Read more »

Rusty

*fire screen, not widescreen.

❤️ For the neighbours and ❤️ for the call to airdry

Rachel

I don’t have much personal experience with hand-washing, but read lots of old-timey novels, so I’m sharing in case anyone finds it helpful:
-women used to iron sheets and flat woven things to help speed up the drying process
-a hand-wringer is super helpful. There are new ones being sold online but I would try Etsy first for a vintage one, because they’re cheaper and look better.
You’re amazing, Caitlin!

Taryn

You can get one of those janitor buckets with the part at the top for squeezing out the mop. Plunge in the bucket part (drill holes in the plunger if possible, as suggested above) dump out the soapy water, do a rinse cycle, and then squeeze out the wet clothes in the squeezey part before hanging them to dry. This will really save your hands from all the wringing!

Roberta Davis

Who knew? Very good tips! I remember when I was really little, my grandmother had an old-fashioned laundry tub- looked like a short metal barrel on legs, and built in above it was a wringer! Crank the clothes through it and the water goes down into the tub. And clothes lines both in the basement and outside because, no drier. Crazy times we are in now! Maybe this is why all people were naturally slim back in the day. Hours and hours of swishing, wringing, hanging and taking down clothes. And then ironing them all.

crcr

Don’t use Castile soap (Bronner’s or otherwise) if you have hard water. It will leave a film on your clothes and sludge in your pipes.

Bronner’s Sal Suds is fine (detergent, not soap).

Liz

This is the article we need right now. I read a New York Times article on how to do laundry in a communal laundry room and decided I’m not messing around with that. Thanks for the instructions!

Suzanne

This is so creative! I needed this back in my 20s and living in a studio without laundry access. Despite having a washer and dryer now, I air dry a lot, inside. I use the IKEA Frost drying rack, which is really spacious. I’ve had success with drying sheets on it. I just need to flip and shift them periodically, and keep the fan running in the room (I have a ventilation fan like in many bathrooms). I also love all The Laundress products. The mention of Shamwow made me laugh, because my husband actually bought a set, and they turned out to be a complete waste! Except I did finally use one as a stiff lining fabric in a costume I made for my daughter. So maybe not a complete waste. Anyway, stick to rolling items in a towel to soak up excess moisture, especially important for delicates that you can’t wring out. Also, I haven’t tried it, but I heard of using a salad spinner for delicates to get moisture out. Probably works for tank tops and a tee or two.

T.L.

I absolutely recommend a spin dryer. I have an older model from Laundry Alternative (purchased on Amazon several years ago) and it’s been a real labor & mess saver when I have to hand-wash. Panda is another brand that sells spin-dryers on Amazon and the reviews are good.

I don’t have a washer hookup in my apartment and have a portable washing machine and I’m positively evangelical about it. It’s efficient and pretty quiet (never had a downstairs neighbor complaint about the noise), and I roll it away into a closet when I’m done. I really can’t recommend getting one enough if you’re fortunate enough to be able to afford it.

Jenms

This was an awesome post! Thanks for the detailed instructions!

Rachel S

I started using Eucalan to hand-wash our sweaters (I decided when I had my baby 8 months ago that going to the dry cleaners = no, but I’m not gonna stop wearing my cashmere sweaters).

Anywho, Eucalan is incredible, it smells awesome and YOU DON’T HAVE TO RINSE. I found that rinsing was my least favorite part of hand washing stuff. It seems like things wouldn’t get clean, but they totally do. It has lanolin in it so it conditions the fibers. I’m a believer.

Oh and the thing where you roll your item up in a clean towel is THE KEY to hand washing. I roll it up, then fold the tube in thirds, then stand on it.

Sophia

This is one of my new favorite articles, ever. Thank you!

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