Personal Project is a week about hobbies and digging into our hidden talents.
I started hand-washing my clothes for what I imagine is the same reason people have always done it: practicality. My New York apartment, like many, does not have a washer or dryer. On top of that, in my early 20s, I developed the ill-advised habit of buying silk and cashmere, only to discover that dry cleaning is expensive. Worse, it’s a hassle, one more thing to remember to deal with — drop off and pick up in an endless, plastic-covered cycle. It was easier to devote an afternoon to washing my sweaters in the sink.
I learned to hand-wash from my mother. Growing up, my sister and I both did ballet, which meant there was always at least one pair of tights soaking in the sink in my parents’ bathroom. When I went away to dance camp in middle school, the other girls and I washed our leotards with Woolite in the dorm room bathrooms. Hanging my pink tights to dry in the shower made me feel both resourceful and grown up — like I was taking care of things.
As far as domestic chores go, hand-washing your clothes is one of the more enjoyable. It provides the same sense of satisfaction as any household cleaning, but there’s no heavy scrubbing or toxic-smelling chemicals, no clanging pans or slopping sponges. Unlike dish-washing, hand-washing produces just the soft ripple of water as you massage the fabric, gently swirling it around. As with cooking, it’s the kind of task that feels so fundamental to human existence that it prompts you to reflect on how long people have been doing it.
And despite the labor that its name implies, hand-washing is actually very easy now that you can buy no-rinse detergents. I recently discovered Soak, which evaporates off your clothes while they’re drying (and, amazingly, doesn’t leave them feeling stiff or crinkly), eliminating the most tedious step. You simply submerge your clothes in cold or lukewarm water and circle them around with a little detergent, massaging the spots where odors tend to accumulate. Then, leave them to soak for 15 minutes, squeeze them out (never wring!), and hang them to dry.
I should clarify that I would not recommend hand-washing all of your laundry. In my experience, it works best if you only need to wash a couple things at a time. But, right now, as many of us are trying to limit the times we leave our house, hand-washing a few of your essentials can help you go a little longer between trips to the laundromat. Personally, I like hand-washing as a Sunday afternoon activity. Lying a few sweaters out to dry leaves you with a satisfying sense of accomplishment, and having clean clothes is always a good way to start the week, whether or not you plan on leaving the house.