Laundry can be an arduous task, especially if you change outfits a lot, and this is compounded if you have multiple people in the house, especially kids. Even if we don't think about it often, people go through a lot of clothes, and clothes can get dirty pretty quickly, with most of us preferring not to wear clothes more than once before tossing them in the laundry basket and washing them (with a few exceptions). Plus, there are bed linens, towels, delicates, and other items to consider. As a result, there can often be so much laundry that it can be an extra chore to sort through it when laundry day rolls around.
This leads to many people throwing everything from the hamper into the washer at once without sorting and hoping for the best. And when they don't notice any damage, they start to wonder whether they need to worry about separating it at all.
So the question persists, do you need to separate your laundry?
Yes, You Do Need to Separate Laundry
In short, yes, you need to separate your laundry. Your delicates will not survive the rough washes, colors can bleed through, and there are all sorts of other potential problems that can come up when you don’t sort laundry before putting it in the washing machine. By sorting by fabric type, you can help prevent shrinkage and further damage, and other types of sorting help make sure that the cycle is as efficient as possible. When everything is sorted, you will be able to check care labels and determine whether to use hot water or cold water for a load, find out if you should hand wash certain garments, and more. And, fortunately, sorting laundry doesn’t have to be an all-day task.
So while some people might not say laundry sorting is vital, doing so is recommended if you value your clothes. Sure, many clothes will be fine without thinking about it, but that doesn't mean your luck won't run out eventually. You must pay attention.
But Not As Much as You Might Think
However, on the other side of things, even if you aren’t the best at sorting your laundry, you will still be safer than what alarmists would have you believe. Putting in a couple of items that are slightly different in color will probably not cause concern, and most of your everyday items will be fine going into the wash all at once. There will be exceptions, and some things that you shouldn't put into the regular wash under any circumstances, but you'll know what these are early on. Just trust your intuition, and you will be fine — as long as you don’t do something crazy like toss a red sock in with a load of white clothes.
Sorting by Colors
First off, and perhaps most obviously, you will want to sort your laundry by color. For the most part, this means separating the white and very bright from everything else. If you want to be extra careful about it, create three categories: darks, mediums, and lights. Light-colored clothes include whites and pastels, while dark clothes feature colors like black, navy blue and brown. The medium group is for anything that falls in between. Just remember to use common sense. Wash each group separately and according to their needs. When in doubt, check the care label. It’s the best place to learn how to wash everything you own. Your washer may have different wash cycles to correspond with different groups, as well.
In some cases, with intense colors that could easily bleed, you may want to wash the items separately for the first few runs. This is a common issue with darker-colored jeans and some sweatshirts. Tie-dyed t-shirts should also be laundered separately for the first several washes.
Depending on how much you want to get into it, you can also use different products and have them on hand for each color group. This mostly comes down to whether a laundry detergent or stain removal product has bleach or something similar in the formula. There are also products specifically made for brights, dark colors and whites.
How Dirty Is It?
Not all stains and messes are created equal. There is a difference between a pair of pants that has been on a dirt bike adventure and another that has just gone to the office and back. When the grime cakes on and the clothes are heavily stained, they are going to need a heavier wash or more runs (or a longer cycle). It's required to get the grime off, but it isn't healthy for all your clothes. Additionally, in the worst cases, you might just spread the muck around to other pieces of clothing instead of letting it drain away. The extra work separating it is worth it in the long term.
If something or a whole outfit is that dirty, chances are you want to tackle it right away. So follow that instinct, and don't put anything else in with that load.
What Fabric Is It?
The other main factor is what type of material the item is made of. If it is a knit or delicate item such as lingerie, it's not going to be able to take a lot of abuse. As such, it will need a gentler wash than most clothes can handle. Washing machines have these settings, but separation is required. Try to have a separate pile for delicates, and wash them using your machine’s delicate or gentle cycle.
Consider the exact material each item is made from, too. Natural fabrics, like cashmere and silk, have many different requirements compared to synthetic materials. For example, you may be fine to wash your polyester blouses in warm water, but if you try to do the same with wool outerwear, you’ll likely damage it. Washing blends can be tricky, too, so take care when laundering, especially for the first time.
Similarly, your heaviest items, such as towels and bed linens, should have their own pile. They might require a heavier cycle, and combining the bunch could damage your lighter clothing. If you decide to wash towels or fuzzy blankets with your clothes rather than in their own load, they’ll also likely leave lint on your garments. This is one of the big reasons to wash clothes and household linens separately.
Finally, if you happen to be washing anything with a zipper or buttons, put them in a separate wash to your delicates and knits. Wash things like bras with metal clasps in mesh bags to prevent damage to other apparel (or the clasps). Otherwise, you could find that your delicates are damaged by rapidly moving metal, etc.
Check the Tags
While you should be able to determine most things about how to wash your clothing from intuition or the situation, we do always recommend checking the tag the first few times you wash new clothes or whenever you aren't sure. The manufacturer usually knows best about how something is to be washed. While they aren't perfect, especially with cheaper items, they are your best guide.
Note that you likely won't find much text on the tags, though they might say something like "dry clean only." If you run into a series of symbols, you can always check a guide on how to interpret them. You can always sort your laundry into piles that depend on what the tags say. Note that the symbols may vary slightly depending on where the clothes were made, so do not feel discouraged if something feels just a little bit off.
What's Important to Sort?
So, in summary, here are the main things you should take away. If you remember anything from this article, keep this list:
- Yes, you do need to separate your laundry. Not separating it can lead to clothes wearing away faster, color bleed, and other problems with your clothing. You might not notice it at first, but separating your laundry can save you a lot of money over time.
- For many everyday clothes, you don't need to be meticulous about it. Running a separate load for every slightly different piece of clothing is a bit much.
- Start by separating whites from colors. While a lot of clothing is color-safe, you cannot always be sure, and it's a good habit to form.
- Separate the delicates and knits from everything else. They require a lighter cycle to avoid getting damaged.
- Be careful when washing natural fabrics and blends. They often require special care to avoid damage.
- If items have too many buttons or have zippers or clasps, you should put them in a separate wash. Consider using mesh laundry bags as an extra layer of protection.
- Check the tags to see if there are specific laundry instructions. Sort appropriately, including a dry cleaning pile.
- In exceptional cases, some clothing might get especially grimy or dirty. Give these items their own cycle in the wash, separate from the normally soiled clothing.
A Few Extra Tips
Finally, there are a few more things that might help make laundry day easier. If you think about it, doing laundry is a complex process, and the more information you have, the better. These tips aren't strictly universal, but these are great to have in mind:
- In many cases, it is best to turn your clothes inside out when washing them. It helps to protect the seams.
- This is especially the case with jeans. Turning them inside out not only protects the seams but also protects the color of the jeans, allowing them to stay blue longer.
- It is much easier to sort the laundry as you put it in the hamper. For this reason, we strongly recommend you have multiple hampers or a compartmentalized hamper. We promise it will speed up your laundry routine and make life so much easier for you.
- If you're sorting by colors and fabric types, don't feel afraid to use products meant for those fabric types. Using a detergent with bleach is often OK if you put in an all-white load, for example.
- When you are handling your laundry, be careful not to overburden your washing machine. Follow the instructions for the machine on the maximum load. Having to do two loads is far better than potentially breaking your machine or dealing with a sub-par wash. Clothes need room to cycle.
- If for some reason, you are extremely hesitant about a couple of items, you always have the option of washing them by hand. This provides you with complete control over the process. Just find the correct method and detergent for hand washing.