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Is It Cheaper To Do Laundry by Hand? (+ How long it takes)

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Hand-washing laundry seems cheaper on the surface. After all, you’re not shelling out cash (not directly, at least). But is doing the laundry by hand indeed cheaper than using a washing machine?

Hand-washing laundry is cheaper under certain circumstances. It’s cheaper to do so for delicates such as silk, wool, or lingerie, as it can prolong their lives. Otherwise, hand-washing is more expensive and time-consuming over the long run than machine-washing.  

This article will explain why hand-washing laundry can cost more than machine-washing. I’ll compare both costs in water consumption, energy efficiency, detergent usage, and time invested. After that, I’ll give you pointers on hand-washing clothes.

Does Hand-Washing Laundry Use Less Water Than Machine-Washing?

Unfortunately, I can’t provide verifiable figures on how much water hand-washing uses vis-a-vis a machine for the same load of laundry. After all, not many Americans are willing to hand-wash an entire week’s worth of clothes.

Hand-washing laundry can use less water than machine-washing. If you’re hand-washing a few pieces of clothing, you don’t use up as much water like a washing machine. But if you want to tackle your entire family’s weekly laundry, the washing machine is a more water-efficient solution.

Next, let’s see how energy-efficient hand-washing is compared to machine-washing.

Is Hand-Washing Laundry More Energy-Efficient Than Machine-Washing?

Whether hand-washing laundry is more energy-efficient than machine-washing depends on how you define “energy.” Are you referring to the amount of effort you expend when hand-washing a regular load of laundry? Or are you referring to the electricity washers used for the same load?

Hand-washing laundry isn’t necessarily more energy-efficient than machine-washing. Although you don’t consume electricity when you hand-wash laundry, you waste 150 to 400 calories per hour doing the same. On the other hand, Energy Star washers can go through 300 loads of laundry and save you $370.

What about detergent consumption? How does hand-washing stack up against machine-washing then?

Does Hand-Washing Use Less Detergent Than Machine-Washing?

If you compare the amount of detergent used in hand-washing and machine-washing for the same load of laundry, the answer might surprise you. 

Hand-washing uses more detergent than machine-washing. With hand-washing, you’ll need 1 tsp (4.2 g) of detergent per 1 lb. (0.45 kg) of clothing. On the other hand, you only need 1 tbsp (14.3 g) for 6 lb. (2.72 kg) of machine-washed clothes. 

If you choose to hand-wash for the lowest washer load capacity, then you need to use 2 tbsp (28.3 g).

Finally, let’s look at the time investment hand-washing requires versus machine-washing. 

How Much Time Does Hand-Washing Laundry?

Again, it’s challenging to find concrete figures on how much time it takes to hand-wash and machine-wash the same load of laundry. For different loads of laundry, I can give you an idea.

Hand-washing takes about 15 minutes to over an hour. That’s just the washing part and doesn’t include pre-soak and dry time. That also assumes you wash “hand-wash only” clothes. On the other hand, machines take 50 minutes to an hour for a regular cycle and a full load of clothes. 

Overall, machine-washing wins over hand-washing in terms of cost, efficiency, and time. But if you do need to hand-wash clothes, what’s the best way to go about it? 

What Is the Proper Way To Wash Clothes by Hand?

If you have a couple of hours to spare, you can try washing your clothes by hand. There’s a right way to go about it, though.

The following discusses the proper steps for washing clothes by hand:

  1. Check whether you can hand-wash the clothes.
  2. Use cold water.
  3. Use detergents for delicate fabrics.
  4. Pre-soak the clothes for half an hour.
  5. Agitate the clothes as a machine would.
  6. Dry the clothes.

I’ll discuss the above steps in more detail below.

Check Whether You Can Hand-Wash the Clothes

If you’re squirming at the idea of washing a mountain of laundry, don’t worry: Not every piece of clothing should undergo hand-washing. 

Do hand-wash delicate fabrics and “dry clean only” fabrics, such as wool, cashmere, lace, silk, and knitted clothes. You can also hand-wash underwear, lingerie, socks, and the like. 

Not sure whether to hand-wash a piece of clothing or not? Check the label.  

Use Cold Water

Since you’re hand-washing delicate fabrics, use cold water. Cold water doesn’t shrink and discolor clothes as much as hot water. Also, it reduces wrinkles.

Of course, cold water may not be practical for your situation. If you live in a place where temperatures go below 40°F (4.44°C), you can use warm water instead.   

Use Detergents for Delicate Fabrics

If you’re hand-washing, you don’t want to use the regular detergent for washers. Most detergents are harsh and can harm your delicate clothes.

Instead, use a detergent such as Soak Laundry Detergent (amazon paid link) and has a thumbs-up from The New York Times. Soak is scentless and will clean your delicate clothes without damaging them. 

You can also use Eucalan Soap (amazon paid link). Not only will it get rid of dirt, but it will also soften materials like cashmere and wool.

One more option is the Tide Laundry Detergent (amazon paid link). It’s more affordable compared to the other items on this list. However, it has protease, which may damage fabrics like wool and silk, so use it sparingly. 

Pre-Soak the Clothes for Half an Hour

Take your cold water and detergent, and mix them in a basin large enough to accommodate the clothes you want to hand-wash. Then, leave the clothes to soak for half an hour. 

Thirty minutes might seem like a long time to pre-soak. However, if you skip this step, hand-washing clothes will take much longer than necessary. 

Agitate the Clothes as a Machine Would

After pre-soaking, you can start washing.

Gently swish the clothes around the basin. If the clothes have heavy soiling, rub the soiled part of the fabric against itself.

To dry the clothes, press them down the basin. Avoid squeezing them dry; otherwise, you’ll ruin the integrity of the clothes.

Dry the Clothes

Usually, the labels will specify how to dry the clothes. But if your clothes don’t have tags, you can always air-dry them

Dry Clothes WITHOUT a Dryer (Using Indoors Drying Rack)
I made a video on using a drying rack that you can check out if you want details in video format.

To air-dry clothes, follow the steps below: 

  1. Place your clothes on a clothesline or drying rack. For example, you can lay them flat on a foldable drying rack such as the Amazon Basics Laundry Rack (amazon paid link). It’s strong enough to hold up multiple clothes and lightweight enough to move anywhere within your house. 
  2. Make space between each garment. Otherwise, the air won’t circulate properly, and the clothes will smell.
  3. Watch the weather. As soon as you notice it’s raining, take the clothes inside and dry them using a fan or heat vent.


To a novice, washing laundry by hand seems like a cost-effective option. And it is, but only under certain circumstances and only if you do it right. At any rate, I hope I’ve answered your questions about the actual cost of hand-washing laundry.

Next, you can check out my complete step-by-step guide to washing clothes by hand where we go into more detail on all the specifics.

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