For certain delicate garments, the washing machine is the worst enemy, causing them to fade, shrink or even tear. Therefore, when it comes to bras, lace lingerie, and clothes made from silk or wool, hand washing is your best and only option.

Still, how you hand wash them matters as well. For instance, leaving the clothes in detergent for too long can also cause them to warp or change color. But what’s the right amount of time to soak the clothes when hand washing? Keep reading to find out the answer.

How Long Should You Soak Clothes?

After you’ve removed any stains that the garments might have had using a stain remover that’s safe for delicate fabrics (such as this one from Puracy), you can start soaking them.

Before you do so, make sure to separate the darks, lights, and colors. Each group should have its own basin. That way, you’ll ensure that none of the garments lose their vibrancy and turn an unwanted color.

To wash the clothes, fill the basin(s) with lukewarm water, around 30°C or 85°F, and add the detergent. Submerge the clothes, slightly agitating the water to ensure even detergent distribution.

Now, let’s answer the burning question — how long should they be soaking? That depends on the fabric and the amount of dirt you need to remove. Lace only needs around 2 to 3 minutes of soaking, no longer than 5. On the other hand, silk and wool may be left soaking for a bit longer, but still no more than 30 minutes.

If you’re hand washing clothes made from cotton or other less delicate materials, you can leave them in for a maximum of 60 minutes, although less is recommended.

According to Steve Boorstein, an expert on the subject, about 98% of the dirt comes out in the first 5 minutes of hand washing/soaking. That being said, there’s no need to soak the clothes much longer than that.

What Happens When You Soak The Clothes for Too Long?

Even if the water is cold, garments can still get ruined if you leave them soaking for a long time. They can easily lose their color, shape, and quality.

If you let them soak for too long, the material fibers will inevitably lose their strength, the dye will bleed, and the pattern will fade. In addition, the garments most likely won’t fit you the same way, typically becoming ‘drapey’ after drying.

In other words, that gorgeous floral silk shirt you love so much will never have the same oomph. Moreover, that wool sweater grandma gave you might look even less flattering on you than it did before.

Other Things to Keep in Mind When Hand Washing

  • Rinsing. After soaking the clothes, you can go ahead and rinse them out. Repeat until the water starts coming out clean rather than soapy.
  • Excess water removal. Do not wring delicate clothes, as that could also permanently damage them. Try to squeeze out the water gently, without creating too many wrinkles. You can also pick up the excess water with a towel or cloth.
  • Drying. Don’t put delicates in a clothes dryer. Place them horizontally to dry, preferably laying on a towel or cloth. As they will inevitably shrink, you should stretch out wool clothes before drying them in order to recover their original size and shape.
  • Storing. If you’d like to keep your clothes smelling fresh even after months of sitting in the wardrobe, you can always use dryer sheets, charcoal odor absorber bags, essential oils, and other tricks in the book.


Long story short — if you want to preserve your delicates, be careful not to leave the clothes soaking for too long when hand washing. While silk and wool take around 15–30 minutes of soaking, lace clothing requires only 2 to 3 minutes. Not following these guidelines could certainly damage such precious garments beyond repair.

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