When my son recently offered to do laundry to earn some spending money, I found out I’d failed to teach him how to sort laundry properly. Not only did he toss stuff into the washer without treating stains, he also tossed it all in one load. All of it. Like, every piece he could jam in there.
After we got the floor mopped up and dried out, I set about teaching him the right way to sort clothes. Then I whipped up a laundry sorting chart and taped it to our wall. If you’re ready to learn what he knows, read on.
Sort to Prevent Dye Transfer
- Darks (black, navy, charcoal)
- Brights (magenta, canary yellow, acid green)
- Lights (beige, pastels)
Separating clothing by color helps keep dyes from transferring. Even if you don’t notice a problem at first, washing light clothing with darker things will leave them dingy. On the other hand, washing dark clothing with light things causes fading.
Check items as you sort the laundry and pretreat any stains you find so the stain remover has time to work. Always wash stained items in cold water until the stain is gone—heat can turn stains permanent.
Sort Laundry to Prevent Lint
Pull towels and sheets out. Group towels by color, ditto for sheets. This prevents dye transfer, keeps towels from getting lint on your clothes in the wash, and protects your sheets from snags and tears.
Sort to Stop Shrinkage
Warm or hot water gets some fabrics cleaner than cold does, especially things that have a lot of sweat or body oils like towels and socks. Don’t exceed the hottest temperature on the care label, or you may wind up shrinking your clothes.
- Cold: Anything with stains, lightly soiled clothes, delicates, dark or bright clothing, linens, jersey or flannel sheets, and mixed loads.
- Warm: Synthetic clothing. Microfiber or poly-blend sheets, deeply colored towels.
- Hot: White towels, cleaning rags, athletic socks, underwear.
Sort by Weight for Better drying
Now that you know what temperature each pile needs, sort your laundry piles by weight so you aren’t washing heavy things with light or delicate ones. Separating by weight helps prevent fabric pills.
For example, pull jeans out of your cold water pile and wash them separately to help keep them from fading. Wash delicates in their own cold water cycle so nothing snags or tears them.
An exception for heavily soiled stuff
Sort anything that’s heavily stained, very greasy or dirty into its own load. Wash it on a long, heavy duty cycle at the appropriate water temperature, so the laundry detergent has enough time to break up the soils.
Wash Your Sorted Loads
Wash the urgent stuff first: For my family, that’s usually the dark clothing group since it contains most of our hoodies and pajamas.
Work reds into the mix: After washing a red item several times, I usually feel comfortable adding it to the dark clothing without worrying about dye transfer.
Be cautious with new clothes: Wash new things, especially those with deep or saturated colors, in their own load for the first few times until they’re done bleeding dye.
Wash inside out: Turn dark clothing and things with embellishments or iron-on designs (like concert t-shirts) inside out to protect them from abrasion and reduce fading.
And the final load? I try to make that towels. It’s not because washing them in hot water cleans the machine, like some people think. (It doesn’t: towels often have a lot of buildup.) It’s because after after all that time sorting laundry, if I forget about them I don’t feel bad.