Laundry 101- Sorting Clothing Steps 1-6

Laundry separated into different baskets by color before cleaning

The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

Sorting is the easiest part of washing clothes, right? Wrong. Sorting is the most difficult and time-consuming part of laundry. If done incorrectly sorting ruins clothes and can damage machines. When done properly sorting saves invaluable time, energy, and money. There are 6 main things to look for when sorting laundry. Actually placing the clothing in the proper pile is only one of them.

  1. Check clothing tags.
    Read the tags thoroughly to determine how the clothes should be washed dried and ironed. Most items will have mainly normal washing instructions. You might be surprised though that you have items that are meant to be hand washed or not dried in the dryer. Pay attention to fabric type. Set these items aside in their own “Special Care” pile.
  2. Turn clothing right side out.
    Make sure none of the legs of your pants, or arms of your shirts are stuck in the garment improperly. If you are washing overalls, take the time now to clasp the latches of the overalls to their proper buttons, keeping them from getting broken, stretched or ripped. If you had any clothing tags that instructed you to wash the clothing inside out, make sure you remembered to do so.
  3. Check all pockets.
    It is best to have a bowl nearby to hold the contents of your pockets. Failing to check pockets can leave some nasty surprises, like lipstick, cell phones, important paperwork, or even money.
  4. Check for sewing repairs.
    Make sure there are not any loose threads, rips, button repairs, or other sewing repairs. If you find any, repair them before you wash the clothes. Washing them with problems will only make the problems bigger.
  5. Check for stains.
    They will need to be pretreated or soaked before washing and drying. If you dry a stain, you will most likely have a stain for life.
  6. Sort the clothing.
    There are many different methods to sorting. Some people sort by color. Others sort by fabric type. There are some adventurous souls who actually never sort clothing. Your sorting method will likely be determined by the size of your family and contents of your wardrobes. Here are some of the sorting categories that may demand special attention.
Clothing tag on denim pants checked for laundry care

The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

Denim pants turned inside out for cleaning

The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

Denim pants pockets checked for loose items before washing

The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

White shirt with hole in sleeve needed for repair before cleaning

The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

White spray bottle with stain remover next to folded denim pants

The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

Dirty laundry clothes separated by color

The Spruce / Leticia Almeida


Whites go separate because we want them to stay white. One red sock that is not colorfast can turn an entire white load pink. More often than not whites need a warmer water temperature than other clothing to ensure proper cleaning.

Reds and or Bright Colors

Colorfast pinks, purples, reds, and oranges can be mixed together to make a full load. Warning, red clothing is notorious for losing its color and bleeding onto other fabrics. When in doubt wash reds separately. Other bright colors can fade or lose their color onto other lighter clothing.


Towels are lint producers. The lint they give off sticks to other types of clothing. You can wash towels with blankets, sheets, and robes as long as everything is colorfast.

Specialty Items

These are things that have to be washed separately, are not colorfast, can’t be dried, or have otherwise special instructions that keep them separate.

Some people like to sort everything else into its color category to get a nice mix of small and large items for each load. For example, with a large family you may end up with a blue load, green load, khaki load, black load, etc. If your items are colorfast, (most clothing will be) you can combine colors together.

This is not by any means the only way to sort clothing; you may consider sorting by owner to make it easier to put it away. This can be a great time-saving method for families that seem to have all of their clean laundry piled in one place. As long as your method gets your clothes clean and keeps them intact, it is best to develop a system that fits your family.

Follow these six steps at the beginning of a laundry session and you avoid most of the common pitfalls that can ruin your clothing.