What Are Delicates In Laundry? (How To Wash Them)

If you’re new to doing your own laundry, you may wonder what determines whether an article of clothing is delicate. The definition of the word delicate is fine in texture or easily broken. Examples of delicate laundry items include fine crocheted pieces, lace undergarments, silk blouses, and items with embroidery.

what are washing machine delicates

In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at what fabrics are considered delicate and how to wash those items. We’ll also tell you what the delicate cycle does, if the delicate and gentle cycles are the same, and whether you should handwash or machine wash your delicate items.

What Is A Delicate Wash Cycle?

A delicate wash cycle uses lower agitation and tumbling speed than a normal cycle. It also uses cold water to gently clean your clothing and reduce wrinkles.

What Fabrics Are Considered Delicates In Laundry Terms?

Delicate laundry items include garments made of chiffon, lace, silk, wool, and linen. Clothing with embroidery or embellishments is also considered delicate, no matter what material it’s made of.

Thin items are delicate, too, regardless of their material, because they can become misshapen or tear if handled too roughly.

How To Wash Delicates In The Washing Machine

Now that you know what materials and items are considered delicate, let’s look at how you can wash them without ruining them.

machine washing delicate clothes
  1. Separate Them

You probably guessed that you’ll need to separate your delicates from your main laundry, but you should also separate certain materials and colors of delicates from each other.

For example, you shouldn’t wash small, thin items like lacy undergarments with heavy linen tablecloths or wool sweaters. The small things can get tangled in the bigger items and get stretched or torn.

  1. Check The Labels

Before you toss your delicates in the washing machine, you should check the labels to ensure they don’t require hand washing or dry cleaning. Many homemade items don’t have tags, so you should wash them by hand to avoid ruining them.

  1. Pretreat Stains

If you notice a stain on a delicate item, treat it as soon as possible. You should avoid using commercial stain fighters on delicate materials, especially those containing bleach.

Instead, turn to natural stain removers like white vinegar, club soda, baking soda, or lemon juice. Use as little liquid as possible and gently rub it into the stain, blotting with a dry towel. Once the stain is out, wash your item as soon as possible, preferably before the stain fighter has dried. 

  1. Turn Them Inside Out

Before you place your delicates in the washing machine, you should turn them inside out. This will help keep them from getting snagged.

  1. Soak Them First

If you soak your delicates before washing them, it will help remove any stains or odors gently. You can do this by filling a basin, sink, or bathtub with cold to lukewarm water. Alternatively, some washing machines have a soak option to select before your wash cycle (more on soil levels here).

  1. Use Mesh Bags

Using mesh bags can also help keep your delicates from snagging in the washer. If your items are small, you can put a few in the same bag.

  1. Choose Your Detergent

Make sure you use a detergent that’s made specifically for delicate clothing. Look for gentle detergents made without enzymes, dyes, or fragrances.

  1. Use The Right Cycle

Choose the delicate or gentle cycle. If your washing machine doesn’t have one of those options, you may want to wash your items by hand, so you don’t risk ruining them. Always use cold water when you wash delicate material.

  1. Lay Them Flat To Dry

Certain materials can lose their shape when they’re wet. To avoid having your clothes come out all misshapen, you should dry them by laying them flat on a white towel.

Are Gentle And Delicate Cycles The Same?

Some washing machines may have a gentle cycle rather than a delicate cycle, but the purpose is the same. Both use colder water and lower agitation to gently clean your delicate laundry.

How To Hand Wash Delicates

Most of the process for handwashing delicates is the same as machine washing. You should still separate them by size and color, check the labels, pretreat stains, soak them, and choose a gentle detergent.

Here’s a step-by-step guide for preparing your washing station.

hand washing delicates
  1. Clean It Out

You can wash your delicates in a sink, bathtub, or bucket, but you must ensure it’s clean before putting the clothes in.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but since you typically use these items for other purposes, they may be dirtier than you think. Any dirt in your sink can transfer to your clothes, and you don’t want to add more stains.

  1. Add Water

When you’ve thoroughly scrubbed your bathtub, sink, or bucket, it’s time to add water. Make sure the water is cold, so the fabric dye doesn’t bleed.

  1. Add Detergent

Depending on where you’re washing your clothing, you should add a tablespoon of gentle detergent to your water. If you’re using the bathtub, you’ll need to add more, but don’t go overboard.

Swish the water with your hand to mix the detergent through.

  1. Add Clothing

If you need to soak your clothes, now is the time to do it. When they’re finished soaking, gently agitate your garments to clean them.

  1. Rinse

When your clothes are clean, replace the soapy water with clean water to rinse them. Submerge your items one at a time, squeezing gently to remove all traces of detergent. 

When you’re finished handwashing them, you can lay your delicates out to dry on a clean, white towel.

Hand Washing Vs. Machine For Delicates

For sturdier delicates, hand washing and machine washing in a delicate cycle are equal. For your most delicate items, like lacy undergarments or fine crocheted items, hand washing is the only way to guarantee that they won’t get ruined accidentally (this also applies to kid’s plushes like Squishmallows). 

Handwashing may be better for the environment regarding synthetic fabrics like rayon. The agitation in a washing machine is more likely to loosen and remove some fibers from these materials and introduce them into the water supply, causing all sorts of environmental issues.

For this reason, it may be best to handwash all of your synthetic garments.


Can I Hand Wash Clothing With “Dry Clean” Labels?

Sometimes. As long as the label says “dry clean,” handwashing is okay. However, if the label says “dry clean only,” the fabric can’t withstand getting wet. In that case, you will need to take it to the cleaners.

Can I Wash Delicate Clothes On A Normal Cycle?

No, you shouldn’t wash delicate clothing on a normal cycle because it has too much agitation for delicate material.

Why Does High Spin Speed Damage Clothing?

Clothing can become damaged from high spin speed when zippers or buttons catch on other material and tear it. Friction from articles of clothing rubbing against each other can also cause pilling. Delicate items should never go on a high-spin cycle because it can tear thin material.


Delicate items in the laundry include garments made from wool, silk, rayon, linen, chiffon, and lace. It can also include thin items made of other materials that may tear or become misshapen if you wash them in a normal wash cycle.

Always check the labels on your clothing and wash it according to the manufacturer’s instructions to avoid ruining it.

Shauna Stone