Do you ever feel like you’re fighting a losing battle against dirty laundry? Do you experience days when you simply want to get it all done rather than get it all done properly? You may be tempted to take shortcuts and expedite the seemingly never-ending task of doing the laundry by foregoing the sorting step. Unless you want to risk ruining your wardrobe, linens, and other machine washables, though, don’t skip the sorting! It matters.
Sorting is the least time-consuming aspect of laundry duty. It also will help ensure that you don’t make extra work for yourself by opening the washing machine to discover you need to go into serious laundry damage control mode. By all means, sort — but sort properly!
Laundry Sorting Step 1: Sort by Color
If you’re a laundry novice or simply have never taken the time to learn the proper way to perform this task, you probably have a sort of sixth sense that drives you to wash like colors together. Here are the categories the pros use to sort by color:
Whites. This is self-explanatory!
Lights. This encompasses clothing that is not white, but isn’t dark (pastels such as yellow, pink, peach, tan, etc.)
Darks. Into this pile, place blacks, grays, dark browns, blues, reds, purples, etc.
Laundry Sorting Step 2: Sort by Fabric Type
Once you have color-sorted, you will move on to the next sorting step: sorting by fabric type. Don’t worry: This is not an exact science. You don’t even have to read the labels to identify the fabric type unless you are overly motivated to perfect your sorting. Instead, use your best judgement. One general fabric type you can use is “delicates.” Pany hose, lingerie, washable silk blouses, satin pillow shams … anything that can be described as light, silky, or overly prone to snagging falls under the delicate category. Never wash delicate laundry with other fabrics, because it can become damaged.
On the other end of the spectrum is denim. Blue jeans, black jeans, acid-washed jeans, jean jackets … this sturdy fabric can withstand a wash cycle with heavy agitation. Denim is heavy and abrasive and can cause lighter fabrics to tear, rip, snag, or pill. A middle-of-the-road fabric category is cotton and cotton blends. Sorting by fabric type will reduce damage to laundry and expedite your drying cycle (which will save you both time and money.)
Laundry Sorting Step 3: Sort for Stain Removal
After you have sorted laundry into piles of like color and fabric weight, your last task is to check each pile for stains that should be pretreated. If you encounter minor stains (and you probably will), spritz them with a quality laundry stain remover and then place them back into their designated sort pile. (Make sure to allow the stain remover to settle into the fabric and work its magic before beginning the wash cycle.)
If you encounter items with stubborn stains, pluck those from the pile. They’ll need some extra TLC beyond a quick spray. Laundry that has tough stains (grass stains, blood stains, soiled cloth diapers, red wine stains, etc.) should be soaked before it’s washed. This will lift the stain and reduce the danger that the stain will actually set in the washing machine and become permanent.
Fill a large bucket with water and add a powerful stain removal product such as Oxi Clean (follow the mixing instructions for whatever product you choose.) Use warm water unless you are pretreating a blood stain. Because heat can cause blood stains to set, only pretreat or wash them in cold water.
Don a pair of dishwashing gloves and make sure the stain remover has dissolved or mixed completely, then place your soiled laundry in the bucket and make sure it’s fully saturated. Allow the stained items to soak. Check on the items every hour or two, and with your gloved hands agitate the water. Soak for a few hours or overnight. Then empty the bucket into the washing machine (if possible) and wash as usual.
Anything you can do to cut down on the time it takes you to complete your laundry is worth doing. Consider purchasing separate clothes hampers for dark and light colors. That will expedite the task of sorting. Some single-unit hampers are equipped with handy compartments already labeled for this purpose. You’ll be able to easily tell which bin or compartment is reaching capacity, and that will serve as your guide for what to wash next.
Sorting Special Cases
If you have an infant in the house, it’s best to baby his or her laundry. Baby’s skin is super sensitive! Many parents opt to wash baby’s laundry in a detergent designed for sensitive skin, such as Dreft. Additionally, most baby clothing and bedding is light in color, so it can be safely commingled without risk of dye transfer.
Voila! You’ve now completed laundry sorting 101! Once you get the hang of it, sorting your household laundry will become second nature to you and any member of your family you can enlist to help. It requires a bit of upfront work, but you’ll reap the rewards long after you’ve made the effort.