Fight the Power: Hand-Washing Activism

Kimberly Delaney by Kimberly Delaney | September 23rd, 2008 | No Comments
topic: Green Living

My latest conspiracy theory is that clothing companies stick the “Dry Clean Only” label on clothes because they think we’re all a little dim when it comes to doing the laundry. The label might more honestly read “Dry Clean Only Unless You Really Know How to Hand Wash.” But that label would have to be triple in size and, thus, itchiness.

Still, many items bearing the “Dry Clean Only” label can be effectively hand washed — if you know what you’re doing.

What to hand wash

Before you dunk your gazillion-dollar Barney’s power suit in a bucket of water, it’s important to know what can and what should never be hand washed. Unlined cotton, silk, linen, wool, and even cashmere items that are not embroidered can all be hand washed effectively. However, hand washing is not a great option for Angora sweaters or embroidered, lined and tailored clothing.

How to hand wash

The basics of hand washing are easy. Fill your sink or tub with cool water and enough non-toxic dishwashing or castile soap to produce suds across the entire surface.

1. Wash your garment by swirling it around in the sudsy water

2. Let it soak for 10 minutes

3. Rinse. As you remove the item, squeeze out the excess water but avoid ringing it out

4. Arrange your garment on top of a clean, dry, neutral colored towel

5. Gently roll up the garment in the towel and press down to squeeze the water out. Again, don’t ring it out. Just gently press down.

6. Repeat with a dry towel if necessary.

7. Lay the garment out on another dry towel to air dry. Flip as needed

Wool and Silk

Wool sweaters are prime candidates for hand washing, but one wrong move and you’ve got the “shrunken” look, even though you paid for full size. To avoid that dreaded fate, use cold water for both the wash and rinse. Rather than rolling up the sweater in a towel, simply arrange the sweater flat between two towels and press the water out.

With colored silk, it’s important to test an inside seam for color fastness by wetting it and then dabbing it with a white towel. Use slightly warm water for both the wash and rinse. Add ¼-cup vinegar to your first rinse water to get rid of any residue from the soap. Then rinse with clear water. Gently shake the water out and hang your item on a padded hanger to dry.

Hand washing is not rocket science, but it’s important to do it right or you risk having a wardrobe of floodwaters and giveaways. In the future, avoid buying items with the “Dry Clean Only” label unless you’re sure you can and want to hand wash them.

Kimberly Delaney is the author of Clean Home, Green Home: The Complete Illustrated Guide to Eco-Friendly Homekeeping, forthcoming this fall from the Knack imprint of Globe Pequot Press.


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