Shirts on Hangers

Doing the Laundry & Hand Washing


The difference between Dry Cleaning and Wet Cleaning is that one uses a solvent and the other uses water. You probably wouldn't think of dry cleaning as washing but the principles of the two are the same as what they are aiming to get is clean fresh fabrics ready to be used again. In this section we will explore using both water and detergents.

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Before you begin cleaning it's important to follow basic rules that should save your clothes from damage.


Sort Into Fabric Type

This will be shown on the care label of your garments. Either sort by similar washing instruction or by fibre type (you'll find out more about fibre types by following the links in the "Clothes" tab above)


Sort by Colour

It's then time to break your wash down into various colours. The more colours the safer you'll be but these are the minimum you should have....

Lighter Shades
Darker Shaded


Check for Stains Before You Wash Anything

Stains may be set in the wash - So once your washing is in the machine may be too late to check. If you have a pen, coins or sweets in a pocket you'll end up with ruined clothes. Check before and it may save money and a big headache.

Keep these thoughts in mind while you look at the other topics in this section. Check out sections on fibres, fabrics and washing labels to make sure you're going to do it right.


The Water

The prime liquid for to use when we wash is water but we want to use the minimum amount possible and not to pollute the remainder when we flush the water out of our machines. For that reason the economy measures on all modern washing machines tare designed to use the minimum amount of water for any particular wash

In an ideal world we would always be laundering in pure water but in reality there's nothing pure about it.  In fact, as soon as water falls as rain it starts to collect impurities and this continues while it travels through the soil and rock, and collects minerals, dirt, acids and other substances not really wanted when we launder our clothes.

The main problem we hit is hard water, which can reduce the effectiveness of a given amount of soap. This doesn't mean you can't clean in hard water just that you'll have to add more soap to dissolve the salts that make hardness. Once this is done the soap will lather and work in the normal way. For that reason soap manufacturers instruct you to add or reduce the amount you add to the wash dependent on the hardness of the water. This isn't a ploy by the manufacturers to get you to use more detergent but a true reflection on how hard the soap has to work before it can do its job.

Another major problem in laundering would be the presence of iron in the wash. Iron even in quite small quantities can turn fabric yellow (especially wool) so, if you suffer from yellowing after washing, examine your pipes and then the surrounding water conditions and even ask your water supply company to make some checks.

So what do we want the water to do?

We want the water to be attracted to the dirt on our clothes and then to suspend this dirt in the water, eventually carrying it away when we rinse the clothes out. This appears simple in theory but in practice it's not so easy to achieve, which is one of the reasons we use...............


Anything that exerts a cleansing action can be considered a detergent, which includes water itself, but in reality today the word has come to mean simply "Soap".  Most soaps today are synthetically made composites of alkalis, bleaches and other agents.

The traditional method of making soap was to boil together fats and caustic soda, hence the boiling of whale blubber on factory ships, which produced soap and glycerin that could be separated and used. These soaps were known as hard soaps and weren't bio-degradable so led to foam and scum forming on our rivers and lakes, where industrial effluent freely flowed.

Quite rightly the world eventually woke up to the potential environmental impact of soaps and other effluent and as we became better at producing synthetic products enacted legislation to use soft soaps which are bio-degradable and have less negative impact.

So what do detergents or soaps do in the wash?

The first job soap has to do is to act as a wetting agent for the water. Now you may believe that as water is by it's nature WET it should do a good job of wetting but this isn't necessarily the case. If the fibres aren't completely wet they won't get clean and the soap helps the water cling to all the fibres.

Secondly, the soap must be attractive to the dirt, so it lifts it off of the fibres and suspends it in the water. As stains and dirt are made up of different components no single additive will be attractive to all stains, which is why manufacturers mix oils, fats, alkalis, acids and bleaches to get the best results.

Finally, once the dirt has been suspended in the liquid mixture it has to stay there until we extract it from the garments and pump it out of the machine. It would be useless if dirt that had come off of the clothes was re-deposited back on the clothes somewhere else. Even worse would be a general graying of the whole wash because the dirt from one area had been spread through all the clothing.

So we can see that soap has an important job to do in the washing process and that without alkalis, acids and bleaches your clothes wouldn't get as clean as you would like them to be.


As we've explained the correct dosing is important to soften the water and make sure the mixture has the right cleaning properties. Each manufacturer mixes a different recipe of oils, fats, bleaching agents etc. which affects the amount you need to use and consequently the overall cost of the wash load.

A normal set of dosing instructions may look like this.

Detergent Dosing table
  Level of Soiling
Water Hardness Light Normal Heavy
Soft 105ml 135ml 180ml
Medium 105ml 155ml 195ml
Hard 105ml 170ml 210ml

To get the best results  follow the instructions on your particular packet as they will differ from soap to soap. Perhaps you can begin to see that the actual price of a detergent is not necessarily its comparative cost. Fairy (for example) have always said you get more for your money with them because you use less per load and if this is true then they may be right. You can check before you buy by calculating the total weight of a packet and dividing that by how much will be used in each load to get the number of loads per packet. Divide the price by the number of loads per packet and you get the true cost per load and can do a comparison from load to load.

Hand Washing

The normal reason for a hand washing instruction will be that a garment fabric is too delicate to wash it in a machine. Even though today a large number of machines have hand wash programs, your very delicate and treasured items are probably worth the extra effort of hand washing.

A common misconception is that a Hand Washing instruction is put on the care label because of the heat setting a garment can take. In actual fact the real reason is much more likely to be that the garment or fabric can not take the agitation associated with being tumbled around a machine. The movement of the fabric especially when wet can distort, shrink or even break certain fibres or surface treatments.

Also don't suppose that all manufacturers simply put a hand wash label on a garment just for their own safety (although this undoubtedly does happen on occasions). Just because you normally have no trouble with cotton items doesn't mean that the stitching or a facing is necessarily safe.

Here's how you should hand wash:




Dissolve the correct amount of detergent in a sink or a bowl, the manufacturers instructions on correct dosing for hand washing are normally on the packet of powder and make sure it's all dissolved.


Place the garment in the liquor ensuring that it's completely covered.


Instead of scrunching up the garment with your hands, to get the water to flow, add weight to the fabric by leaning down and only lightly pull your fingers in at the same time. Let it soak and keep coming back to it every three minutes or so for around 15 minutes.


Empty the water out and refill using cold clean water again leaning on the garment and only slightly pulling with your fingers. Repeat this step at least once more.


If the care label allows spinning then spin the garment in your washing machine on a short cycle. If not then lay it flat on a towel and wrap it up again using your weight to press the garment but this time you're trying to get as much water into the towel as possible. DO NOT WRING THE GARMENT!


Most hand wash items need to be dried flat and you can buy a gauze made to cover the bath for this purpose. If you haven't got a gauze then spreading a net across a bath or two lines of a circular washing line should do the trick. Don't hang the item on a hanger, unless it's something like a scarf,  or you will probably end up with baggy shoulders that can be impossible to repair.