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how to wash clothes

How to wash clothes?

It's not always as easy as it seems, as anyone who's ever pulled a pink shirt out of the washing machine when a white one went in knows.

Even the simplest task you've done hundreds of times can get complicated now and then.

By following basic sorting techniques, matching laundry products and water temperature to each load, and putting stain-busting strategies into play, you can make such spotty moments disappear.

You'll be rewarded with clothes that look cleaner and actually last longer.

sorting made simple.

The secret to washing clothes successfully and getting everything cleaned safely is to sort your laundry into load of similar colors, wash cycles, and water temperature. 

Look to the clothing care labels on your garments for guidance. They make selecting the right machine settings simple.

As you sort, be on the lookout for items that have spills or stains, or that are really dirty. (Very dirty clothes can actually transfer dirt in the wash to lightly soiled clothes).

Set these items aside. (See the Stain Removal Guide for tips on removing 9 common clothing stains.)

laundry wash temperature: Hot, warm, or cold?

Let your fabrics determine the cycle if the label doesn't tell you: sturdy fabrics, such as jeans and heavy cotton shirts, get the normal or regular cycle; combinations of synthetic and natural fibers need the permanent-press cycle; sheer and delicate fabrics do best in the gentle cycle.

How important is the right temperature? It directly affects the performance of the laundry detergent, the wrinkling of fabrics, and the life span of your clothes - so follow the care labels.

If a label is not legible, remember that hot water works well on ground-in and hard-to-remove dirt on sturdy fabrics. Use it to clean seriously soiled clothes (gardening or children's clothes), and to regularly disinfect dish towels and bedding.

Warm water minimizes color fading and wrinkling. Choose it for washing synthetic fibers, natural and synthetic blends, and moderately soiled fabrics.

Cold water will protect most dark or bright-colored clothing from running and minimizes shrinkage of washable woolens.

Use it for lightly-soiled clothes and those with blood, wine, or coffee stains (which may set if washed in warm or hot water), regardless of fabric. 

But for the rinse cycle, cold water is excellent for all types of loads. Another benefit: A cold-water rinse can reduce the energy used per load by up to one-third and minimize wrinkling in synthetic and permanent-press fabrics.

ready, set, wash.

Place clothes loosely in the washer, taking care not to wrap items around the agitator, where they could become tangled during the cycle.

Know when to say when: Clothes should move freely through the water for optimal cleaning.

If you're not sure, lift the lid during the cycle. Properly loaded clothes should sink and then reappear on the surface.

Overloading causes clothes to rub together - breaking down the fibers - and reduces the effectiveness of your laundry detergent.

It also allows dirt to be redeposited on clothes instead of heading down the drain with the rinse water.

tumble dry.

If you have several small loads, dry them together to protect your clothes from heat damage and to hasten the drying process.

Drying small loads reduces the tumbling effect produced by a pile of clothes rotating all together, and therefore actually prolongs the amount of time it can take to dry the clothes.

Set the dryer cycle to Regular or High if your load is all cotton (and preshrunk) fabrics; choose Permanent Press if the load consists of polyester or other synthetic fabrics; select the Low, Gentle, Delicate, or Air-Dry setting for fragile or sheer fabrics.

Visit the Clean Organized Home Store for the stain removal products and laundry supplies you need to keep your clothes looking their best.

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About the Author

Tara Aronson

Tara Aronson is a native Californian. Having grown up in San Diego, she studied journalism and Spanish to pursue a career in newspaper writing. Tara, whose three children - Chris, Lyndsay, and Payne - are the light of her life, now lives and writes in Los Angeles. She also regularly appears on television news programs throughout the U.S.