So, the Laundromat's Closed—Here’s How to Hand Wash Clothes in Your Small Apartment

If you're stuck at home without a washer and dryer, worry not.

March 31, 2020
Photo by Julia Gartland

Now more than ever, home is where many of us are seeking refuge and solace in light of the novel coronavirus. This is a tough time, but we’re here for you—whether it’s a new pantry recipe or a useful tip for your kitchen, here are some ideas to make things run a little more smoothly for you and your loved ones.

I live in New York City, where having a washing machine in your apartment building outweighs many other standard living space must-haves. Windows? Who needs ‘em? Heat? I’ll get an electric blanket. And apartments with laundry in-unit? They’re myths. If you tell me you have a washing machine, I simply won’t believe you.

Since I have yet to live in a building with laundry (see aforementioned myth), I’m a frequenter of the laundromat around the block, where I drop off a hulking IKEA bag full of mostly oversized sleep shirts to be washed and folded. I know, I know, I could be saving money by doing the laundry myself—but this is a small luxury I’m hard-pressed to give up. I’ve done the math many times over, and the extra $7.50 is worth a Sunday unimpeded by dinging phone timers and frantic scurrying up and down the street.

But it doesn’t matter now, as I’m paranoid about communal washing machines in the wake of COVID-19. I don’t want to drop my laundry off for fear I might be carrying coronavirus—passing it along to the elderly laundromat owner, but I also don’t want to do it myself for fear of germs on the machines.

What else to do, then, but roll my sleeves up and swish my socks and underwear around in the sink? Here’s how to get it going when your apartment is simply not set up for laundry day:

Photo by Amanda Widis

Set Up Your DIY Washing Machine

Fill your sink or wash basin of choice (ice bucket? Tub? Large serving bowl? No judgements.) with room temperature water. Cold water works too, if you’re concerned about color-bleeding, and hot water should be reserved for disinfecting and for really hardy fabrics like terry cloth. Another hot tip (ha!): Try bringing a few clothes and a bottle of detergent into the shower with you. You’re already getting sudsy, so why not save some water and do it all at once?

Get Things Soapy

Add a dose of detergent to the water according to the package instructions—some formulas are more concentrated than others (I like the concentrated versions by Seventh Generation and Love, Home & Planet because they conserve water and storage space). Give the water a swish with your hand to get everything mixed up.

Submerge the items in question and gently rub it together with your hands to ensure the detergent is doing some work. Leave the items to soak for about 20-30 minutes, then rinse with cold water, being sure that it runs free of soap and bubbles.

Dry 'Em Off

Gently press each item against the sink or basin to remove excess water—this part is kind of like the spin cycle! Fun! To get your things to dry even faster, lay them flat on a dry bath towel and roll them up like a cinnamon roll, which will press more water out and transfer it to the (quicker drying!) towel.

Hang or lay everything to dry and give yourself a pat on the back. Some favorite places I like to hang things: over every single chair in my apartment, over the shower curtain rod, on exposed pipes that don’t get hot, draped over my fan to dry quicker, over the back of the couch, with hangers on coat hooks, and on the blanket ladder. Desperate times, people!

Do you have any hand washing tips to share with us? Let us know in the comments!

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When I'm not writing & editing for Home52, I'm likely to be found DIY-ing a new piece of furniture (or restoring an old one), hanging things on the wall in my apartment, or watching hours of vintage RHONY.


usawordle November 23, 2022
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GigiR July 15, 2022
The discussion reminds me of washing stuff in uni, when actually going to the laundry was too big a hassle. We have really cold weather in winter. But nowadays, you can get mini washing machines slightly larger than a salad spinner and they work. They just make the chore a bit more fun. Also, if in an emergency, you can use a dedicated salad spinner to help dry that last set of undies. Good luck. What happened to clothes lines over the old bathtub?
Gail D. July 15, 2022
I opened and read this because I'm in two fb groups of women who camp or even live in their cars/vans. Figured there'd be helpful info. Then began to laugh because I was in an Air BnB on Puget Sound, for my son's wedding, and SOCK--no laundry facilities. While I had enough CLOTHES for a week, I began to run low on my Speax/Thinx underwear. So I did just what the author did--took them into the shower with me, washed them grape-stomping-style, rinsed, squished, and hung on the clotheshangers WITH THE CHEAP BOX FAN blowing on them. Usually take overnight to dry, with the fan, they dried quicker than at home!!! "Travel Grandma!"
pmporter January 14, 2022
You can use a salad spinner in the sink or buy an inexpensive electric spinner to place in your shower and you will find that much more water will be released than simple wringing and using a towel. Clothes will dry in 1/3 the time.
GigiR April 14, 2020
Hi. You know, you could try this re drying. If you have an umbrella, open it and put the handle down into a tall bin or waste basket for stability. Drape clothes to be dried over it.
If you had something to from
which to suspend the handle, you could hang the umbrella upside down and drape or clothes pin washed items of the edge. You’d have to balance hanging items on opposite sides.
Also, bikes. Turn your precious mechanical steed into a clothes rack. You might need to cover it with old towels (yet another use) first so you don’t get chain oil on stuff.
Last one, you could use your rolling pin to press out excess water from washed items into a pad of towels underneath. It would help things like jeans dry a bit faster.
One thing: don’t be surprised if you find some items develop a bit of an odor if you are just line drying them all the time. Bacteria can kind of build up over time. Line drying works best with a fresh breeze blowing through the clothes. Several hot water rinses can sometimes tackle that. You might have to resort to some sort of odour squelching product designed for this purpose.

Also, garments generally have been treated with a sizing material, a kind of starch or glue, to help the weave of the fibres line up properly and for the garment to keep its shape. If it’s washable, give the item a wash to remove the sizing. It can contribute to the odour problem, as well as yellow a light coloured garment over time.
Lastly, your iron is your friend. It can help with that last bit of drying.
That’s all I’ve got.
Smaug March 31, 2020
Hand washing is, on the other hand, not a great way to disinfect. Water heaters should never be set higher than 140 degrees because of scalding danger, and in apartment buildings are likely to be more like 120, and that's straight hot water at the source. You could, of course, use bleach (with gloves!) or Lysol laundry disinfectant- if you can find them- but you'll have to do some pretty extensive rinsing- bleach is especially hard to get rid of. Trying to dry any significant amount of laundry in an apartment is indeed an act of desperation- there are some pretty neat folding racks that you can set in a warm- or breezy- place.
Tutiesmom March 31, 2020
What great ideas! When the going gets tough, the tough hand wash their clothes!