House & Home

Hand Launder the Efficient, Eco-Friendly Way

Posted October 25, 2014

Hand washing is the laundry method of choice for most delicate clothing fabrics. (Check labels and manufacturer's directions first for care recommendations, of course). It's also ideal when you have only a few garments to clean or you find yourself without a washing machine. What's the best way to do it? And how can you make the process as environmentally friendly as possible?


Just a little detergent is all you need; don't overdo the amount or it will be difficult to rinse out. Dissolve the soap in the wash water before adding clothes. For a garment that is spotted with grease or other types of food residue, rub a drop of liquid detergent into the stain. If you are kind to the earth and choose an eco-friendly brand of laundry soap -- or make your own -- you'll be able to sprinkle the garden or moisten the compost heap with your used wash and rinse water (known as "graywater").


Vinegar is a wonderful natural cleaning product which offers the extra advantage of a very low price tag. You may add vinegar to your hand wash mix to do a whole host of things: boost cleaning power, brighten your whites, neutralize perspiration odor, and soften clothing. Measure one-half cup per gallon of water. Do not use this acidic liquid to water your plants when the laundry's done, however, although you can freshen your toilet with it.

To set the dye in new garments made of cotton or viscose (rayon), put them in a basin, pour over cool water and vinegar in a 50:50 ratio to completely cover, and soak for a few hours. You can treat several pieces of clothing at one time, but only if they are similar colors. Some of the dye will tend to bleed during this process and it would be a shame to accidentally turn your new pale yellow shirt a lurid shade of swamp green. Rinse well if you don't want to smell like a pickle factory. NOTE: This works only on clothes that have not yet been laundered. And never soak natural linen or linen-blend fabric in vinegar, as it can damage the fibers.


A double sink is great for hand laundering. Make sure that it is free of oil or other residue. Fill both sides with cool to warm water -- one for the wash and the other for the rinse. If you don't have this type of sink, use two basins instead. This latter method is actually more convenient when you plan to use the "graywater" on your plants. In fact, some forward-thinking companies are now manufacturing sink inserts that can be removed to facilitate emptying them outdoors. Be aware, though, that some localities do not permit the reuse of graywater. Even if it is allowed, you are advised not to pour graywater directly onto fruits and vegetables or other parts of the plants that will be eaten.

The same sinkful of soapy water can be used for several loads of laundry. Start with whites and work your way up the color scale to the darkest darks.

Special Care

Always close garments' zippers or hooks before washing by hand or machine, to prevent snags.

Wool and silk should be handled with TLC; avoid hot water and rough handling or wringing. Instead, rub delicately and squeeze gently in a towel to dry. To keep a wool garment's shape, dry flat or put on a padded hanger only. Silk should be air dried away from direct sun. If silk clothing becomes "crispy" feeling after repeated washing, mix a bit of natural hair conditioner into its rinse water.

Other fabrics may be hung on your shower rail, covered with a towel, to drip dry. Alternatively, if you live in a place like southern California, land of perpetual sunshine, you can peg them to a clothesline strung on your San Diego fence.

Laura Firszt writes for

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