How to Machine Wash “Hand Wash” Clothing


Maria asked: How do I clean 96% nylon, 4% spandex blend clothing? I have a white shirt that says, “Wash cold. Dry flat.” Do I really need to hand wash it, or can I just put it in the washing machine on the cold, gentle cycle and dry it on the lowest setting in the dryer?

Hand washing clothing can be time consuming and seem unnecessary. While there are some fabrics that can tolerate machine washing, it’s important to proceed with caution. Use the information and guidelines below to determine if your piece is safe to machine wash.

Can They Be Machine Washed?

Care instructions are helpful tips to keep your clothes looking great as long as possible. Although some modern washing machines have a “hand wash” cycle (similar to a delicate cycle), it does not guarantee the same gentle washing as washing by hand. Typically, these fabrics easily stretch, snag and lose their shape when machine washed. Another factor to consider is the type of washing machine you are using. Many top loading machines with the central agitator are too rough for these gentle fabrics and should be avoided. There are some front loading machines that are much gentler on clothing in general and offer a higher level of success. There is some trial and error in attempting to machine wash “hand wash” items. If the item is valuable or irreplaceable, don’t risk it. If it is a general, everyday item that can be replaced if necessary, then try the steps below to gently wash it in the machine.

Machine Washable Fabrics/Fibers

  • Acrylic
  • Cotton
  • Lycra
  • Microfibers
  • Nylon
  • Polyester
  • Polyolefin
  • Spandex
  • Triacetate (unless it’s pleated)

Machine Washing “Hand Wash” Items

You Will Need:

  • Mild laundry detergent
  • Mesh lingerie bag(s)

Steps to Machine Wash the Clothing:

  1. Smaller loads are best when washing these delicate pieces.
  2. Select a cold temperature wash and add the appropriate amount of mild detergent, such as Woolite, to the water.
  3. Place the item in a mesh lingerie bag to help prevent snags and stretching while it is washing.
  4. Complete the cycle and promptly remove the clothing.

Machine Drying “Hang to Dry” Items

You Will Need:

  • Clothes Dryer

Steps to Machine Dry the Clothing:

  1. Similar to washing, the appropriate settings are of utmost importance when drying items that are not designed to be placed in the dryer.
  2. Most “hang to dry” items are labeled as such because the heat of the dryer will cause the fabric to shrink.
  3. If machine drying, use a “no heat” setting.
  4. Remove the item from the lingerie bag and place it in the dryer.
  5. Stop the drying cycle while the piece is still slightly damp.
  6. Remove it and hang it dry until it is completely dry.

Additional Tips and Advice

  • If you have any doubts as to how the piece will tolerate the machines, play it safe and hand wash it.
  • It may also help to take baby steps to see how the clothing tolerates the cleaning steps. For example, try machine washing the piece and allowing it to air dry. Then, the next time you clean it, try drying it for a short amount of time.
  • Good luck! If the clothing comes out well, you’ve found an easy, efficient way to clean them!


  1. Edith says:

    I spot-cleaned a spot (chocolate) that did not come out in the laundry. It is a white cotton knit. I used a q-tip and diluted bleach and now the area is yellow. Can I correct that? Help would be appreciated. Thanks. Edith

  2. Melanie says:

    The yellow stain happened because bleach contains a yellow dye. Try using hydrogen peroxide, white vinegar or RIT Dye Remover. You could also try taking the item to a dry cleaner or using a home dry cleaning kit.
    Source: How To Clean Stuff – How to Remove Yellow Bleach Stains from Shoes
    Source: Deseret News – Hints from Heloise: White vinegar removes yellow bleach spots

  3. Jean says:

    How to wash white wool sweaters that have become discolored with age? They also have some color features… Can I use a bit of bleach?

  4. Melanie says:

    This is the article that you need: How to Clean Wool. Do not use bleach; it can dissolve the fibers of the wool.

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