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.

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.

Then he added most of a container 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, 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?

Pile of unsorted dirty laundry on a wood floor

Yes, There is a Right Way

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.

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.

How to Sort Laundry

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.

Plus, I tied a stain treatment stick to each sorter. Now, doing laundry doesn’t require checking each item for stains on top of all the other work.

Step One: 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, ivory)
  • Whites

Step Two: Separate the Piles

Some things should be washed in a load by themselves, regardless of their color, due to cross-contamination concerns or the need to remove allergens. Others go into a load by themselves because their fabric weight could damage other items.

Pull these things out of the piles you’ve created so that you can wash them on their own:

  • Sheets and pillowcases
  • Towels
  • Underwear and socks
  • Jeans

Step 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.

Don’t wash jeans with other items, even if they’re the same color, for the reason described above.

Step Four: 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.

Always finish with towels. Washing towels as the final load lets you disinfect the machine by adding bleach or white vinegar. Plus, if you get distracted when they’re in the dryer, it doesn’t matter as much. After all, no one cares if their towels are a bit wrinkled.

How to Sort Laundry Printable Guide

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? Click the image below to get a free .pdf to print.

Laundry sorting chart

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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.

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