The secret behind getting everything clean safely is to sort your laundry into loads of similar colors, wash cycles, and water temperature needs, and to set aside stained garments for prewash treatment.
Look to the clothing care labels on your garments for guidance. They make selecting the proper machine settings simple.
Here's how to sort clothes so that everything in your load gets clean, safely.
How to sort clothes: Start sorting by reading each garment's label and separating into six piles:
Of course, six piles could translate into six loads; if you've got the time during the evening, this is the safest way to keep your clothes looking good.
However, if time is short and your needs are immediate, combine and wash the cold-water pastels and light colors with the cold-water brights and darks; do the same for your warm-water loads.
But resist the temptation to mix any colors with your white loads.
As you sort, be on the lookout for items that have spills or stains (get tips for removing common stains here), really grungy jeans and kids' clothes (very dirty garments can transfer dirt in the wash to lightly soiled clothes), and those that require a gentle wash cycle.
Create three separate stacks for these: hot water, gentle cycle, and pretreat.
Once again, you can mix things up in a pinch: If you have only a few light-colored cold- or warm-wash items that require the gentle cycle, throw in similarly colored items that need the same temperature.
The add-ins won't get as clean with the gentle cycle's agitation, but it's OK to simplify your laundry life.
Still, always go with the gentlest cycle and coolest temperature when you mix fabrics and colors.
Be sure also to check trim and decoration for colorfastness. One red-trimmed white shirt could leave you with a load of pink clothes.
Unsure? Dip a hidden corner of the fabric or an inside seam in your liquid detergent or a mixture of your powder detergent and hot water. Rinse and let it air-dry. If the color remains unchanged, the garment is colorfast.
It's time to select a wash cycle and temperature.
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, ad the life span of your clothes - so follow the care labels.
If the label is not legible, remember that hot water works well on ground-in and hard-to-remove dirt on sturdy fabrics.
Still, few labels recommend regular hot-water washing. Use it to clean seriously soiled garments (gardening or children's clothing), and to regularly disinfect dish towels, washcloths, bath towels, bedding, and pillowcases.
This is one time you don't want to mix lights and darks, as hotter temperatures can cause some fabrics to bleed. (Whites warrant the solo treatment no matter what the temperature.)
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 the fabric.
If you're going to do a cold-water wash, check first for stains and spots and pretreat garments; detergent doesn't clean heavily soiled areas as well in cold water. If you do lots of cold-water washes, consider using a laundry detergent designed to work in all temperatures.
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 or permanent-press fabrics.
Here's how to sort clothes to keep snags and lint to a minimum: zip zippers, button buttons, brush away lint, and empty pockets before tossing clothes into the washer.
Now Separate lint givers, like fuzzy sweatshirts, chenille robes, flannels, and towels, from lint takers, such as knits, corduroys, and permanent-press and synthetic fabrics.