All the secrets about sorting laundry

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I rarely sort my laundry. Rifling through piles of dirty clothes seems kind of gross, and it just adds another step to the long process of wash, dry, fold, and put away, which already sometimes stretches over multiple days!

Here’s the thing though. You’ll get much better results if you take just a few minutes to sort your laundry, especially when you’re washing items you really care about. I’ve learned this the hard way, stuffing overpriced leggings in with towels only to end up with embarrassingly lint-covered legs, or finding out that my new favourite tee is suddenly sized for a toddler.

While separating your laundry isn’t absolutely necessary, we have a few secrets to help you decide if you want to invest the time and energy. Here’s the real dirt on when it’s worth separating your laundry, and when it isn’t.

Delicate fabrics

This one may seem obvious, but hey, we’ve all thrown stuff in together at some point, haven’t we? Truth be told, I’ve run into a lot of problems by doing that. When I don’t separate out my delicates, they almost always get wrecked.

When you’re washing fabrics like silk, lace, and cashmere, keep them separate and use a gentle cycle and cold water. Avoid using any fabric softeners or bleach. Same goes for your favourite leggings and workout wear, which should be kept separate to avoid degrading its performance quality. Don’t add fabric softener to this load either. It’ll leave a film on your fitness clothing, so you’ll lose out on the sweat-wicking features.

Dark colours

Ever had that single red sock turn an entire load pink? Pretty much everyone has. Dark coloured clothing should really be kept separate to avoid colours bleeding together, especially when the items are new. Separate out your darks by colour and wash them on their own to keep all of your clothes looking their best.

Light colours

On the flip side, any whites and pastels that you want to remain that way should be separated out from the colours. If you don’t mind white items ending up looking grey and dingy, go ahead and mix them up but they’ll stay brightest if you keep them separate.

Mixed colours

It gets a bit tricky if your clothing is a striped, checkered, or patterned variation of light and dark. In this case, test it by first washing the item by hand to see if it’s colourfast. If it is, then you should be safe to wash it with your other similar colours. However, if you’re concerned about keeping the white parts as bright as possible, you may want to continue to set the piece aside for handwashing.

Zippers, hooks & hardware

Listen, I know it’s tricky, but these kinds of details on clothing can snag delicate fabrics and lead to holes and rips where you don’t want them. My own trick is to make sure zippers are secured before the items get washed, but it’s still safest to keep them separate from the clothing you really care about. Hoodies, unite! If you have enough of them, give them a load of their own.

Heavy fabrics

Thump, thump, thump … that’s the sound of an unbalanced load, which can be annoying to listen to but can also damage your laundry equipment (and lead to preventable repairs). Keeping your heavy towels, blankets, and denim separate from lighter fabrics will ensure that everything gets washed properly without upsetting your machine.

Super dirty items

Here’s the dirt on why you should separate these out: heavily soiled clothes need a longer wash cycle or a higher temperature to get them effectively cleaned. If you mix them in with lightly soiled ones, you’re just spreading dirt around and you won’t be able to select the right cycle for all of them. If you’ve been out in the mud enjoying a dirty adventure, set aside those items for a load of their own.

Tips to keep it simple

The truth is that you don’t really need to separate your laundry. If you throw it all in together and turn on the machine, you’ll still achieve some level of cleanliness. But taking the extra time to properly sort your laundry can significantly improve the results. You’ll be able to choose the most appropriate wash settings and avoid a colour-bleeding catastrophe, protecting your items from disaster.

I still don’t always bother to separate my laundry. Sometimes I’m pressed for time or just overwhelmed by it all piling up. But when it comes to my favourite items, I’m motivated by how long they last when I take a little extra care with them – so I’ve come up with a few secrets to make sorting a breeze.

1. Invest in separate hampers

It’s a double whammy of expense and space, but if you can afford both, it’s really useful to have separate hampers labelled for different kinds of items. You could even choose colour-coded ones to make it simple for everyone in the family to sort their own.

2. Sort immediately

Having something like a hamper system in place can make it easier to separate your items as you go, eliminating the dreaded task of sorting through piles of dirty clothes. You’ll really have no excuse to skip this step. If you set a bottle of stain remover next to your baskets, bonus! You’ll be able to pre-treat at the same time to avoid having stains set in.

3. Keep your priorities straight

Sometimes it can be helpful to identify the items that need to be washed soonest, or those that really require a separate load. Prioritize any delicate or high performance fabrics you really care about, heavily soiled items that stink or might stain, brightly coloured brand new fabrics, and your absolute favourite articles of clothing. That way, if a few other loads get all mixed up, it’s unlikely to be a big deal.

4. Create a schedule 

As a kid, I remember my grandmother strictly sticking to a tight laundry schedule. No clean towels? Too bad for you – those get done on Wednesdays.

These days, families are busy, and require a lot more flexibility. Still, it can be helpful to have a general schedule that keeps everyone organized. If the whole family knows that Fridays are for sheets, you’ll be less likely to find dark colours sneaking in with your brand new whites. You’ll also become more effective at grouping items to create full loads, reducing the overall number you do each week.

5. Try not to sweat it

The juiciest secret we have to share is that it really doesn’t matter all that much how well or how often you separate your laundry. Ultimately, doing so will improve how well it’s cleaned, increase its longevity, and avoid unexpected disasters like shrinkage or colour transfer. It’ll also help you maintain your machine better.

But honestly, a lot of the time, things will turn out just fine even if you mix them up. If tossing in some sheets with a pile of favourite sweatpants is what you need to do to get through your week, then go ahead and do it. Just be prepared that they may not turn out perfectly … much like the rest of your life.

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