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Do You Really Need to Separate Whites and Colors in the Laundry?

A full straw laundry basket in front of a white washer.

Some people enjoy sorting laundry, while others despise it more than any other household chore. We’ve all seen on TV shows what happens when someone accidentally throws a red sock into a load of whites—hello, entirely pink wardrobe! But will that really happen if you wash whites and colors together?

Contrary to what Hollywood (or your parents) might have led you to believe, colors won’t necessarily bleed onto all your whites if you launder them together in one load. However, there are some precautions you’ll want to take. Here’s what you need to know before tossing your colors into the washing machine with your whites.

The Benefits of Sorting Laundry

Four-Section Laundry Sorter next to a dryer.

There are some undeniable benefits of sorting your laundry by color and material. The main reason people wash loads separately is to avoid color transfer. This is what the “red sock in white load of laundry that turns everything pink” story cautions against.

However, color transfer is only an issue when you’re giving an item of clothing its first few washes. New clothing often still contains dye that can bleed out when it’s first washed. Brand-new clothes should be washed alone or with similar colors that won’t be affected if color transfer does occur.

Sorting laundry can help you keep things organized when completing this never-ending chore. If you’re planning to use chlorine bleach to brighten your whites, you should do that in a separate load, as bleach can ruin colored clothing.

Non-chlorinated bleach, however, is usually fine to use on colors, just be sure to check the clothing labels to make sure the material will be safe.

Whether you love it or hate it, when you do have to sort your laundry, a hamper divided into sections makes it much easier and faster to get the job done.

Does Water Temperature Matter?

Sometimes, hot water is more likely to make new clothes bleed dye, but it usually won’t cause an issue after those pieces of clothing have been washed a few times.

Cold water is least likely to cause color transfer and is ideal for most clothing because it’s gentler. It’s less likely to cause shrinkage or fading and is safer to use on delicate materials. It also uses less energy, saves you money, and is all-around better for the environment.

You’ll want to go for warm or hot water when you’re trying to remove stains or sanitize items that are particularly dirty.

Can You Wash All Colors Together?

A man putting laundry in the dryer.

In addition to separating whites from colors, should you further separate certain colors from others before you wash them? Yep, we said it.

It’s generally advisable to wash like colors with like. For example, separating darker colors from lighter tones.

However, washing clothes together can be particularly beneficial for people who don’t own a lot of clothing or tend to run small loads. Instead of taking the time to wash two or three small loads of laundry, you can save time and money by throwing everything in together. Just be sure to use cold water to prevent any color transfer.

Should You Wash Delicates Separately?

A woman and little girl taking laundry out of the dryer with seven GOGOODA mesh laundry bags full of clothes sitting next to them.

Anything made from a fragile material, like silk or lace, or items of clothing that feature intricate detailing, like beading or buttons, that could easily be damaged in the washing machine are considered delicate. The most common type of clothing that fall into this category are bras, underwear, and lingerie.

It’s not a bad idea to wash delicates on their own. Fragile materials are more likely to get snagged on other clothing items in the wash and subsequently damaged. You might also want to avoid the minimal risk of color transfer altogether when it comes to special, expensive, or one-of-a-kind clothing items.

You can also keep your delicates safe by washing them in mesh laundry bags. These protect your fragile items the entire time they’re being washed, whether they’re in the machine on their own or with other items.

How to Safely Wash Whites and Colors Together

If you want to save time, hassle, and water on laundry day, you can wash your whites and color clothing together if you keep a few things in mind.

First, be sure to always wash new clothes on their own in cold water for the first few washes and always make sure delicates are safe in a mesh bag.

Avoid using harsh soaps and stick to a gentle detergent that won’t strip your clothing. Woolite is specifically made to be used on delicates. It’s free of the harsh chemicals found in other detergents and will help prevent fading and fabric damage.

Laundry doesn’t have to be a seemingly endless chore. Armed with these tips, you’ll be able to combine more loads and save both time and money.

Anne Taylor Anne Taylor
Anne Taylor is a writer with a BA in Journalism and a passion for storytelling. Her work has been published on a variety of websites including Mental Floss and Well + Good, and she recently published her first novel, What it Takes to Lose. When she's not writing, Anne loves to travel (19 countries and counting), spend time outside, and play with her dog, Pepper. Read Full Bio »
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