How to Sort Laundry Before Washing

one coloured one white pile of washing
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Do any of these laundry disasters sound familiar? 

  • Pink underwear that was once white
  • Blue streaks on your favorite yellow shirt
  • Dull and dingy whites
  • Shrunken clothes

If you seem to have lots of problems with how your clothes look after a trip through the washing machine, it could be your fault. You're not sorting your dirty laundry correctly.

Sorting laundry seems to be a mystery to some so they dump everything in together.

But wait, you say you're using one of those detergents and color catcher cloths that claim you can wash everything together? Don't believe everything you read. (That's where lots of problems begin.)

Clothes need to be sorted by color, fabric type, and weight, and washing instructions. It really isn't so hard. Follow these simple steps and you will soon be doing laundry like a pro.

How to Sort Laundry Before Washing

There are four steps to sorting laundry before washing or cleaning. You can wait until there is a mountain of laundry and the sorting will be tedious. Or since you know that there will be dirty clothes and linens that need to be cleaned each and every day, you can make it simple by sorting laundry as you take off or use each item.

Use separate laundry hampers or a laundry hamper with sorting sections in your closet, bathroom, or central area. If the hamper doesn't have labels, you can add them and even post the rules for laundry hamper for your kids.

One section should be for whites, one section for dark colors, one section for light colors, and one section for dry clean only.

Even if you have to do a bit of last minute decision making when the load is pulled from the hamper, presorting will speed up your laundry routine and help insure your efforts are successful.

Sorting Clothes: Step One

If you are very familiar with your regular laundry, you probably won't have to do this step every time. But if you are teaching a child how to do laundry, it is a very important step. Read the care label on each item in the hamper.

The label will tell you whether an item can be machine washed and even at what what temperature and how to dry it. Place all clothes that are labeled, “wash separately” or “hand wash” into a separate pile.

If you are a novice on how to do laundry if it says “dry clean only”, believe the label and place it in a bag to take to a professional dry cleaner. With some experience, you will learn that some items labeled as dry clean only can be hand washed. You'll also learn how to use a DIY home dry cleaning kit in your dryer.

Sorting Clothes: Step Two

Once the hand wash and dry clean only clothes are separated, sort the remaining washable laundry by color. Whites, pastels, light gray, and white background prints will go in one pile. Dark colored clothes–black, red, navy, brown, dark gray–go in another pile.

Sorting Clothes: Step Three

Sort each pile one more time by type of fabric. For instance, in the white/light colored pile separate towels and sheets from blouses, slacks, and underwear or lingerie.

In the dark colors, separate t-shirts and jeans from lighter weight items like blouses and dress shirts. If you have dark towels or blankets, separate them from clothes to reduce lint, never wash lint producing fabrics and lint attracting fabrics together!

Washing by color and fabric type allows you to use the correct water temperatures and keeps drying cycles simple.

Sorting Clothes: Step Four

Not everyone will need to do this step but if you have heavily soiled items with ground-in dirt or oily stains like motor oil or lots of cooking oil stains, sort as usual but wash these items separately. This will prevent heavy soil from redepositing on other clothing. It will also prevent strong odors from transferring to other fabrics.

Final Tip

Don't make this a habit, but if there are not enough items to make up a full machine load of each type of fabric and you are in a hurry, you can wash all of each color together.

Just be sure to choose the washer cycle and use cold water to fit the most delicate garments in the load.