Hand-washing clothes: As effective as a machine?

My plan for my upcoming trip to Europe is to pack extremely light and wash my clothes in the sink using Woolite soap packets. My question is, given a fair amount of elbow grease, will this get my clothes just as clean as a machine would? If not, why not?

I don’t plan to visibly soil anything, so I’m mostly just concerned about funk.

Who does?

That certain percentage of the male population that can’t avoid pit stains and skid marks. :eek: Luckily, I’m not among them.

A machine doesn’t wash clothes better, just faster. A lot faster.

:dubious: Depends. Have you ever washed clothes by hand? I have. You really have to beat them. Now this is all conjecture I admit. But I thought the rubbing action of the clothes in the laundry machine is what made the big deal.

When you wash clothes by hand, you have to scrub them furiously against themselves, or each other, to really get them clean. It’s why the ladies in India are always beating them against a rock. It’s hard work, and makes your back ache.

I won’t attempt to speak to the cleanliness of handwashed clothing, but would ask if you have ever used woolite before?

I hate the stuff with a passion because it takes forever to get the suds out of clothes. And I only ever added a fraction of a cap full to a sink full of water. Just something to think about.

My own experience with hand-washing in Europe is that it does just fine in getting the smells out of clothes. What it doesn’t do is get out ground-in dirt–to do that, you have to work really hard, as Anaamika described. The big problem comes if you don’t have an outside line to dry the clothes on. First, they will take a long time to dry. Second, they will be stiff as boards, even if you use a fabric softener.

What **Anaamika **said. Washing - really washing - by hand is very hard work. Now, most of the time you won’t need to really wash, you’ll just need to defunkify, and that’s not hard. For anything that’s washable, my recommendation is to throw it into the tub while you take a shower. Plug up the drain, stomp your feet, kick 'em around and rinse clean when you’re done. Squeeze out the excess water (but don’t wring the fabric, twisting is very hard on cloth fibers) and hang to dry. I don’t even bother with detergent - the shampoo and body wash rinsing off of me is enough to do the trick.

If you don’t have a tub in the shower, then yeah, a sink is the next best thing.

If you don’t have access to a basin at all, consider bringing a cheap bottle of vodka and a spray bottle. Hang the clothes and spray them with vodka until they are quite damp and then let them dry. The alcohol in the vodka kills the odor causing bacteria, and when it dries it’s odorless. This also works on clothes that are dry clean only. Old costume shop trick from college - dry cleaning solution was outside the budget.

Not anything that was very dirty, but yeah. I use a little regular detergent, put in a basin of cold water with the clothes, smoosh it around, and let it sit all day.

My clothes are hand washed here, not by me, but they never really feel clean and the women I pay to do it seem to be really working hard. When I put on a new shirt it stills smells a little funky from last time I wore it.

My advice is to find a laundromat where you travel. You can find nice ones in most European cities and they often have a service where they will do it in a short period while you head off to the pub/museum/cafe. As I recall I didn’t find it terribly expensive even when I was a grad school bum on break.

Forget “Woolite”, unless you’re doing wool, or delicate, material. Just use a detergent and maybe a powdered bleach, hot water (if appropriate) and leave the clothes to soak for at least half an hour. Then rub them against each other, or use a washboard (probably not practical if you’re traveling), especially the stained/soiled spots. Rinse well at least twice, wring out as much water as possible, and hang to dry. If you do a few pieces each day or two, it’s doable, if you try to do a weeks laundry at a time, you’re going to hate the process, better to find a laundry of some kind.
Your choice of clothing and the materials they’re made of is a big factor.

You know, most cities in Europe do have washing machines available. Either in laundromats, or many hotels either have machines or have a laundry service. Why not just use those?

Another thing is that the rough beating needed to get clothes clean when hand washing is really very hard on the clothes. If your trip is lengthy, you may find your clothes disintegrating before you get home.

God, this is so exciting. It’s so rare that someone needs help with something I know a lot about, but I am a hand washing expert.

  1. Handwashing really is harder on your clothes than machine washing. You’d think it would be the opposite, but it’s not.

  2. If you do decide to hand wash (depending on where you are in Europe and what kind of accomodations you’ll have, a washing machine may not be accessible), make sure you have a good way to hang dry beforehand.

  3. If you’re here in the boonies of Europe, you can probably get a washbasin at the store very cheaply.

  4. Similarly, I recommend just buying detergent as you travel. It’s cheap, and easier than carrying it around.

  5. If you spill something on your clothes, what you want to do, after you get the clothing item all wet and soapy, is hold the item with one hand on either side of the stain. Then rub the two sides together. Repeat until the stain is gone. A real serious stain may take a couple washings. Don’t think just because it didn’t come out immediately it’s permanent! It once took me three washings to get a little olive oil out of a t-shirt.

  6. If it really seems ground in, you might try an emery board. This will work, but it’s obviously not very good for the fabric.

  7. Definitely rinse your soapy stuff at least twice.

What kind of clothing are you thinking about washing?

A pair of underwear? No problem. Wash in the sink and dry over a chair back or a towel rack.
A pair of jeans or a heavy shirt? It’s going to require a big sink (which you may not have), a lot of work and a long time to dry (how long are you staying in one place?) For the bigger items, you might be better off looking for a laundrymat or checking where ever you are staying.

I once washed by hand for a couple of years. As long as I did a very long soak beforehand, the results were actually better than a machine. But yes it was hard work, and the results weren’t that much better to make me want to do it again if I can help it.

Thanks for the advice. I was thinking mostly of underwear, undershirts and socks, since even at home I tend to wear outerwear 2 or 3 times before washing. I was also thinking of buying some synthetic clothing that dries faster than cotton.

FTR, all major European cities (well all the ones I’ve been in) have easily accessible laudromats; having a washing machine at home is a lot less common than in the US and dryers are a real luxury. Don’t hostels sometimes have a machine you can use too?

When I did a 7 week backpacking trip, we handwashed for every day and on three occasions we used a local laudromat (in Arles, France, Prague, Czech Republic; and Budapest, Hungary). For an extended trip its nice to get your cothes clean clean every now any then. As already mention, handwashing mostly gets things “less dirty.” Other than the slight language barrier re: the machine instructions, it was easy.

It doesn’t matter, because if you stay at a hostel you’ll be carted off to a torture-porn facility and used as a plaything for a sadistic businessman to gut, burn, and murder LONG before you can wash your clothes. I saw a documentary by Eli Roth on the subject.

OTOH, should that happen to you, I’m sure you’ll wish you were wearing a pair of clean underwear. Not that it would necessarily stay that way for long, but sometimes first impressions go a long way.

Besides, your mother would be pleased.

Yep, yep, yep, couldn’t agree with you more. I just got two pairs of nylon cargo pants that zip off to shorts for about $20 each at Bass Pro Shops for our honeymoon travel. Plenty of pockets and can wash in a sink and dry overnight or sooner with a towel.