Why I started Hand Washing My Clothes

By, Ashlie Morrison

Sometime last year, I was wandering around Water Street with one of my friends. We weaved through the antique shops and The Grazery, stopping at the top of the hill at Salix Intimates. Salix is a lingerie store, but they also have tons of sustainable lifestyle products like cloth paper towels and deodorant that comes in paper tubes to reduce the amount of plastic. My friend stopped in front of a table with small bottles labelled “Soak” and picked one up. They smelled it through their mask and I asked what they were doing.

They told me something along the lines of “It’s for washing your clothes by hand. You just soak them. You don’t need to rinse them or anything.” So, I read the back of the bottle. The directions said one teaspoon of this stuff per gallon and you soak your clothes for at least 15 minutes. You didn’t need to scrub, just soak. When I had imagined hand washing clothes before, I pictured someone with a washboard by a river. I definitely didn’t picture something so simple. I started smelling bottles as well and decided the “fig”scent smelled best. I didn’t buy any then but it stuck with me.

This year, I’m living off-campus for the first time without a washer and dryer. Laundry is more expensive than I thought and I hate lugging my dirty clothes around, not to mention, clothing waste contributes significantly to landfills and fashion cycles are getting faster. Even donating clothes has its own pitfalls because a majority of those clothes end up being sold as rags and shipped overseas rather than finding a new home in someone else’s closet. A combination of curiosity and guilt got to me, and last month I went out and bought a travel-size version of the “Soak” detergent and a small wash basin and so it began.

I had never hand washed anything before. I know some clothing care tags called for it, but I had always been of the mindset of if it can’t go through the washing machine I’m simply not meant to own it. That’s not to say I didn’t put many “hand wash only” pieces of clothing in the washing machine; It is simply to say that clothes tend to be more sturdy than they claim. This way of thinking made me wonder if this soak only detergent could really clean anything. Don’t clothes need to be flung around with tons of suds and water to get clean? It can’t really be this easy right? Shockingly, it was that easy.

One sunny afternoon, I filled my basin with water and dirty clothes and plopped it down on the porch. I estimated how much about 4 teaspoons of the detergent would be and dumped that in. I swished around the clothes a bit, and was greeted with a few bubbles, but nothing like the suds hand soap or dish soap would create. Then I waited. I went inside. I made myself some tea. I sat down in my own home and waited. When my phone alarm went off I made my way back out to my clothes. They looked pretty much the same as how I’d left them, still soaking, barely a bubble in sight now. They were absolutely drenched in water as I pulled them out. I really had no clue how long it takes jeans and towels to dry or how much water they could hold– I was shocked. I rung out each piece over the bucket and over the grass, then rolled it in a towel to try and get most of the water out and hung them on my small drying rack and back porch. About a day later, everything was dry and smelled fresh. The next time I did it, I skipped the towel-drying step and it worked just as well. I was flabbergasted. It was so low-effort, so cost-effective, and even a nice chance to get outside for a part of the day. Needless to say I’m not going back, but I might reconsider if I ever get a washing machine.

If you're interested in hand washing your clothes, I would recommend “Soak” in whatever scent suits you best and a sturdy water basin that is meant to hold water. However, if you’re in a pinch a plastic tote works great. Happy washing!

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