Which Fabrics Should You Hand Wash? (& how to do it)

When it comes to doing laundry, it’s convenient to throw everything into the washing machine, turn it on and forget it. This is great for many fabrics and items of clothing. However, there are certain clothes and fabrics that should never be put in a washing machine because to do so would cause them damage.

Those items will need to be hand washed which might sound slightly daunting. But as long as you follow this simple guide, you’ll find hand washing clothes is not that bad.

How Can You Tell That Clothes Need Hand Washing?

The best way to tell whether your clothes need to be hand washed or not is to check the wash care label. Check for a symbol that looks like a hand in a bucket. This is the universal symbol that represents that the item in question should be hand washed.

Which Fabrics Should Be Hand Washed?

woman holding knitted wool sweaters

There are a number of materials that should never be washed in a washing machine and should be hand washed. These include;

  • Wool 
  • Silk
  • Satin
  • Chiffon
  • Viscose
  • Lace

This is not an exhaustive list and there are other items that shouldn’t be machine washed. Which is why we recommend checking the wash care label before washing any clothes in the washing machine.

Other items like bras might not be made from materials likely to shrink, stretch, become misshapen or bleed colours, but machine washing bras is a surefire way to cause the underwire to poke through the fabric.

All delicate clothes that you’re not sure of will last longer and look better if they’re hand washed as opposed to machine washing.

Why Not Use The Delicate Cycle On The Washer?

Almost all washing machines have a delicate or a hand wash cycle but these delicate fabrics and garments can still shrink or lose their colour in the wash. 

The harsh rough and tumble action of the machine coupled with the abrasive action of the garments rubbing together can be too much for these delicate items.

Which is why you shouldn’t put “hand wash only” items in a delicate wash cycle.

Can All Clothes Be Hand Washed?


Most of us wash pretty much everything in the washing machine and this is understandable. It’s so much easier to throw all of the dirty laundry into the machine and forget about it until it is finished.

Hand washing is definitely more labour intensive but as there are many items that cannot be machine washed, it might start you wondering whether all clothes could be hand washed.

The answer is yes, most clothes can be hand washed, but there are some that cannot. As we said earlier, you should always consult the wash care label first.

If the care label says “Dry Clean Only” then it should not be hand washed or machine washed. If it says “Dry Clean” you could take a chance with hand washing but be prepared for the item to become damaged.

Apart from that, the majority of your laundry can be hand washed if necessary. Which can be good news if you only have a few items that need to be washed and not enough to justify using the washing machine.

How To Hand Wash Clothes

Back in the olden days all washing was done by hand and the latest laundry technology included a bucket and a washboard. Nowadays all you need is: a sink or bowl (or bath for large items), lukewarm water and detergent. In total this should only take you around 25 minutes.


  1. Sort your clothes
    Separate your laundry into piles by colour. Even though you’re hand washing the clothes, there’s still the potential for colours to run.
  2. Pretreat stains
    To ensure that stains are removed from your clothes, you should pre-treat them with a spot treatment. Washing up liquid works well for this. Simply dab washing up liquid into the stain then dab with a wet cloth.
  3. Fill the sink/bowl/bath with warm water
    The water should ideally be lukewarm as this is less likely to damage the fabric.
  4. Add detergent
    The detergent will have advice on how much is needed.  Agitate the water to ensure the detergent is mixed in thoroughly.
  5. Place the garments in the water
    Fully submerge the garments in the water and agitate to ensure the water penetrates all of the fabric.
  6. Gently rub the garments
    Take care not to twist or scrub the fabric just gently rub the items to ensure the water is absorbed fully.
  7. Allow to soak
    The best way to get the clothes clean is to soak them in the water for at least 10 to 15 minutes.
  8. Rinse the clothes
    Drain the water from the bowl and rinse the clothes using cold water. Continue rinsing until all of the detergent has been removed and the water runs clear.
  9. Remove the garments
    Take the garments out of the sink and gently squeeze without applying too much pressure. All you’re trying to do is remove most of the excess water.
  10. Dry the clothes
    After hand washing clothes it is best to air dry them either on a clothesline in the shade or indoors on an airer.

If you’re hand washing large items like jeans or a sweater, you will find it easier to use a bath. This will prevent water from spilling as you wash and rinse the garments.

What Detergent Should You Use To Hand Wash Clothes?

There are many hand wash detergents available nowadays some of the more popular include;

Stergene Gentle Care

Stergene Gentle Care for Handwash Delicates 500ml
  • Helps to keep your delicates looking like new
  • Helps to keep your delicates looking like new

This product is specifically designed for hand washing clothes. It is non-biological and gentle and comes in liquid form.

Persil Handwash Bio

No products found.

This product is made by Persil which is a well known detergent brand. This is a biological powder that gives great cleaning results.


Woolite for Delicates Hand and Machine Wash 12 Washes, 750ml
  • Renews fibre softness and volume
  • Helps prevent fabric shape loss and fuzz

This product is designed for hand washing and machine washing delicate clothes.

SEE ALSO: What Temperature Is Best To Wash Clothes At? (& when to use each)

Frequently Asked Questions

What fabrics need to be hand washed?

There are several fabrics that should only be hand washed which include; silk, lace, satin, viscose, chiffon and many woollen items. As well as lingerie and bras.

Is it OK to wash clothes with hand wash?

You should always check the wash care label before washing. Any clothes that can go in a washing machine, or those that say “hand wash only” can be hand washed. If the clothes say “dry clean only” they should not be hand washed.

Should cotton be hand washed?

Cotton is a fairly robust material and can be washed on many wash cycles. If the cotton item is delicate or has a lace trim, then it should be hand washed.

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