hand washing black clothes

How to Wash Clothes in the Sink

Whether you’re giving your laundry a rest from the strong agitation of the washing machine, or you’re an avid traveller who needs to clean their pants, cleaning your clothes in a sink can be a great way to wash your items. 

Washing clothes by hand in a kitchen or bathroom sink is incredibly straightforward. It’s cost effective and it doesn’t take too long either! 

So, how do you wash clothes in a sink? Find out below. 


Can You Do Your Laundry in the Sink?

You can absolutely wash your laundry in the sink. In fact, in the days before washing machines, or when they were a tad too expensive to buy, a lot of people cleaned their dirty clothes in sinks, in baths or in large tubs.

Today the practice of washing laundry in a sink is still very popular, especially for those who don’t have access to a washing machine (or some kind of laundry service), and among eager travellers! 

In addition to this, there are also lots of products and tools you can purchase to make this process easier nowadays. Although, on the whole, washing clothes in a sink is very straightforward. 


What Detergent Should You Use When Washing Clothes in the Sink?

detergents to use when washing clothes in sink

When cleaning clothes in general it’s important that you use the correct detergent for the material you’re washing. And the same rule applies when you’re cleaning clothes in a sink. 

So, one of the first things you should always do when cleaning laundry is to read the care label on your dirty item to see what material you’re working with. Based on this information you can purchase a suitable detergent for the job

In most cases this will either be a mild non-biological detergent (for general laundry), a delicate detergent or a material specific detergent (silk/wool detergent, for example).

In addition to this, the detergents in question also need to be bought in either powder or liquid form. Capsules aren’t really suitable for washing clothes in the sink, so it’s best to avoid them. 

It’s also worth keeping in mind that you need to choose a detergent that is suitable for your skin too. So, if you need to use a more sensitive detergent you should do so. 

Here are some detergent ideas to get you started, but you can read our full product guide here:

Wilton London Cedarwood 

Wilton London is a plant-based, eco-friendly laundry detergent that is packed full of pungent aromas! You get about 25 washes from a bottle and it’s created in the UK. 


Daz Washing Powder Whites and Colours

Daz Washing Powder Whites and Colours 9 Washes, 960g

Daz is a specialised hand washing powder that has built-in colour brighteners that really make the colours of your clothes pop after a wash. This item isn’t suitable for delicate materials (silk/wool, for example) and it cannot be used in a washing machine. 


What Can You Use Instead of Detergent?

detergent alternatives

If you’ve got a bunch of washing to do, but you don’t have any detergent at hand, you might be wondering what you can use as a substitute laundry cleaner. 

Here are a handful of ideas for you to think about. Some of these items might be the only things you have to hand if you’re in a hotel room and don’t tend to travel with cleaning and laundry supplies!

However, keep in mind that these alternative products might not get your garments 100% clean! 

Remember: You should always do a patch test before you start using the alternatives above to clean your dirty laundry. The chemical makeup of some of the items above will not be suitable for all types of materials. 


How to Wash Clothes in the Sink

washing clothes in the sink

Below you’ll find a step-by-step guide to washing clothes in the sink.

Tools you’ll need:

  • Dirty laundry 
  • Gloves
  • Sink 
  • Water
  • Detergent
  • Spare bucket (optional)
  • Stain treatment (optional) 

Steps to follow:

  1. Read the care label on the items you need to clean. 
  2. If a label(s) states ‘dry clean only’, you must not wash this item in the sink. The method will likely ruin the clothing in question.
  3. Based on the information on the care label you can buy a suitable detergent (a wool detergent for wools, for example).
  4. Also based on the information on the care label, you can start grouping your laundry into piles based on their materials (it’ll make the actual washing phase easier if you do this).
  5. Once you have separated your clothes by material, you can separate them further by colour. 
  6. Pick a pile of items to start cleaning. 
  7. Examine all of the items for stains. 
  8. Put some gloves on and treat the stains you’ve found before you start washing the clothes (find a suitable solution that’s based on the item’s material and what the stain is).
  9. When you’re done, go and clean the sink out, be sure to remove any lingering dirt as this muck will attach itself onto your clothes. 
  10. Fill the sink up about three-quarters of the way with hot water (30℃ is suitable for most materials). 
  11. Pop a measure of suitable detergent into the water. 
  12. Agitate the water slightly to mix in the detergent. 
  13. Add the laundry you need to wash (you may be able to add two or three items at once, but this is based on how big the sink is).
  14. Make sure the water completely covers the laundry. 
  15. Agitate the water, so the soapy water can work its way into your dirty items. 
  16. Massage or use a kneading technique to work the detergent further into the clothes (pay attention to extra grubby areas, like armpits) – Do not scrub, twist or wring the clothes!
  17. Repeat this process for each item in the sink. 
  18. Release the water from the sink.
  19. Rinse each item under cold water. 
  20. Continue to rinse the items until all the detergent is gone. 
  21. Move on to drying these items. 
  22. Then clean and re-fill the sink with warm water and detergent, so you can start cleaning a new batch of laundry. 

Tips for washing clothes in the sink

  • Wash light clothes first and wash dark clothes last (stops colour transfers).
  • You need to change the water often.
  • You can typically wash two to three items at a time. But if the items are small/big you’ll have to adjust this amount. The same rule applies to the size of the sink too. If you’re using a big sink, you might be able to wash more laundry at once, but if the sink is tiny, you’ll only be able to wash one item at a time. 
  • You should aim to knead/massage each item for about four minutes.
  • You might need to leave underwear soak in the sink filled with hot water and detergent for an hour before you wash them. This will help to remove any marks and smells. 
  • When washing underwear, you might have to spend a little more time cleaning these items and using a delicate detergent is a good idea. 
  • If the water isn’t too dirty by Step 18, and you feel that you could wash more laundry in the sink, simply fill a separate bucket with cold water and rinse the clean laundry in this instead of emptying the sink. 
  • When washing laundry in the sink you must remember to take your jewellery off, these items can rip or snag fabrics, delicate or not. 


How to Dry Clothes After Washing Them in the Sink

drying clothes outside

The simplest way to dry hand washed clothes is…

  1. Lay a towel out on a flat surface.
  2. Lay a single item of clothing on the towel.
  3. Roll the towel up with the item inside. 

Rolling the towel up squeezes the excess moisture out of the garment inside. 

Once you’ve done this you can line dry the item of clothing. If you haven’t got space for a washing line, you could purchase an indoor airer or a clothes horse to aid in the drying process.

Read our guide on how to dry clothes indoors when you have limited space for more tips. 


Planning in Advance

Preparation is key. Below are a few things to think about before doing your laundry in the sink. 

  • If you’re travelling, try to pack clothes that can be easily washed in a sink (same colours/materials). Also, try to pack clothes that can be dried quickly. You might not have time to wait for wet laundry to dry if you’ve got to travel fast.
  • Choose your detergent wisely. If you’re washing clothes at home, you can buy big bottles, but if you’re travelling, look at alternative detergents that are more ‘touring-friendly’.  
  • Sink washing clothes is a great idea, but remember that clothes will be sopping wet afterwards and will take longer to dry than they would if you washed them in the washing machine. This is because washing machines have a spin cycle that removes excess water. So, make sure that you have somewhere to dry your clothes. Consider buying a mini line to hang dry your clothes on, or grab some string and create a makeshift line, for example. 


Is Hand-Washing Clothes in the Sink Effective?

hand-washing clothes in the sink

Yes, hand washing clothes in a sink, or any kind of tub, is an effective way of gently cleaning the items. 

It’s actually good to give your clothes a rest from your washing machine’s powerful agitation mechanism once in a while. Plus, some clothes should actually be washed by hand regardless. 

Hand washing delicate items, clothes with lots of beads for example, is also a way of preventing these materials from getting damaged in a washing machine too.