Sorry, You Do Still Need to Sort Your Laundry—Here's Why

A pile of laundry in a washing machine

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When it comes to doing laundry, many will argue that it’s a cumbersome chore. Now, add in the idea of mandatory sorting and people are actually on the fence as far as their habits and best practices. Some people are against sorting as are their non-traditional, rule-breaking parens; while others swear by it, following the age-old trends of those who came before them.  

But, is laundry sorting really still necessary?

Although we can all agree that it isn’t the most fun chore on our lists, arguably, it has benefits. After talking with some experts and laundry aficionados, here’s why we’re ultimately still recommending it.

Sorting Prolongs Fabric Lifespan

“Sorting laundry is extremely important for best results,” shares Alicia Sokolowski, President and Co-CEO of AspenClean. “You should start by reading the laundry label. First, you should sort laundry by color, and then by type of fabric. That will allow you to pick the correct detergent, temperature, and wash cycle. This maintains your clothes in best condition and prolongs their lifespan.”  

In fact, sorting is necessary, she says, because almost every single item you wash has a different set of washing instructions. Some items can only be washed in certain temperatures, others need a delicate cycle vs. heavy-duty, and items that are more soiled than others often require pre-washing cycles (using bleach or vinegar, depending on the severity of the stains). So it makes sense to sort once you know what each item requires.

 “Items like blouses and undergarments need a different washing cycle than your bed sheets, for example,” shares Nora Mitchell, editor-in-chief of Household Advice. “Some materials require a delicate wash and different temperatures to avoid things like shrinkage and bacteria buildup.”  

And let’s face it—we wouldn’t want to wash heavy-duty athletic gear with delicate intimates.

Different Materials Have Different Reactions

Another reason sorting just makes sense is because different materials can react with one another in the wash cycle—in good or bad ways. For example, certain fabrics are what we might consider “lint-givers,” meaning they tend to shed (especially if this is one of the first washes). Cotton, flannel, or anything ‘fluffy’ (think: terrycloth robes or towels) are notorious ‘givers.’ It may be best, then, to avoid washing these with nylon or corduroy, for example, which are quick to pick up any excess fuzz.  

To elaborate, Beth McCallum, writer for Oh So Spotless, shares about the difference in materials and why this actually matters when it comes to the wash.  

“It’s important to separate cottons from synthetics,” she says. “This can often ruin the absorbency, texture, and softness of your cottons and synthetics since they pick up particles from each other.” 

She also reiterates the importance of different temperatures, which play into the urgency for sorting as far as color-bleeding, material stretching or loosening, and overall damage to your fabrics.

“Your wool clothes should be washed cold, whereas towels and other cotton items can handle higher temperatures,” she says. “If you toss everything in at 90 degrees, for instance, some items will definitely shrink!”

Is Sorting Absolutely Necessary?

Although sorting arguably has its benefits when it comes to washing techniques and does make sense as far as preserving materials, some experts say it’s just not that necessary.  

Outside of the initial washes—where dyes are more apt to bleed out and fabrics are more likely to stretch or shrink—some say that you can get away with just sorting out whites and lighter colors from the darks. In essence, anything with a richer tone (from deep red to full black) can be mixed together and washed on cold.  

There are also other products out there that prevent bleeding, for example ‘color grabbers’ that use microfiber technology to trap loose dyes during the wash cycle and prevent staining. While the jury’s still out on the effectiveness of this—as some people are simply pickier than others when it comes to color-merging—we can’t argue the fact that it’s a solid, no-brainer way to make laundry efficient and effective.  

So while there may not be an answer to this question that everyone agrees on, the benefits seem to outweigh the negatives. As far as the chore list is concerned, add it to the to-dos!