Most of us learn how to sort laundry the hard way. For example, you might toss a white t-shirt into the wash with your brightly colored clothes and find that your red dress has dyed the t-shirt pink. Or, you might find blue splotches on your lightly colored clothes if you add your dark-wash jeans to the mix. While you can sometimes get away with mixing clothes of different colors, we recommend that you learn how to sort laundry to avoid unfortunate accidents. Believe us, it’s worth it!
How to Sort Laundry
Separate darks and lights.
This is the most well-known step to sorting laundry, but it’s certainly not the only rule you need to follow (see below). In one pile, combine the whites, pastels, and light grays. In the other pile, combine the dark-colored items and brightly colored items.
Of course, there will be items that combine light and dark. For example, what should you do with a black and white striped shirt? As long as the shirt isn’t brand new, it should be fine with your whites. You could also wash it with the darks/colors, but be careful not to combine it with any very dark clothes or red clothes, which could stain the white portions of the shirt. In addition, be sure to use cold water to prevent the stripes from fading.
Divide fine, delicate fabrics from heavier fabrics.
Next, within your dark and light piles, separate fine fabrics (blouses, lingerie, some dresses) from heavier fabrics (sheets, jeans, t-shirts). This is important for two reasons. First, washing by both color and fabric type helps you choose the right water temperature. Second, if you wash delicates with heavier items, you might damage the fine fabrics of the delicates.
Read care labels.
Care labels provide important instructions regarding whether the clothing item can be machined washed, what water temperature to use, which items to wash it with, and how to dry it. Some items must be dry cleaned, and these should be removed from your laundry basket and taken to a professional for cleaning.
If you’re imagining yourself rereading dozens of care labels every time you do laundry, don’t worry. When you’ve owned an item for a while, you’ll remember its general instructions and you won’t need to review the tag every time you wash it.
Many items feature a blend of fabrics. If the tag doesn’t provide washing instructions, follow the typical instructions for the fabric with the highest percentage in the blend. However, if an item contains any amount of silk or wool, follow the typical instructions for those specific fabrics. If an item happens to contain both silk and wool, use the instructions for wool (source).
Watch out for new or darkly colored items.
New items and darkly colored items are most likely to bleed, so it’s important to turn them inside out and wash them separately or with similar colors. Do this for the first several washes of a new item.
Wash very stained, dirty items separately.
Some of you can ignore this step, but if you have items that are heavily soiled – with ground-in dirt, oily stains, or anything very dirty or smelly – wash them separately. You want to prevent the grime and odors from transferring to another item of clothing.
If you’ve ever ruined an expensive or precious clothing item in the wash, you understand the value of learning how to sort laundry. And if you own a laundromat, you’ve likely seen some customers frustrated after they neglected sorting or accidentally forgot to do it. To educate your customers and prevent unfortunate mishaps, consider putting up a sign in your laundromat that quickly describes the basics of sorting laundry.
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