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How to Separate Your Laundry

woman sorting laundry at home
Syda Productions/Shutterstock

Tossing everything into one load may leave you with faded colors and whites that are less than white. Even washing different fabrics together can leave you with ruined clothes.

How can you make sure all your laundry makes it out of the machine in one piece, looking as good as new? Aside from using the right temperatures, the best detergents, and the proper machine settings, you also should make sure you’re correctly separating your laundry.

It’s not that difficult to sort laundry. You can do it when you’re ready to wash clothes, or you could set up a few hampers that let you separate clothes ahead of time. If you wait to separate on wash day, just get started a few minutes early so you won’t fall behind on chores. Soon, you will have cleaner and better-cared-for clothes.

First, Separate Your Whites

Even if you ignore every other tip in this article, you need to separate your white clothes from the rest of your laundry. While not all colors and materials bleed, it’s better to be safe than to end up with a pink t-shirt that was once white.

If you use bleach on your whites, it’s even more essential to wash them separately from any other laundry.

If you do just one bit of separating, make it this one, but to provide your clothes with the best care, you’ll want to do a little more separating.

Separate Light and Dark Colors

You’ve already got your white clothes out of the mix. But, whites aren’t the only “colors” of clothing to separate. Lighter-colored clothing is also at risk of getting ruined by darker colors and new clothing. New jeans are especially bad when it comes to leaving blue dye all over everything in the wash load.

You don’t have to wash all of your pale yellow shirts alone; you can wash them with other light-colored items. Wash jeans together. Wash black, navy blue, and other dark colors together.

Wash Similar Fabrics Together

Did you know that tossing your towels in the wash with less sturdy clothes can damage the fabric of your lighter-weight laundry? This is why it’s important to separate heavy fabrics from fine fabrics.

Also, if you have clothing that sheds lint, keep it separate from fabrics that attract lint, like corduroy and microfibers.

Separating your laundry for the wash also keeps it separate when it hits the dryer. Heavy fabrics take longer to dry. Mixing fabric types could cause you to overdry your lighter fabrics, which can damage the fibers.

Wash Delicates Safely

woman washing delicate clothes by hands in plastic tub
ConstantinosZ/Shutterstock

When was the last time you read the tag on your fancy undergarments? There’s a good chance that it reads “Handwash Only.”

Take the tag’s advice and wash garments by hand when the tag recommends it. Handwashing puts less stress on the fabric, making your delicate clothing last longer while looking new.

For delicates that can go in the washing machine, invest in mesh washing bags. These reusable bags keep your delicates, like bras and lingerie, from getting tangled around other clothes in the load. That tangled mess is not just a nightmare to untangle: the fabric may also be getting damaged.

Read the Labels

Clothing labels are there to do more than make you itchy. These labels offer insight into the best ways to clean the items. Tags tell you what the fabric is made from, as well as washing and drying instructions. 

Wash items that need the same water temperatures together. If a piece of clothing is supposed to be washed in cold water, be sure to wash it in cold water. Hot or warm water may cause the colors to bleed, or the fabric to shrink.

Not all labels mention this, but it’s often wise to turn clothes inside-out before washing. For jeans, this keeps the color from fading. For other fabrics, it also may help keep the colors solid or keep the fabric from pilling.

Beware of Zippers and Hooks

Another time mesh garment bags come in handy is when you’re trying to keep zippers and bra hooks from catching on your other clothing in the wash. Zippers and other metal clothing parts can cause snags in delicate items, like nylons and sweaters.

Sort by Soil Level

Finally, you should wash your heavily soiled clothes together when possible.

Clothing that is stained, greasy, or full of mud and muck may need to be washed on a heavier cycle than the rest of your stuff. That heavy cycle can damage clothes that don’t need deep cleaning.


Separating your laundry takes a little more work, but it’s worth it to keep your clothes looking like new. With these tips, you can replace your clothing less often, saving money and the environment.

Yvonne Glasgow Yvonne Glasgow
Yvonne Glasgow has been a professional writer for almost two decades. Yvonne has worked for nutritionists, start-ups, dating companies, SEO firms, newspapers, board game companies, and much more as a writer and editor. She's also a published poet and a short story writer. Read Full Bio »

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