Do You Really Have to Sort Laundry?

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Whether you have to sort laundry or not always sparks a debate on my Facebook page. I get it. Doing laundry is already enough of a chore. Who wouldn’t want to make it less complicated? But before you throw everything willy-nilly into the wash, let me explain 7 reasons you should sort laundry.

So even if you’re in the “I just throw it all in and nothing bad has happened” camp, you’ll know the risks you’re taking when you don’t separate clothes before washing them.

1. Sorting Laundry and The Dye Dilemma.

Back in the day, clothing faded after the first wash. Fabrics would bleed so much dye in the washer that we learned to wash faded old jeans with new ones so they’d make them look newer. Now, most clothing is made from pre-washed fabric, which helps reduce dye transfer but doesn’t completely stop it.

It takes only one red sock to turn an entire load of light-colored clothes pink. Even if you’re good about washing new things separately, it doesn’t completely stop dye transfer. You may not see dramatic color changes, but over time your brights will look less vivid and your white clothes will grow dingy.

2. Dark Clothes and the Battle with Lint.

Clothes swirls around and rub against each other in the wash. This friction can cause light colored clothing to shed fibers that turn into lint on dark clothes. Fleece and flannel are two of the worst offenders, so if you wear pajama pants or hoodies just know they’re shedding lint on your other stuff. Over time, your dark clothes will grow grayer as they collect more lint with each load.

3. Pills and Bobbles And Sorting Laundry, Oh my!

Friction and agitation cause clothes to develop fuzz balls, also known as fabric pills, lint balls, or bobbles. Those pricey leggings you love developed pills because you didn’t sort laundry by weight. Knit clothing pills the most, so always wash knits separate from heavier items like jeans, and use the gentle cycle to reduce friction.

4. Sorting Laundry and the Case of The Mystery Holes.

To sort laundry properly, you separate darks, brights, and lights and also wash heavy and lightweight fabrics on their own. If you don’t, the zippers and rivets on your jeans are likely to catch on more delicate items, and you’ll wind up with small holes or snags on your clothes when they come out of the washer. If you take no other steps to separate laundry, at least sort the pile by weight before you add things to the washing machine.

5. Sorting and Clothes Shrinkage Woes: A Twist!

Most laundry detergent is effective at getting out stains in cold water or in hot. So it’s no longer as important to sort based on wash temperature, but based on how long it takes things to dry. A wet hoodie takes longer to dry than a cotton tank-top, for example. Over-drying makes clothing shrink. Sorting by weight prevents this. (Is it too late? Here’s how to unshrink clothes.)

6. Sorting Laundry Avoids Cross-Contamination.

Even though you can wash clothes without sorting in cold water, that doesn’t mean they’re getting optimally clean. Dr. Charles Gerba, a microbiologist and professor at the University of Arizona, says fecal bacteria survive cold water and can transfer from one fabric to another in the wash. So, if you’ve got to clean poop from clothing, you should sort it from the rest of your wash and use hot water.

7. Sorting Laundry Can Save You Money.

Ultimately, the best reason to sort your clothes before washing is because you will save money since it helps them last longer. When your clothes come out of the washer snagged or with small holes, or your whites start looking dingy gray and your darks get covered in lint you can’t get rid of, you wind up replacing them. So all that time you saved by not sorting clothes before washing just turns into more time you’ve got to spend working to afford new ones.

Still not convinced you should sort laundry? Sound off in the comments.

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  1. Leanne Larson says:

    I care for a child who is potty training and still has accidents at times. I hadn’t worried too much about the garments coming out of the wash with viable bacteria from the stool on them because I always assumed the hot, dry air in my dryer would go a long way toward
    sanitizing the garments. Was I mistaken to have believed that? What added benefit might be gained by adding chlorine bleach to the washing machine when doing laundry soiled in this way?

    1. Katie Berry says:

      That’s a tricky question, Leanne. Your dryer’s high temperature setting can eliminate germs, but everything from the thickness of the fabric to how long the fecal matter was on it can affect whether the dryer is enough. If you want to wash in cold but don’t like chlorine bleach, your best bet is to use oxygen bleach such as Oxiclean, or my homemade version, to lower the contamination then let your dryer do the rest. If you don’t want to use oxygen bleach, you’ll want to figure out the time and temperature required based on the material. Here’s a table explaining that further, if you don’t want to read the whole study on laundry hygiene. It’s fairy dry reading material, pun intended. 🙂

  2. Thank you! This is really helpful

    1. Katie Berry says:

      I’m so glad you like it!