how to sort clothes for washing

The key to getting all your laundry clean, and keeping fabrics and colors intact in the process is proper sorting of your clothes before you wash them. Proper sorting can also help you prevent lint and snags.

Here's how to sort clothes for washing to help ensure everything gets clean safely. Start by sorting your clothes into the following piles, taking time to read each garment's care label for guidance:

  • Cold-water whites
  • Warm-water whites
  • Cold-water pastels and light colors

  • Cold water brights and darks
  • Warm water brights and darks

If the laundry symbols or labels are not legible, remember that hot water works well on ground-in and hard-to-remove dirt on sturdy fabrics (though few a labels recommend regular hot-water washing).

Use it to clean seriously soiled clothes (gardening or children's clothes), and to regularly disinfect dish towels, washcloths, bedding and pillowcases.

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 white loads.

How to Sort Clothes to Prevent Lint and Snags

To keep lint - short fibers and yarns loosened in the laundering process - off your clothes and out of your life, take time to separate lint-shedders, such as fuzzy sweatshirts, chenille robes, flannels, and towels, from lint-keepers, such as knits, corduroys, and permanent press and synthetic fabric.

Make sure there are no tissues left in any pockets. 

Continue by zipping zippers, buttoning buttons, and emptying pockets.

Melted crayons overlooked in the sorting process are no fun to tackle. And hard objects such as coins and yo-yos can bang around in the washer and tear your clothes. 

Can You Wash Clothes Labeled 'Dry Clean'?

But when clothes are labeled dry-clean, must you obey? The dry cleaning industry will tell you yes, and if you can't live without that silk blouse, you should comply. 

If you clean it yourself, you risk damage like shrinkage, color loss or fading, and fabric texture changes - silk can lose its sheen, and linen can end up looking lumpy instead of crisp.

The benefits: If you don't mind gambling, you save money and have the item ready when you need it. Your best hand-washing bets (cold water, please) include plain-weave light-colored silks, cashmere (washed inside out), fuzzy sweaters, and loose-weave knits.

While dry cleaning will keep these clothes looking like new longer, some  of these may be carefully hand-washed and air-dried.

Set Aside Really Grungy Clothes and Those Requiring a Gentle Wash Cycle

As you sort, be on the lookout for items that have spills or stains (see how to remove 9 common laundry stains for tips), really dirty jeans and kids clothes (very dirty clothes can actually 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 washing lights and darks together.

Be sure also to check trim and decorations on your clothes for colorfastness. One red-trimmed white shirt could leave you with a load of pink clothes.

Unsure if an item is colorfast? Dip a hidden corner of the fabric or an inside seam in your liquid laundry detergent or in a mixture of your powder detergent and hot water.

Rinse and let air-dry. If the color remains unchanged, the garment is colorfast.

Hot, Warm, or Cold Wash Water?

It's time to select a wash cycle and temperature. Read Choosing the Right Laundry Temperature to continue.

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