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Can 'hand wash only' clothes go in the washing machine?

Hand wash care label
Hand wash care label (Image credit: Shutterstock)

We often despair at the "hand wash only" labels when doing our laundry, seeing it as another inconvenience. This leaves us wondering whether "hand wash only" clothes go in the washing machine. After all, nobody really wants to submerge their hands in soapy water to scrub clothing. 

The good news is yes, "hand wash only" clothes can go in the washing machine, but with care. In fact, there are several rules for washing "hand wash only" clothes in the washing machine without ruining them. Simply follow these top tips to wash your delicate items with confidence. Plus, you'll save the money you'd otherwise spend on replacing any favorite outfits!

For more laundry tips, check out how to wash bras without breaking them and how to make white sheets brighter in 3 simple ways.

Why do you need to hand wash items? 

Handwashing clothes

Handwashing clothes (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Although the idea of hand washing seems outdated, it’s a more kinder wash for garments that easily stretch, snag and lose their shape. In addition, hand washing doesn’t involve hot water temperatures or the high spin cycle you'd get from a washing machine. Both factors could potentially shrink or ruin the fabric. 

In fact, anything made with lycra or elastic is at high risk of getting ruined in hot temperatures, so it’s always best to read the care labels. Types of clothing that must be hand washed include, hand knit items, beaded or sequined clothing, ties and clothing with lace embellishments.

Tips for washing ‘hand wash only’ items in the washing machine 

Changing cycle setting

Changing cycle setting (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Delicate wash cycle: In most cases, you can put "hand wash" items on a "hand wash" or "delicates" cycle in the washing machine. A delicate wash cycle is the washing machine equivalent to handwashing. 

These settings use cold water with low agitation or slow spin and is the shortest and most gentle cleaning cycle. You can use this cycle to wash silk garments, wool garments, synthetic garments (workout or activewear), and certain garments with embroidery or sequins.

Use a different detergent from your other laundry: Be sure to use a different laundry detergent than you would for other clothing. Find a specific detergent made for delicates which will be gentler on the fabric, and won’t fade the colors. 

Mesh laundry bag

Mesh laundry bag (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Put hand wash items in mesh laundry bags:  If you want added protection, place hand wash items inside mesh laundry bags like these Plusmart Mesh Laundry Bags with Drawstring ($12, Amazon (opens in new tab)). These will protect delicates from getting snagged by the other clothes in the washing machine, and help keep their shape.

Always hang dry hand wash clothes: Never put delicate items in the dryer as the heat will damage the fabric. Hanging up to air dry is the safest way to dry "hand wash only" items and will help you hold onto those pieces of clothing for longer. What’s more, you don’t want your favorite sweater to shrink to the size of a toddler!

In any case, if you still don’t want to risk putting your "hand wash only" items in the washing machine, your best bet is to hand wash in soapy water. It may take a little more time (and elbow grease!), but at least nothing should go wrong. With anything though, always follow the care instructions label on your garments.  

Laundry Drying

Laundry Drying (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Tips for washing hand wash items by hand 

Handwashing clothes in basin

Handwashing clothes in basin (Image credit: Shutterstock)
  • Stick to a mild detergent or a specific type for washing delicates. Stir in a  clean sink or large basin of water. 
  • Ideally, use lukewarm or room temperature water, instead of cold water. 
  • Don’t submerge a large pile of hand wash clothing in the water at once. It’s best to wash items a few at a time.  
  • Move items around in the water for about five minutes to allow the soapy water to soak and flow through them. You can gently scrub items for any dirt to loosen. 
  • Change the water after a couple of loads before rinsing thoroughly under the tap to remove soapy residue. Rinse until the water is clear.  
  • Gently squeeze water out without wringing the item. Wringing the water out may cause damage to the material. Instead, lay the items out on a dry towel, roll it up to absorb most of the water and then hang to dry.  

It’s also important to know how to clean a washing machine for top performance, or else you may notice your washing machine shaking violently as it tries to spin as well. If you fancy an upgrade, check out the best washing machines  right now, and decide whether you’ll need a front load or top load machine to suit your needs.  

Cynthia Lawrence specialises in Homes ecommerce, covering all things homes and garden-related. She has a wealth of editorial experience testing the latest, ‘must-have’ home appliances, writing buying guides and the handy ‘how to’ features. 


Her work has been published in various titles including, T3, Top Ten Reviews, Ideal Home, Real Homes, Livingetc. and House Beautiful, amongst many.


With a rather unhealthy obsession for all things homes and interiors, she also has an interior design blog for style inspiration and savvy storage solutions (get rid of that clutter!). When she’s not testing cool products, she’ll be searching online for more decor ideas to spruce up her family home or looking for a great bargain!