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How to hand wash underwear (without getting your knickers in a twist)

Whether you’re washing your posh lingerie or your Bridget Jones-style big knickers, here’s everything you need to know.


By Cleanipedia Team

Underwear folded by a kitchen sink
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While trusty 100 per cent cotton pants are fine to bung in the washing machine, fancy lingerie needs a bit more TLC. And there are often times when you simply can’t use a washing machine (eg because you’re travelling or a housemate keeps hogging it). So, it’s always useful to know how to hand wash underwear.

How to hand wash lingerie

(Psst. Looking for advice on hand washing bras? You’ll find our full guide to washing bras over here.)

Hand washing underwear is pretty simple when you know how. Before you start, do check the care label on each item. It’s very unlikely that your undies will need dry cleaning, but it’s always worth checking.

The care label will also tell you if the pants can be machine washed (which could save you some time) as well as the maximum temperature to wash at.

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1. Fill a bowl

A bowl being filled by running water

First off, you’ll need a clean sink, washing up bowl or bucket. Do make sure it’s completely clean. Even a small trace of ketchup, cleaning product or bleach could damage your undies.

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You’ll want to fill the bowl with warm (not hot) water. Most underwear can be washed at 40°C, but for delicate lingerie, you might want to stick to 30°C to be on the safe side. If, like most of us, you don’t have a thermometer handy, aim for room temperature. (However, if you’re worried about viruses or germs, it is best to wash laundry on a higher temperature to kill bacteria.)

2. Add detergent

Add a splash of laundry detergent to the water. (Follow the dosing recommendations on the packaging.) Delicates, lingerie and other ‘hand wash only’ clothes benefit from a gentler detergent. Look for one specifically designed for delicates. If you don’t have one to hand, a small amount of non-bio should be OK.

3. Separate your laundry

Underwear separated by colour

Sort whites, bright colours and dark colours into separate piles. If you’re hand washing coloured underwear that’s brand new, it’s a good idea to do each garment separately, just to make absolutely sure the colour doesn’t run and spoil other items.

4. Soak your pants

Underwear soaking in a basin of water

Add one pile of undies to the water and leave it to soak for up to an hour. Don’t soak silk knickers for longer than five minutes though, as you could end up with water marks. (You can find out more about washing silk here.)

Short on time? Skip the soak and just spend a couple more minutes on step 5.

5. Wash your undies

Gloved hands pushing underwear down under soapy water

(If you have sensitive skin, you might want to wear gloves for this bit.)

Push your pants down in the water and let them float up again repeatedly. This is called agitating and basically uses air bubbles to do the work for you. You may also want to gently rub the gusset area of each pair of pants to make sure it’s clean.

6. Rinse your lingerie

Underwear being rinsed under running water

Empty the bowl of water. Then rinse each item under the tap, using cold water. Now, you definitely do not want to leave any detergent on your undies – that way lies itching and irritation. So rinse, rinse and rinse some more. 

7. Dry your underwear

Underwear hanging to dry on an outdoor line

Gently squeeze the water out of your lingerie. The key word here is ‘gentle’. Don’t wring them out like an old flannel or you might as well have just bunged them in the washing machine.

Hang your pants to dry. Delicate lingerie is best kept away from a direct heatsource (ie don’t put your fancy lace knickers on a radiator). Most aren’t suitable for tumble drying either. They’ll normally dry pretty quickly on a washing line or laundry airer anyway.

How to wash lingerie in a washing machine

Don’t have the time or inclination to hand wash your undies? We hear you. Some lingerie is fine to wash in a machine. It’s best to use a mesh laundry bag to stop your knickers from snagging. You can read our full guide to washing lingerie in a washing machine here.

How to hand wash underwear: Your questions answered

Should you wash your underwear by hand?

Some pants can be washed in a machine, but others do need hand washing. It’s always best to check the care label, just to be sure.

What temperature should underwear be washed at?

Most underwear can be washed in warm water that’s a maximum of 40°C. Some delicates do need a lower temperature however, so do check the care label. Low temperatures are fine for general day-to-day laundry, but if you think your clothes might have come into contact with a virus, you may want to wash them on a long hot wash. You can find out more about disinfecting clothes here.

Can you wash underwear with washing up liquid?

We don’t recommend cleaning clothes with washing up liquid. It may damage the fibres or cause fading or discolouration.

Can you hand wash underwear with soap?

Laundry detergent is generally a safer bet, but you can use a mild baby soap if you need to.

How can I get rid of blood stains?

Why is it that we always seem to get a period when wearing our prettiest knickers?

The key to removing blood stains is to use cold water (hot water sets the stain). Hold your knickers under the cold tap and run water through the stain until the water runs clear. Then, it all depends on what you might have readily available to remove any remaining stains – our in-depth guide to removing blood stains shows you how to get them out using a variety of handy household items.

How should I wash shapewear?

Spanx and other shapewear need to be washed in cool water. Some can go in the washing machine, but do check the label. It’s generally best to avoid fabric conditioner with shapewear and you’ll also want to keep yours well away from products containing bleach. Shapewear should never be tumble dried as that can affect the elasticity.

How can I clean and dry my underwear quickly?

If you’ve run out of undies, skip the soaking stage and just focus on agitating and rinsing. Squeeze the water out and then roll your pants up in a clean towel. This will soak a lot of the water up, so they’ll dry much quicker.

If your pants are cotton, you can dry them using the cool setting on a hairdryer, or under a hand dryer. Just don’t let the pants get too close to the dryer, as you could risk scorching them.

Now you know everything you need to know about how to hand wash underwear, why not find out how to fold your lingerie?

Originally published