Hand washing: not a lost art

So, several years ago I wrote up these instructions on cosplay.com and sort of forgot/ lost them. Someone else dug them up because it’s perpetually a pertinent question and I was reminded of my original text. So, for posteritys’ sake, here’s the low down on hand washing.


– choose a washing basin appropriate to the size of your costume: a bit of room to move is best. A large kitchen bowl or sink is fine for most pants or skirts, a bathtub is necessary for ballgowns.

– make sure the basin you are using is clean. it doesn’t have to sparkle but be sure it is free of other soap/ detergent, dirt, or food particles if you use the kitchen sink.

– cold or at least tepid water. I live where it’s really hot, in the summer the water out of the tap is probably about 83 degrees, this is fine. anything cooler than body temperature will not do harm.

– put your detergent in the water and swish it around. Detergent specifically for delicate garments is best, Woolite is the old stand by.

– unfold or spread out the garment, place it in the water as un-mushed-up as possible. Push it down to squeeze out air pockets so the garment is fully immersed.

– Let the garment soak. How long depends on how dirty it is. 30 minutes is usually sufficient to remove sweat and ambient smells like smoke and food. I set a timer, otherwise I forget and wind up rushing through the next steps at bed time because the children need a bath.
= this is where you learn how colorfast your garment is. you will see the color in the water if it’s bleeding. shorten your soak if that is the case.

– after the soak, I go in and carefully inspect the areas most likely or known to have accumulated dirt: hems, cuffs, front center of the chest. I scrub the fabric against itself or use a soft scrub brush (like a nail brush) and more detergent to work these spots. rinse in the soak water and repeat as necessary.
= this is where working in a large basin in the kitchen is more pleasant, sitting on your knees in the bathroom is. not. fun.

– if you are satisfied with the cleanliness, drain your basin and rinse your garment in clear running water. squeeze but do not wring to get the soap out. Some fabrics hold a lot of water and therefore soap, be patient, just keep squeezing til no more bubbles are produced.

– if you drain the basin and it still seems grungy, repeat with a fresh basin of water and soap, letting it soak longer if possible.

– stretchy (spandex, lycra, etc) and knitted/ crocheted/ lace garments should be dried laid on a flat surface. hanging a wet leotard is a good way to stretch it permanently out of shape. Spread a couple bath towels out on a large flat surface (dining room tables are a popular choice) and spread out the garment. don’t fold it over itself, if possible. Lay arms and legs smooth, not wrinkled or twisted.
= [credit to Nathan Carter for the following. I do this but didn’t write it in my original post] After squeezing (not wringing) most of the water out of your garment, lay it out on your biggest colorfast beach towel or bath towel. Roll it up like a jelly roll, and squeeze it (don’t wring it). Sit on it, kneel on it. Then unroll it, block it out to dry on a flat surface or drying rack, and smooth out any wrinkles introduced by the squeezing.
I wouldn’t do this on any garment with a lot of built-in structure that will be crushed out of shape by the squeezing. But on things like sweaters and bodysuits it works well.
-non-stretch materials can be hung to dry. An old wire hangar bent into an oval (or other circular light weight item like a beach ball) can be propped inside the layers of a skirt at about the waist or hips to help speed the drying process for bulky garments like ballgowns by spreading out the fabrics and allowing better air circulation.

– always give yourself at least 24 hours between washing and packing it for travel or putting it away for the next time you wear it. mildew is nasty and does permanent damage to fabric and can happen amazingly fast if even a slightly damp item is packed tightly out of sight. Some fibers hold moisture better than others. I have a hand knit cotton sweater. it takes about 3 days to dry in the AC cooled house.


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