How to Sort and Wash Laundry

Let’s face it. Most of us don’t enjoy doing laundry. Unfortunately, it’s necessary unless you want to keep buying new clothes or wearing dirty ones (and that’s certainly not realistic!). And while throwing laundry into the wash isn’t difficult, you might have been doing it wrong all these years.

Specifically, a lot of people wash all of their clothes together and skip the sorting step. This isn’t a good idea if you hope to keep your clothing in as good of shape as possible. The reason? How to wash white clothes differs from how to wash dark clothes. Also, different fabrics should be handled differently1.

How to Sort Laundry

There are multiple methods for sorting laundry, but the most basic is to separate based on color. That’s because dark clothes can often bleed dye—we’ve all had at least one red shirt turn white underwear pink, right? You can combine whites and lights if you want to have fewer laundry loads.

You can also sort by soil level (still keeping color in mind). More heavily soiled clothing will require a more heavy-duty laundry detergent. You also want to keep it away from other clothing, as the dirt and oils can transfer to less soiled clothing during the wash cycle if washed together.

Next, you’ll want to consider fabrics. Unless otherwise noted on the care label2, fabrics like cotton and polyester can be washed in the machine, while rayon and silk are typically dry clean or hand wash only.

Finally, if you have any delicates (e.g., underwear, tights, etc.), you should wash them separately on the Delicates or Gentle cycle.

How to Wash Whites

Many whites can be washed in hot water, including white towels, socks, and sheets. For others, a lot depends on the fabric. Common fabrics like white cotton can be washed on the normal cycle in warm water. Delicate whites should be washed in cold water on the gentle/delicates cycle, hand washed, or dry cleaned, depending on the care label instructions.

How to Wash Darks

Hot or warm water can break down the fibers in dark clothing, exposing raw fiber ends and thus appearing to show less or faded color. That means cold water is best for darks. The breakdown also happens when clothing is tumbled in the washer and dryer, so use the lowest setting possible on the washer for how soiled the clothing is and hang to dry if possible.

  1. SOURCE: Laundry Basics: How to Sort, Wash, Dry and Fold (March 2017). DIY Network. Retrieved Aug. 8, 2017 from:
  2. SOURCE: Laundry Guide to Common Care Symbols (2010). Textile Affairs. Retrieved Aug. 8, 2017 from: