There's more to the sorting game than just keeping dark clothes separate from the gleaming whites.
The secret is mixing and matching clothes into loads that need similar wash cycles and water temperatures.
Look to the care labels on your clothes for guidance. Without a doubt, smart sorting is the best way to ensure clean results - load, after load.
Here's how to sort clothes, step-by-step.
How to sort clothes: First, sort by color.
Wash all whites separately; pastels and medium colors together; brights and darks by themselves.
Pay special attention to whites and lightly colored synthetics; they can pick up dark dyes from other fabrics during washing.
Check trimmings and decorations for colorfastness too.
Sort heavily soiled garments away from the lightly soiled ones, as lightly soiled items can pick up the extra soil from the wash water if laundered with really grungy jeans, kids' play clothes, or gardening duds.
And whites will slowly get grayer or yellow; colors will gradually become duller and duller.
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. Get more laundry tips at The American Cleaning Institute.