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Separating your laundry is a must—here's why

Lights, darks, and delicates just don't mix

Sometimes you don't want to sort Credit: Reviewed / Jonathan Chan

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For the longest time, I believed a laundry myth that resulted in damaging some of my favorite clothes. I washed sweaters with bras, jeans with delicate blouses, and worst of all, some of my brightest pinks with my whites.

It wasn’t until after making my worst laundry mistakes that I realized not all laundry is one size fits all—and shouldn’t be treated as such.

Well, here’s the truth: Separating your laundry is essential to keeping your favorite clothes in good shape. Different pieces of clothing require specific care, and making sure your clothes get that special care can result in keeping your clothes as good as new.

With that, here’s how to separate your laundry the right way for well-maintained clothing, from color and fabric to care label instructions.

Always separate your darks and lights

Pile of colorful clothes
Credit: Getty Images / domin_domin

If you're washing a clothing item for the first time, not that the likelihood of dye transferring is much higher. Many items say to hand-wash or wash by itself for the first wash.

The first rule of doing your laundry is to separate your clothes. Why? It’s all about color transference—dye from one article of clothing can bleed when exposed to hot water, potentially onto another piece of clothing.

If you’re worried about transference, try using a color catcher, a product that promises to "catch" the loose dye, stopping it from bleeding. After testing color catchers, we’d say it isn’t completely necessary to use one, but can be useful if you have a rather colorful wardrobe.

Don’t forget your whites

White clothing and laundry can easily become dull and yellow-ish due to general wear and tear, along with mineral stains if your home has hard water.
Keep your whites fresh and vibrant by adding them to a separate pile that may include bed sheets, pillowcases, towels, cotton underwear, and whatever white fabric can withstand some hotter temperatures and special laundry treatments.

We recommend adding a laundry whitener to your whites pile—it will brighten up dull fabrics that have lost a newly-bought look. Additionally, try using a laundry disinfectant and freshener with your whites, as it will result in a deeper clean on those yellowish or stained fabrics.

Take special care of delicates

White clothing with a tag that reads 'silk' with other care symbols
Credit: Getty Images / solidcolours

Delicates should be hand-washed or put in the washer on the 'Permanent Press' washing cycle.

A silky blouse can't hang in the same wash as sturdy towels—that’s why you need to separate your more delicate pieces from items that can handle warmer water and rougher tumbling.

Delicates, including silk, lace, sheer fabrics, wool, and cashmere, typically require a cold water wash using the ‘Delicate’ wash setting, along with a gentle dryer setting or just an air dry.

Look for any special or delicate stitching, embroidery or sequin, or any wiring found in wire bras or structured dresses. With these kinds of fragile materials, it’s best to start a separate pile and treat them accordingly. You should separate this new pile by color, too.

Before washing these delicates together, check each individual label—each article will have its own set of care instructions for pretreating, washing, and drying, so try to group items that require similar care.

You can also protect delicates by placing them inside a mesh laundry bag or pillowcase before tossing them in the wash—this will keep anything from scratching or tangling in the drum.

Keep heavily soiled clothes on the side

If you’ve ever been splashed by an oncoming truck hurtling through a puddle or you have a baby, you may end up having to deal with very dirty clothes. These heavily-stained items all constitute as laundry you’ll want to wash separately from your everyday dirty clothes. Adding them to a regular pile will only further stain and soil the rest of your laundry, which could end up ruining a lot of your items.

With the clothing in this extra-dirty pile, you’ll want to hand wash any remaining dirt and debris off the material and then go in with a stain removing pre-treatment. From there, let your items soak from a few to 24 hours before tossing them in the washing machine on “Heavy Wash” or any similar cycle.

Invest in a sorted laundry bin

Sorting laundry bin station with three sections and shelves for lotions and towels
Credit: Dotted Line

Sort while you toss your laundry in—that way, you can do each pile at any pace you prefer.

With all of these laundry piles, you may find yourself spending some extra time perfecting your separating skills before adding them to the washing machine. That’s why it’s easiest to sort it ahead of time, and a proper sorting laundry bin does just that.

This collapsible mesh laundry bin from Amazon is perfect for anyone who uses a laundromat or just wants a convenient bin to stow away after use.

For something more permanent (and aesthetically pleasing), this laundry sorter station sold at Wayfair is a great addition for any laundry room.

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