How to wash your clothes without a washing machine

Living in an appliance-free zone? Wondering what to do with your pile of smelly clothes? Skip the laundromat and try this instead.

Clothes pins hanging on a laundry line. Photo: iOnix

It’s almost guaranteed that at some point in your life, you’ll be stranded with a hamper full of dirty clothes and no available washing machine to use. Whether the machines are broken or just occupied, it’s not a nice feeling. But fear not: you have options! Keep reading if you’re currently mid-breakdown and sitting on a throne of smelly T-shirts.


1. Separate your clothes. How detailed you get depends on how much you care about your clothes, but at minimum, you should separate your lights from darks to prevent the dyes from bleeding and leaving stains.

2. Add a capful of laundry detergent into a tub full of water of your desired temperature. A bathtub would be best because it’s easier to drain, but a large plastic container could also work. Make sure not to add more detergent than necessary because it will take more rinses (and thus more time) to get your clothes clean.

3. Fully submerge your clothes under the water and push them in a circular motion for a minute, every 10 minutes, for up to 45 minutes. I recommend putting on a TV show to make the time go by faster and to act as a make-shift timer!

4. Drain the dirty water and squeeze out your clothes before filling the tub once more with cold water. Repeat the circular pushing motion for five minutes. Depending on how much detergent was used, you may need to repeat this process a few times.

5. Drain the water and squeeze your clothes out as best you can. The more water you get out now, the faster they will dry.

6. If you have access to a dryer, dry as normal. If you don’t, use a rack (or any space available) to hang your clothes up to air-dry. Spread your clothes so that they aren’t touching to speed up the drying process.

7. If you're washing your delicates, follow the same steps but use cold water and a detergent made for delicates (which stops the material from breaking down). Soak your clothes for less time (between 10 and 30 minutes) and avoid swirling them.


Bonus tips:

  • If you don't have access to a dryer, don’t wash clothes that you'll want to wear in the next day or two as they may not be dry in time! In the worst-case scenario, opt for spraying them with an air freshener (this is a no shame zone, we’ve all been there).
  • Always check the tags for more specific wash instructions such as temperature and delicacy. Items that require more attention include items made from wool, cashmere, silk, or items such as lingerie or sweaters that are prone to pulling.
  • Don’t wring your clothes like you would a dish cloth—you'll stretch them! Bunch them into a ball and squeeze them instead.