How to Sort a Heap of Dirty Clothes for Washing

How to Sort a Heap of Dirty Clothes for Washing

Doing laundry may seem like a mindless, simple chore, but in actuality, it requires high-level thinking. Basic knowledge of fabric types, a design eye to group clothes by color, a rudimentary understanding of the mechanics of the machine, and some smarts about the chemistry around bleach and detergent are necessary. The good news is that all of this can be learned.

As with any task, there is a starting line. With laundry, that line is the sorting of the pile. Here are the basics.

1 Dump your laundry onto an expanse of floor so you can see what you're working with.

2 Pick out any obvious non–machine washables that may have wound up in the hamper, including wool sweaters; delicate lingerie; fine silks; heavy woolen slacks; skirts, or jackets; and anything dry-clean only. Hand-wash or dry clean these items.

3 Do the first-round sort. Put all white items in one pile, and all colored items in a second pile.

4 Pull out any lint-shedding items, such as towels and terry-cloth robes, and put them in their own pile.

5 Sort by weight. Tumbling heavy denim or canvas items with light cotton nighties or undershorts will wear or possibly damage the light items. Plus, drying times for blankets are vastly different from those for socks.

6 Go through the colored piles, and pull out any noncolorfast items, including red garments, denim, and new black, navy, and deep purple items. (Always test brand-new garments for colorfastness before washing in loads. The exception to this is when washing like items: Wash new dark-wash jeans with jeans you want to keep dark, and new red items with other red items of the same fabric.)

7 Sort out heavily soiled items and wash them separately. For example, if someone in the family is a pastry chef with clothing coated in flour and food dye, his or her garments need to be removed from the general mix. Same goes for clothing caked with mud or saturated with automotive grease.

8 When it's time to machine wash, follow the instructions on the washing machines and dryers, the garments' care labels, and the laundry detergent packaging to ensure that you use the right water temperature, rinse temperature, and amount of detergent for each pile of laundry. Pay special attention to front-loading washers: You'll need to use high-efficiency (HE) detergent, and less of it.


Ideally, you should treat stains at the moment of contact. If you spill red wine on your cotton shirt, it's a good idea to blot it with seltzer and a cloth napkin. Sometimes, that's not practical, so here are some tips.

• Deal with the stain when you undress. Don't toss the soiled garment in the hamper. If appropriate, presoak it in your washer with the right type of detergent or stain remover.

• If you can't soak the item immediately, spray the stain with an on-the-spot stain remover.

• When you're sorting laundry, if you see a stain that's been left untreated, start the stainremoval process by soaking or treating the stain before washing it with a regular load (see here).

• If possible, do similar laundry with similar stains in the same load (i.e., grease stains with grease stains, grass stains with grass stains, and so on).