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How to Separate Laundry Quickly and Correctly

One coloured pile of clothes and another one of white clothes for washing

Sorting your laundry before washing maintains the good condition of your clothing, towels, and sheets, as well as ensures you get cleaner clothes. Sorting doesn't need to be time consuming. Once you get the hang of it, you'll do it automatically.

Step 1: Separate Laundry by Color

Start by organizing your laundry by color. Laundry organization tools, like divided hampers, work well to keep everything in the right pile. Common color groupings include:

  • Whites - All white or mostly white items
  • Lights - Pale or pastel colors
  • Darks - Darks are black, dark grey, purple, navy, green, and sometimes reds
  • Brights - Colorful hues such as yellows, oranges, and reds
  • Denim - While not a color, it's helpful to separate out your denim items as you do colors since they are washed separately

Darks and brights are sometimes combined into the same loads. However, if you have a large number of brights or deeper colors, it is worth separating them out to avoid color bleed.

Is Grey a Light or a Dark?

Grey is one of those colors that fall into a strange area for many people. Do not put it in with whites. Light greys or greys with lots of white or other pale colors can go into the lights group. If grey is a deep, dark color, put it in with the darks.

Can You Wash Jeans With Darks?

Jeans and denim items should really be washed separately. This is because they are a different, heavier fabric than the rest of your darks. Additionally, jeans should be turned inside out to prevent wear and fading, and hung to dry rather than put through a dryer cycle.

Wash New Items Separately

Any new clothing, sheets, or towels should be washed separately, especially if they are bright or dark colors. This is because leftover dye sometimes will bleed out the first few times you wash them. Keep those off to the side and do them as they are received so you don't accidentally mix them into your regular loads. Products like Shout Color Catchers are helpful additions that can keep clothes from bleeding, but you shouldn't rely on them to save a load of whites from a bright red shirt or a load of yellows from new designer jeans.

Step 2: Sort by Fabric and Care Instructions

Once you've sorted your laundry into color groupings, you'll want to sort by fabric. Follow these steps for best results:

  1. Check the laundry symbol on each item.
  2. Sort into similar laundry care instructions and fabrics, like putting cotton blends together.
  3. Pull delicates out from other fabrics, like separating white t-shirts and socks from silk undergarments.
  4. When in doubt, group like-weighted fabrics.
Washing instructions on clothes label

Can You Wash Towels and Sheets Together?

While many people throw both of these household staples together into one load, they really should be washed and dried separately. Towels stay fluffier when washed in hot cycles. Sheets should be done in warm cycles, not hot, due to shrinkage. Thick, heavy towels are considered rough when compared to more delicate sheet fabrics. Additionally, towels can cause lint build-up on sheets in the dryer. Finally, towels and sheets will dry at different rates, so they will not dry properly when done together.

Step 3: Sort by Soil Level

Now that you've separated out your colors and fabrics by care instructions, you'll want to look for heavily soiled items. These are items with a lot of dirt, grime, sweat, and/or stains. Do the following:

  1. Treat small stains using the method recommended for that stain type, whether it is ink, wine, food, or grass.
  2. Items with small, treated stains can be washed with the rest of the laundry in those piles.
  3. Items with lots of caked-on dirt, such as shirts worn to work in a barn, or odors, like cat bedding, should be separated out. These items should be washed together on the appropriate cleaning cycle.

Laundry Sorting Tips and Tricks

Learning how to properly do laundry isn't difficult. In fact, once you have checked the care tags and fabric a couple times, you'll separate out items automatically. A few tips to make sorting your laundry even easier include:

  • Label baskets and hampers by color or fabric so the whole family sorts as they discard their soiled clothing.
  • Keep stain removal pre-treatments by the clothes baskets so items can be treated ahead of time. Just make sure you purchase a treatment meant to sit for a few days.
  • Don't throw bundles of clothes into the washer at once. Instead, pull each item out from the basket separately. This helps you find stray socks, underwear, and other items that were sorted into the wrong pile.
  • Use the best laundry detergent for your load and washer.
  • Keep items that are known to bleed, like tie dye shirts, out of the regular piles even when they are with similar colors. Even when they have been washed a couple times, certain fabrics and dyes may continue to bleed for several wash cycles.

Laundry Sorting Made Simple

Set yourself up for laundry success by sorting your laundry before you start your next load. You'll save time and your favorite shirt!

How to Separate Laundry Quickly and Correctly