Do You Really Need to Sort Your Laundry? We Asked the Experts

Some are forgoing this age-old laundry rule.

We've all been there. You want to wear your favorite white T-shirt and best-fitting jeans, but both are in the laundry hamper. So, you decide that it won't hurt—just this once—to toss them in the washer together. Are you happy with the results, or did your T-shirt end up looking a bit dingy, or worse, like blue tie-dye?

If your clothes look dingy, discolored, and worn after just a few trips through the washer, it's time to rethink how you do laundry. We talked to two experts about why sorting laundry is still important. Once you understand why you shouldn't wash everything together, you can learn how to sort laundry to keep your clothes looking their best.

Prolong the Life of Your Clothes

P&G's senior scientist for Tide, Jessica Zinna, Ph.D., sums up the issue nicely: "Separating your laundry by color, fabric type, and soil level prolongs the life of your laundry. While skipping sorting doesn't mean your clothes will be ruined, if you have the time and resources to wash your laundry separately, you will notice your clothes look and feel newer for longer, especially when washing in cold. I would personally recommend separating your laundry as much as possible to get the best wear and appearance from your fabric items."

Avoid Dye Transfer

Mary Gagliardi, aka "Dr. Laundry," Clorox's in-house scientist and cleaning expert, concurs: "Sorting laundry before machine-washing is a solid strategy to get good laundry results, and that's why it's essential. Washing dark and light items together is how you get visible dye transfer.

Prevent Dingy Appearance

When you combine only your dark items (blue jeans, black denim, black socks, dark blue shirts, etc.) in a single load, you'll never know if a little color comes off in the wash and transfers to other items. Add in a light item, and it won't hide any color it picks up and will look dingy, moving it one step closer to being downgraded (used for...a rag) or worse, discarded."

There you have it. The experts agree that, if you're able to, you should be sorting your laundry. Here's how to sort laundry to keep your clothing looking like new.

How to Sort Laundry

  1. Start by reading the care label, especially with new clothes and if you're new to doing laundry. The label will help you choose the right water temperature, washing machine cycle (use the gentle cycle if the label recommends hand-washing), and drying temperature. Always separate washable items from dry-clean-only garments that need special attention.
  2. After the dry-clean-only clothes have been put aside, sort the rest of the laundry by color. White, pastel, and light gray clothes go in one pile. Dark clothing—navy, brown, dark gray, black, red—go in another pile.
  3. Now, sort each pile one more time by the type of fabric. Separate jeans and cotton T-shirts from lightweight synthetic fabrics or delicate lingerie. Delicates can be placed in a mesh laundry bag before being added to the washing machine. Sort lint-producing cotton towels from microfiber activewear and blankets to reduce the amount of lint and pilling.
  4. If you have any heavily soiled items, do one final sort. Muddy kids' clothes or greasy work garments should not be washed with lightly soiled clothes. The soil can redeposit on other fabrics.

If you skipped the laundry sorting steps, you still have one last chance to prevent further wear and tear on fabrics. Zinna has some tips on the best way to dry laundry: "Generally, you want to follow the same sorting rules for the dry cycle as you do when washing laundry. This is because heavier items take longer to dry than lighter ones. By drying them together, the lighter items are over-dried, which stresses the fibers, and heavier items are often left damp, which can cause odors. Make sure you read the garment label for each item to determine if it can be machine-dried. Some items will need to be laid flat to dry or line-dried."

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