Cleaning and Folding Garments on Shabbat
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Laundering garments is a subsection of Bleaching, Melaben (one of the 39 principle labors which may not be done on Shabbat). While laundering usually entails the use of water and/or cleaning agents, removing dirt from a garment even without these may also fall under the Halachic prohibition of laundering.
Removing dust or dirt particles from a garment
- If one’s garment became dusty on Shabbat, if one isn’t concerned about the dust on the garment (and would wear it without cleaning it) one may gently shake it out, or gently hit it with one’s hand or dry rag, but one may not shake it out vigorously, rub it, or use a brush. Some say that nowadays people are particular about their Shabbat clothes and so one may not remove the dust at all. Sephardim may be lenient to shake out any garment, however, one who is strict should be blessed.
- If the owner of a dusty garment [that is significantly dirty] has no other suitable clothing and is embarrassed to be seen publicly in such a dirty garment, then the poskim permit one to ask a non-Jew to remove the dust. While generally one may not ask a non-Jew to do anything that a Jew is not permitted to do on Shabbos, in this case he may, since as stated above, there are opinions that maintain that it is even permitted for a Jew to remove dust from a garment on Shabbos. [It is questionable, however, whether one may instruct the non-Jew to use a brush.]
- If a non-Jew is not available and the owner is embarrassed to be seen in public wearing a dusty garment, some poskim permit a Jew to clean the garment, provided that it is cleaned in an unusual manner, e.g., with one's elbow.
Removing a stain from a garment
- Halachically speaking, there are two types of stains:
- a wet stain which is absorbed into the fabric of the garment, e.g., a ketchup stain, and
- a stain which is made when a piece of dirt or food falls on a garment and hardens there. There are different rules for each of these stains.
- It is forbidden to pour talcum powder or salt in order to absorb an oily stain.
A wet stain which is absorbed into the garment
- One may not clean any garment with water, colored water, spit, or any cleaning agent.
- If no water or cleaning agent is used, then it is permitted to remove the stain if it is insignificant and would not deter the owner from wearing the stained garment. If the stain is significant, however, it is prohibited to remove it if the stain will be removed completely, i.e., it will leave no mark whatsoever on the garment. If, however, the stain is only partially removed—some mark will remain—one is permitted to remove it. Two conditions apply:
- No brush may be used.
- The stain may not be scrubbed away; it may only be gently wiped off with a dry cloth or removed by hand, with a knife, etc.
Dirt which adheres to the garment's surface
- If moist mud, chulent, or a similar thick moist substance sticks to one’s clothes, using one’s fingernail or the back of a knife, one may scrape off the substance as long as a stain remains.
- If the mud dried on one’s garment one may not rub it off. However, if food whose ingredients were previously ground (such as dough or farina) dried on one’s garment one may remove it with one’s fingernail or back of a knife as long as a stain remains.
- Even when the prohibition of Grinding applies, it is permitted, when necessary, to ask a non-Jew to remove this type of stain on Shabbos.
- One may not fold clothing on its creases unless he fulfills the following conditions: 
- According to many opinions, one may fold clothing not on its creases.
Cleaning Muddy Shoes
- It is permitted to rub and clean a plastic tablecloth on Shabbat with liquid soap. However, if part of the tablecloth is made from material it is forbidden to clean on Shabbat.
Cleaning a Spill
- If a small quantity of liquid spilled onto the table on Shabbat, it is permitted to wipe the table using a dry cloth provided there is no squeezing involved. However, it is forbidden to wipe it using a cloth if there was a big spill of liquid. One must use a plastic cleaner.
Special thanks to Rabbi Doniel Neustadt for a section of this article.
- Gemara and Rishonim: Rav Huna (Gemara Shabbat 147a) says that one who shakes out his garment has committed a Biblical violation of Shabbat. The Gemara limits this one who shakes out a black new garment which one is concerned about. Rashi (s.v. Hamenaer) explains that there is a Biblical prohibition of Melabain (laundering) to shake out the garment from the dust that was on it, whereas, Tosfot (s.v. Hamenaer) argues that shaking out dust isn’t laundering. Tosfot, therefore, explains that the Gemara means there is a Biblical prohibition to shake out a garment from the dew which was it. Similarly, the Ritva (s.v. Amar) argues on Rashi that because he says that Melabain (laundering) isn't relevant if there's no liquids involved. Beiur Halacha s.v. Yesh quotes the Shiltei Giborim who asks how Tosfot could permit shaking dust out of a garment if one intends to clean it even though no liquids are used. The Beiur Halacha answers that Tosfot only permitted shaking it out without cleaning it directly, however, all agree that rubbing it with one’s hand to clean it is forbidden.
- Halacha for Ashkenazim: The S”A 302:1 sides with Tosfot that there is a prohibition to shake out a garment from dew that was on it, but there is no prohibition to shake out a garment from dust that was on it. The Rama, however, writes that it’s proper to be concerned for the opinion of Rashi not to shake out a garment from the dust on it. Mishna Brurah 302:6 writes that one may rely on the lenient opinion to ask a non-Jew to do it. Shemirat Shabbat KeHilchata 15:28 rules like the Rama and Mishna Brurah that one may not shake out a garment from the dust on it, however, if it is a garment which one doesn't usually care about having dust on it, one may shake off the dust gently. He explains that one who shakes off the dust vigorously reveals that he is concerned about the dust. He adds that hitting it gently with one’s hand or a dry rag is the equivalent of shaking it out.
- Halacha for Sephardim: Yalkut Yosef 302:11 rules like Shulchan Aruch and permits shaking out a garment to remove the dust from it. Or Letzion (vol 2, 24:1), however, writes that we are concerned for the opinion of Rashi and the Rama and so one should only shake out a garment from the dust that's on it if one does so in an abnormal manner, such as if one uses one's sleeve. Ben Ish Chai (Shana Sheniya Vayechi 8) and Kaf HaChaim 302:8 agree with those who are strict for the Rama.
- More on the background of the issue:
- There is a dispute among the Rishonim whether or not removing dust or other dirt particles from a garment is considered Laundering. Some hold that removing any speck of dirt from a garment, even if it is not absorbed into the fabric of the garment but is merely lying on its surface [like a feather or a loose thread], is Biblically forbidden since the garment is being transformed from "dirty" to "clean." (Sefer Ha-Zichronos, quoted by Magen Avraham 302:4)
- A second opinion maintains that removing any dirt, whether it is absorbed into the fabric [like dust] or not, is totally permitted, since a dusty garment is not considered dirty and removing the dust is not considered Laundering. (Tosafos, Shabbos 147a)
- A third, middle-of-the road view, holds that only dust which is trapped between the fibers of the fabric may not be removed, while dirt which lies on the surface, may. (Rashi, Shabbos 147a, as explained by Rama and Beiur ha-Gra 302:1)
- The basic halachah follows the middle-of-the-road opinion forbidding one to remove dirt that has been absorbed into the fabric (Rama). Shulchan Aruch ha-Rav and Aruch ha-Shulchan strongly recommend that one be stringent and follow this view [but do not absolutely require it]. Chayei Adam and Mishna Brurah, however, are of the opinion that the basic halachah is in accordance with this view and one may not be lenient.
- In theory, there may be some dust which lies completely on the surface of the garment and is not absorbed into the fabric. In practice, however, this is almost impossible to determine. [See Shalmas Chayim, 2nd edition, 283, concerning surface dust on shoes.]
- The middle of the road opinion allows removing a feather or a loose thread that has landed on the garment (Rama). A minority view rules like the first opinion that even feathers and threads are prohibited: Magen Avraham, quoted by Chayei Adam 22:9 and Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 80:39; Ben Ish Chai, quoted by Kaf ha-Chayim 302:11. See also Aruch ha-Shulchan 302:9, who rules according to this view in the unlikely event of a person who is reluctant to wear a garment because of the feathers, etc. See Machazeh Eliyahu 44-4.
- Some Poskim are concerned with the issue of Muktzeh (See Shulchan Aruch ha-Rav 302:3 and Ketzos ha-Shulchan 116:3). To avoid the problem, the dirt can be removed indirectly or via his body; Sha’ar ha-Tziyun 337:7. Other Poskim, however, are not concerned with the Muktzeh issue; see Chazon Ish 47:21 and Shulchan Shelomo 302:5 and 302:12.
- Beiur Halachah 302:1, s.v. Lachosh writes that a brush may not be used. Mishna Brurah 302:6 writes that one should be careful not to let his clothing fall on the ground and get dusty so that he does not come to desecrate the Shabbos.
- Shemirat Shabbat KeHilchata 15:29 (based on Beiur Halacha 302:1 s.v. Aleha) writes that a black or dark-colored new looking garment is assumed to be a garment which a person is concerned about and wouldn’t wear without cleaning it and a light colored or old garment is assumed to be garments a person isn’t concerned about. However, if one’s personal attitude is different it would depend on that. 39 Melachos (Rabbi Ribiat, vol 3, pg 708-9) writes that nowadays people are particular about the appearance of one’s Shabbat clothes even if they are light colored and old and so dust shouldn’t be removed from one’s garments in any way. See Chut Shani 2:33-1.
- Even though the Ben Ish Chai (Vayechei #8) and Kaf HaChaim 302:8 are strict, Yalkut Yosef (Shabbat vol 2, pg 76) permits like the opinion of Shulchan Aruch. Menuchat Ahava (vol 2, 12:17) writes that it is permitted but one who is strict should be blessed.
- Mishna Brurah 302:6.
- Since this may be prohibited according to all views. If the non-Jew uses the brush on his own, to make his job easier, he need not be stopped.
- Misgeres ha-Shulchan on Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 80:80, quoted by Minchas Shabbos 80:143. See Beiur Halachah 302:1 (s.v. lachush), who seems to rely on this only when the garment is clearly not new or newly pressed. See also She’arim Metzuyanim b’Halachah 80:36, who disagrees with this leniency.
- A third type of stain is one where the food was neither absorbed into the fabric nor dried and hardened; it merely remained on the surface and could be easily flicked off, e.g., a noodle. This type of stain is permitted to be removed according to most poskim quoted earlier, since it is similar to a feather or a loose thread which may be removed.
- Or Letzion 2.24.2
- Shemirat Shabbat KeHilchata 15:27, Beiur Halacha 302:1 s.v. Yesh
- Entire section based on the view of the Mishna Brurah 302:11 and 36, and Beiur Halachah, s.v. d’havi. This is also the view of Da’as Torah 302:7. There are, however, poskim who are more lenient and allow a stain to be removed [without water or a cleaning agent] even when it will be completely removed, as long as it is not scrubbed vigorously; see Aruch ha-Shulchan 302:9; Ketzos ha-Shulchan 116:3.
- Rav Kahana in Gemara Shabbat 141a says that if mud sticks to one’s garment one may rub it off from the inside but not from the outside. Then the Gemara quotes the Briatta which says that one may scratch it with one’s nail. S”A 302:7 codifies this as halacha. Mishna Brurah 302:32 explains that rubbing it from the inside means holding the inside of the garment opposite where it’s soiled and rubbing two sides of the garment together. Mishna Brurah 307:24 explains that one may scratch it with one’s nail or the back of a knife even from the outside because that’s not considered laundering. Yalkut Yosef (Shabbat vol 2, pg 81) agrees. 39 Melachos extends this to chulent or any similar thick moist substance.
Shemirat Shabbat KeHilchata 15:30 (based on Beiur Halacha 302:1 s.v. Aleha) rules that one may rub it from the inside or scratch it with one’s nail until the mud falls off only if even after removing the mud a stain remains. Shemirat Shabbat KeHilchata adds that one may gently clean the garment using a dry rag if one is careful not to squeeze out the moisture in the garment. 39 Melachos (vol 3, pg 711-2) agrees but emphasizes that even when using a dry rag one may not remove the stain completely.
- The Tur 302:7 quotes Rabbenu Peretz who says that if the mud dried it’s forbidden to rub or scratch it because by making the mud crumble, one violates Tochen. S”A 302:7 quotes this as an individual opinion. Shemirat Shabbat KeHilchata 15:31 writes that if food whose ingredients were previously ground (such as dough or oatmeal) dried on one’s garment one may remove it according to the conditions in 15:30. Yalkut Yosef (Shabbat vol 2, pg 81) writes that in a situation of need and one is embarrassed because of the stain one may rub off dry mud from the inside but it’s preferable to have a non-Jew do it.
- Mishna Brurah 302:36 and Sha’ar ha-Tziyun 44.
- OC 302:3
- Gemara Shabbat 113a, Mishna Brurah 302:14. see http://www.mesora.org/FoldingTallis.html where he brings the following explanation:
- The Rishonim argue about the reason of the prohibition to fold clothing. The Rambam 22:22 and Rashi Shabbat 113a "Bishnei Bnei Adam" understand that it is a form of mesaken mannah, an action of improving the clothing, which is a torah-prohibition of makkah b’patish. The Ra’avad and Tosfos Shabbat 113a "Mikaplim" posit that it is prohibited because it constitutes preparation for the next time one will wear the tallis, and preparation on shabbos for after shabbos is prohibited.
- The Aruch HaShulchan OC 302:10 says that the reasoning of the Rambam and Rashi, that folding is "mesaken mannah" seems to only apply to a professional folding job, or something that will contribute significantly to the permanent improvement of the clothing. He therefore concludes that our folding should not be prohibited according to the reasoning of the Rambam and Rashi. The reason of the Ra’avad and Tosfos would still apply, though.
- The Ra’avyah 245 quoted by Mordechai Shabbos 388 offers a variant differentiation than the Aruch HaShulchan that satisfies even the opinion of the Raavad and Tosfos. If one were to fold not on the creases, his folding is clearly not a mesaken mannah, because it doesn’t improve the clothing, and it is also not a concerted preparation for the next time one will wear the clothing; he is just folding it quickly and haphazardly to be able to fit it into his bag or his shelf. The Ra’avyah, therefore, permits folding clothing (or a tallis) not on the creases.
- Or Letzion 2.24.4
- Mishna Brurah 302:18,19, Sh"t Yechave Daat 2:40, opinion of the Ra'avyah from earlier footnote. see also Shemirat Shabbat Kihilchita 15:45-46
- Or Letzion 2.24.5
- Or Letzion 2.24.6
- Or Letzion 2.24.8