Whether your dry cleaner is closed or you just don’t want to schlep to the laundromat, doing your laundry at home is always an option — even if you don’t have a washer and dryer in your apartment or building. “When people think of handwashing, they often think it’s not going to get their clothes as clean,” explains laundry expert Patric Richardson, a.k.a. the Laundry Evangelist, who runs a laundry camp and offers how-to videos on his site. “But think about it: If you wash your hands for 20 seconds, they’re sterile. The same goes for your laundry,” he says. To find out exactly how to wash, dry, and iron your clothes at home, we asked Richardson and two other pros for their favorite products. Read on for the stain treatments, drying racks, and nice-smelling detergents they love.
Best products for washing clothes
According to Richardson, it’s easiest to wash your clothes in the kitchen sink, which is generally much roomier than the bathroom (just make sure you thoroughly clean it beforehand). He also says the most straightforward cleaning agent is one you probably already have on hand: foaming hand soap. “Never dish soap,” he cautions, because it’s generally quite acidic, which, while being effective for cutting through grease, could damage fabric. Richardson says he does not have a favorite hand soap brand, though he prefers unscented options.
“Laundry powder works great for machines, but liquid detergent is better for handwashing,” say Corinna and Theresa Williams, co-owner of Celsious, a modern laundry located in Williamsburg. They love Sonett’s lavender liquid detergent, “which smells lovely and is 100 percent biodegradable.”
Richardson is also a fan of the Laundress’s detergent, particularly its collaboration with fragrance house Le Labo. The detergents come in Le Labo’s cult favorite Santal 33 scent, as well as Rose 31. Richardson says that not only does it infuse your clothes with a “beautiful scent,” it also makes the chore of handwashing a little more luxe. He stresses that it’s important to thoroughly rinse out all soap and detergent, because any residue will make clothes sticky. Not only does that make it unpleasant to the touch, but it will also turn your clothes into dirt magnets. Richardson’s tried-and-true method: Fill the sink with clean water, swish the clothes around, drain the sink, and repeat. “Don’t wring or twist,” he warns.
[Editor’s note: On November 17, 2022, the Laundress issued a safety notice about all of its products, recommending that you “immediately stop using all The Laundress products in your possession. We have identified the potential presence of elevated levels of bacteria in some of our products that present a safety concern.” Its investigation is ongoing, so until we hear otherwise, we do not recommend that you purchase new products from the Laundress or continue to use the ones in your possession.]
If you’re worried about keeping your whites bright, all three of the experts we spoke to recommend staying away from harsh bleach. Richardson told us about this nontoxic, biodegradable, fragrance-free alternative to chlorine bleach that he says will give the same brightening and stain-removing results without the overpowering odor. You can add it to the sink water with your detergent before washing.
Best products for spot-treating stains
“Since you won’t have the benefit of machine agitation, it’s important to stain-treat before handwashing,” stresses Williams. Richardson suggests using one part water mixed with one part white vinegar in a spray bottle to saturate and soak the stain before washing. Marilee Nelson, a nontoxic consultant and co-founder of Branch Basics, agrees, saying that distilled vinegar “will always be a staple in her laundry room,” because it can also be used “for color-fasting new garments, extra deodorizing, and even fabric softening.”
While Richardson relies most heavily on his vinegar solution, he also likes the wash and stain bar from the Laundress, which was designed specifically for hand laundering. You can lather the bar up, vigorously rub it into an old or new stain, then proceed to wash and rinse it in the sink.
“To effectively rub in stain treatment products, use an old toothbrush,” advises Williams, who suggests this compostable bamboo option from Package Free Shop, a Brooklyn-based homestore devoted to zero waste.
Best product for cleaning sweaters
A sweater stone is great for “lifting superficial dirt from sweaters and wool jackets,” says Williams. They can also be used to remove pilling from sweaters, blankets, or furniture, she adds. “Plus, they last up to ten years!” which, for ten bucks, works out to roughly a dollar per sweater-weather season.
Best products for drying clothes
When it comes time to dry your clothes, Richardson told us that knit sweaters should be laid flat on a towel to dry. Other garments can be hung in the shower to drip dry. If you want to take it one step further, Nelson likes this drying rack. If possible, she suggests moving it outside on a sunny, non-windy day for the fastest dry. “Or, if drying indoors, place in a room with an exhaust vent,” like the bathroom or laundry room, to speed up the drying process.
Nelson also likes this versatile Container Store drying rack, which can be expanded to accommodate a large load of laundry, or kept compact to save space.
Best products for steaming and ironing clothes
If you don’t have a dryer, “you’re going to want to hit your clothes with a little bit of steam” to remove wrinkles, says Richardson. He loves this portable, handheld option from Rowenta, which is also a favorite of writer and stylist Shannon Adducci. “Unlike wimpy versions that puff more than steam, the X-Cel sports a wide, stainless-steel head that blasts powerful bursts of hot mist,” she writes. “I’ve used it on everything from suits and silks for destination weddings to slipcovers and sheets at home — I’ve even broken it out to give jeans a little polish.” According to Nelson, you can also fill the steamer with half water and half inexpensive, high-proof vodka which will “remove allergens, body odor, and even smoke and perfume picked up on clothes.”
And if you prefer a traditional iron, Nelson’s favorite is this one from Black and Decker, which has an automatic shutoff, temperature controls, and a nonstick soleplate that glides smoothly over clothes.
Best fragrance spray for clothes
To add a dose of subtle scent, Williams suggests spritzing this lavender essential oil spray onto bed linens or clothes that are drying or fully dry. “The spray can also be used to reduce wrinkles,” she says. The product is also Leaping Bunny certified, which means it’s cruelty-free.
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