Your Guide to Separating and Sorting Laundry

Your Guide to Separating and Sorting Laundry

How To
By Dikran Seferian February 08, 2022

We’re no strangers to finding a red sock in a washing machine full of whites that have turned pink. Separating your clothes before washing them not only prevents such accidents, but also preserves color, decreases drying time, and reduces the spread of lint, ultimately resulting in the better and cleaner laundry.

As time-consuming as it may be, it is important to know how to sort laundry before washing. This involves separating your clothes, towels, and other washables into several categories including color and type of fabric, in addition to a recommended cycle and water temperature. Additional measures that are worth taking involve checking pockets, turning certain clothes inside out, and pre-washing those that are stained. Following a certain set of straightforward instructions will allow you to go about the sorting process without any issues.

Check the Tags

Care Tags Are Helpful in Determining How to Wash Your Clothes

Care Tags Are Helpful in Determining How to Wash Your Clothes

Reading the sewn-in clothing tags thoroughly will allow you to determine how to wash, dry, and iron your clothes. These labels will also mention the fabric type such as “70% Polyester, 30% Cotton”.  While most garments will usually have basic washing instructions, there are many others that need to be washed by hand or air-dried. Make sure to account for the type of fabric. Consider having a “special care” pile for clothes that require it. When washing a blend of clothes, following the labels ultimately protects the more delicate pieces in the load.

Sort by Color

It is commonly known that sorting laundry starts with knowing how to separate dark and light clothes. When separating colors for washing, however, many experts believe that it’s better to take the further step and sort clothes by shades. For instance, there’s a higher chance for garments with deep colors, such as indigo jeans or red T-shirts, to bleed dye when washed — especially during the first few washes. It’s always better to keep these for a separate laundry at first. As for patterned clothes, consider sorting them according to the dominant color.

The majority of clothes and other washables, however, can be divided into four categories. These include whites, lights, brights, and darks. 


It’s always better to wash whites separately as you’d obviously want them to remain white. Just one red piece of clothing that isn’t colorfast can and will turn the rest of the load pink. To ensure that they’re cleaned properly, whites will normally need a warmer water temperature than other colors. It is also a good idea to use a detergent that contains bleach when washing whites (this is actually the only category that you can use bleach for). Make sure, however, that there are no items with patterns or embroidery in the pile.


Another pile that’s a good idea to have is one that contains lights. This includes whites with patterns or embroidery in addition to clothes with light colors such as pale yellow and other similar tones. 


All your bright-colored clothes will go into a pile of their own. These include greens, reds, purples, oranges, light blues, and bright yellows. Bear in mind, however, that certain clothes may not be colorfast. This means that they are more likely for the dye to bleed — reds are especially notorious for this. When in doubt, consider washing these separately. You can also use a cold-water setting to prevent the dyes from transferring to other items in the load.


How to Divide Your Laundry By Color

How to Divide Your Laundry By Color

Although it’s common to wash all dark-colored laundry together, it may be a good idea to separate navies, dark purples, and other dark shades from blacks and browns. This will prevent the latter two dyes from darkening the rest of the load. Using a dark laundry detergent also helps to keep the colors from fading.

Sort by Fabric

Besides separating your laundry according to color, it’s also important to sort based on fabric. This can actually do wonders in maintaining the quality of your clothes, even though it seems like an extra step.

In the washing machine, your clothes constantly make contact with each other throughout the entire wash cycle. Heavy-duty pieces such as jeans, for instance, tend to be abrasive and may therefore cause a good deal of damage to the more delicate fabrics.

Before you toss a pile into your washing machine, make sure to double-check the tags and set aside any pieces that are meant to be hand washed or dry cleaned only. Then you can move on to separating your clothes into denim, delicates, and fabrics that you wear daily. Further measures you can take to protect your clothes include removing items from pockets, securing zippers and buttons, and turning knitwear and embellished clothes inside out. 

Bed Linens

When washing duvet covers, pillowcases, and other bed linens, consider checking the care label for any specific instructions. In most cases, however, you should be using the warmest setting for the water temperature. Comforters, however, need to be washed in a high-capacity washer that’s large enough for them to tumble and agitate. If the washing machine you have doesn’t accommodate your comforters, consider taking them to a local laundromat.


As with other categories, you‘ll want to separate bright-colored towels from white or light-colored ones to prevent the colors from transferring or fading. It's usually best to use a warm water setting when washing towels. Towels are also known to produce lint, which is why it’s best to avoid washing them with other types of clothing. You can, however, wash them along with blankets and robes as long as the entire pile is colorfast.


Delicate fabrics such as silk, lingerie, and embellished clothes should be washed according to the instructions of the care tag — certain pieces may even be labeled as hand wash or dry clean only. Should you be using the washing machine, however, make sure not to mix certain fabrics such as cashmere with lace, or knitwear with polyester; doing so might ruin their shape.

Another way to protect your delicates is by washing them in a mesh garment bag with the washing machine set to a gentle cycle. Wool, on the other hand, may require a special type of detergent and specific settings (typically cold water and a gentle cycle). When in doubt, consider washing your woolen clothes by hand.

Dark Denim

Consider washing barely soiled jeans on their own while turned inside out. Make sure to set the machine to a gentle or delicate cycle. You may also want to use cold water to prevent the denim from possibly shrinking. If you’re washing them with other items, ensure that the colors are similar.

Dark Sportswear

Sportswear and other high-performance clothes are known to be susceptible to bacteria that cause odors. Using cold water and mild detergent can help to prevent unpleasant smells that linger even after washing.


Categories of Clothing to Sort Your Laundry By

Categories of Clothing to Sort Your Laundry By

Your everyday laundry will include cotton, linens (the fabric, not the bedclothes), and other garments such as T-shirts, underwear, socks, button-down shirts, in addition to durable synthetics. Many homeowners may even prefer to wash socks and underwear separately

Separate and Pretreat Stained or Soiled Laundry

Make Sure to Pretreat Stained Clothing

Make Sure to Pretreat Stained Clothing

Pretreating a stain is important because it may become permanent if it dries — and may pass onto other clothing if washed together. Before tossing that pile of clothes in the washing machine, it’s a good idea to inspect for dirt, stains, and excessive soiling. Should you notice any, set the pieces aside and pretreat them as per the fabric and type of stain. In the case of oil-based stains, dish soap should do the trick. As for enzymatic stains such as blood, coffee, and ink, you will need a liquid detergent and a toothbrush. Certain washers even come with their own pre-treat station, allowing you to treat the stains with the accompanying brush. 

Separate New Clothes

New Clothes That Brightly-Colored Need a Separate Washing At First

New Clothes That Brightly-Colored Need a Separate Washing At First

In the case of new clothing, it’s a good idea to wash them separately for the first few times. This is because new clothes that are brightly colored sometimes tend to bleed dye. The last thing you need when doing laundry is for that new red sweater to ruin the rest of the pile. Make sure to sort new clothes according to color and type of fabric as you would with other piles.


Written by
Dikran Seferian

Written by Dikran Seferian