How To Sort Laundry Properly

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Knowing how to sort laundry helps you understand which clothes are safe to wash together, so you can get your clothes clean without damage.

Woman in blue flannel shirt carries an unsorted load of laundry in a plastic laundry basket

When my son recently did the wash to earn pocket money, I quickly realized he had no idea whatsoever how to sort laundry. Not only did he just toss stuff into the machine, but he also tossed it all into ONE load. All of it. Like, every piece he could jam in there. Not surprisingly, the washer flooded my laundry room.

Now, I’m not the type of person to turn down free (or reasonably priced) help. So, once we’d pried out the clothes he’d jammed into the machine and mopped the laundry room floor, I set about teaching him the right way to sort clothes then whipped up a printable laundry-sorting chart for future reference.

Should You Sort Laundry?

Everyone seems to have a different approach to doing laundry. Some do as my son did — throwing clothes, sheets, and towels into the machine willy-nilly. They rely on a cold water wash, and maybe those color catcher things to keep fabric dyes from bleeding.

Yes, there is a Right Way

That doesn’t get rid of allergens, though, and can lead to cross-contamination if you launder things like dirty underwear with kitchen towels.

Other people, like my mother, sort clothing so thoroughly that they end up washing small loads consisting of just two t-shirts in the same shade of yellow. That’s a waste of money since it takes a lot of energy to run a washing machine.

Why You Need to Sort Laundry

When it comes to sorting laundry, the goal is to accomplish three things:

  • Get the clothes clean.
  • Keep clothes from ruining each other through bleeding dyes or friction.
  • Prevent cross-contamination of bacteria and viruses.

How to Sort Laundry

Time needed: 5 minutes.

Before your eyes pop out over the steps involved, I want to tell you how my family makes this task a bit easier from the start. We sort our laundry as we get undressed using these four-bag sorters that I’ve put in every bedroom closet.

  1. Sort Clothes by Color

    Gather all of your laundry in one place and separate it by color.

    Darks (e.g., black, navy, charcoal)
    Brights (e.g., magenta, canary yellow, acid green)
    Lights (e.g., beige, pastels)
    Whites (e.g., white but also ivory)

  2. Separate the Piles

    Some things should be washed in a load by themselves due to cross-contamination concerns or the need to remove allergens. Pull these things out of the piles you’ve created so that you can wash them on their own:

    Sheets and pillowcases
    Underwear and socks

  3. Combine Loads with Caution

    You can wash towels with underwear and socks if you use your machine’s allergen or sanitizing cycle since the high-temperature water will kill contaminants. (Related: How to Disinfect Laundry.)

    Washing light-colored and white clothing together is also okay if you use cold water since the low temperature won’t cause dyes to run. If you’re using a detergent specifically formulated for cold water, you can wash everything else together if you want — but there is a risk dye will transfer.

  4. Do Laundry in This Order

    Wash the most urgent load first. It’s smart to wash the most urgent load first. For us, that’s usually dark clothing, which mostly consists of our pajamas and sweats. In your home, it might be the load with your kid’s sports or school uniform, or your favorite work clothes.

    Then wash biggest loads to smallest. Let’s face it, laundry isn’t a fun task for most people. Getting the bulk of it done first can help make it easier to do. Wash the biggest load then work your way down to small ones and you’ll be able to see the progress you’re making.

    Try to finish with towels. Washing towels as the final load lets you partially clean the machine by adding bleach or white vinegar. (You still need to run a cleaning cycle with bleach or vinegar every week or so.) Plus, if you get distracted when the towels are in the dryer, it doesn’t matter. No one cares if their towels are a bit wrinkled.

How to Sort Laundry Printable

To help my son remember the steps involved, I whipped up a chart and hung it on the wall in our laundry room. Now, he doesn’t have to ask every time it’s his turn to do the laundry, and I don’t have to worry about finding a foot of sudsy water on the floor again.

Want a copy of my clothes sorting chart for your laundry room?

Printable laundry sorting chart
Tap to open a .pdf for printing

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  1. 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.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      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!

  2. Aline S, Mickey says:

    I have a pink tee shirt that was washed with blue jeans. I have three lines from it bleeding. How can I get it out? Thanks.

  3. I live on my own and would want to compile some items from step 2 on the chart. My towels range in color but I was still interested in washing them with underwear or sheets. I am concerned about the colors running if I am using hot water. Do you have advice for that? Thank you! I appreciate all the advice in this post!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      If you’re concerned, wash them separately.

  4. I would wash the towels first as I dry them outside and they take the longest to dry.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      That makes sense!