How To Sort Laundry (with Printable)

How to sort laundry from
When my son recently did the household laundry to earn pocket money, I quickly realized he had no idea whatsoever how to sort laundry. Not only did he pretty much just toss everything into the machine, he managed to cram three peoples’ clothing, sheets and towels into ONE load to which he added most of a jar of my homemade laundry detergent. The results weren’t pretty.

Now, I’m not the type of person to turn down free (or reasonably priced) help. So, just as soon as we’d pried the clothes jammed in the machine and mopped the laundry room floor, I set about teaching him how to sort laundry my way. Notice, though, I said my way.

You see, there are all sorts of thoughts about how to sort laundry. Some people do very much as my son did, throwing clothes, sheets, and towels into the machine willy nilly and relying on their use of solely cold water (and maybe some of those color catcher things) to keep fabric dyes from bleeding. That drives me nuts.

Other people, like my mother, sort so thoroughly based on color, weight, and manufacturer instructions that they wind up washing teeny tiny loads consisting of maybe two t-shirts in the same shade of yellow. That drives me nuts, too.

When it comes to sorting laundry, I try to accomplish basically three things:

• Get the clothes as clean as possible.
• Keep clothes from ruining each other, either through bleeding dyes or friction.
• Save time and money if I can.

Accomplishing this means that I sort laundry more than once. Yes, that’s right: as much as I usually hate repeating steps when it comes to household chores, I sort then re-sort when it comes to laundry.

How To Sort Laundry

1. First, sort clothes based on color. This means separating dark clothing from brights, lights and whites. Sheets and towels get divided into white and colors. Underwear and socks get their own pile. (I buy cotton underwear for everyone in the family so it all goes in the same load. My fancy, special occasion stuff gets either hand-washed or washed in its own load using the delicate cycle).

2. Next, sort the color-categories based on weight.
Jeans, which are heavier than most other clothing, get washed in their own load. T-shirts and tank tops are typically made from the same fabric, so they wind up in their own piles (dark, bright, light, and white). Ditto for yoga clothes and active wear, sweaters, blouses, etc.

3. Combine loads where possible.
You can wash dark and bright clothes together if they’re the same weight and use the same washing temp. Ditto for light and white clothing.

4. Wash the filthiest stuff last. It’s smart to start the laundry by washing the most urgent load first. In our house, that means t-shirts and tanks, since we all have our favorite ones we like to wear throughout the week. Whatever load you start with, make sure to wash the underwear and socks last so you’re not transferring bacteria from them to other clothes that won’t get washed in hot water. (This way you can also disinfect the machine by running it on an empty cycle with a cup of bleach, or completely cleaning your washing machine, when you’re done.)

Now, when I explained this all to my son (as I’ve explained it to my husband more times than I can count over the past 15 years), he looked at me like I’d just sprouted a second head. Then I sat down and put together a chart which immediately made sense to him. And the result? He did two loads of laundry yesterday evening, and plans to do another two this evening. Not bad for a $5 in his allowance!

I figure since it helped my son understand, maybe you’d like a chart, too. So here’s a printable about how to sort laundry, and don’t forget to check out my printable laundry day routine, too!

How To Sort Laundry Printable

How To Sort Laundry Thumbnail
(Click and save the .pdf)

Equipment I Use For This:


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  • Jennifer

    It was smart of you to make a chart! I have thought to myself that if anyone else has to wash my baby’s diapers, I’m out of luck because I’ve never put together instructions. :)

    My regular clothes washing routine is much more relaxed. If the clothes aren’t going to bleed on other clothes and they can be washed at the same temperature, they can be washed together at my house.

    • Katie B.

      Oh you really need to make a chart! Think about it — when family visits, they’d probably love to help you out. With a chart, you let someone else wash those diapers for you. What a great break!

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