Laundry 101 – Sorting

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laundry basket full of clothes

How To Sort Laundry

Sort your laundry into 3 categories:

  • Whites
  • Lights
  • Darks

If you don’t use Clorox (bleach) in your whites, you can wash the lights and whites together.

If you do use Clorox in your laundry, use it only on white cotton or cotton blend items. This would include things like cotton socks, underwear, tea towels, dish rags, white bath towels, wash rags, etc.

Clorox works great for these things but it will cause nylon, polyester and some other things to turn gray.

Other categories that you can sort into are:

  • Towels or washrags and things like them, which cause lint.

  • Greasy or extra dirty things like overalls or work clothes. Wash them separately.

  • Heavy things like jeans and pants. I wash them separately from my more delicate darks.

  • Delicate items like some sweaters or lingerie need to be washed separately on a gentle cycle.

  • Throw rugs should be washed separately from your regular clothes.

  • Cleaning rags, especially if it is something you have used to clean the toilet or wipe down a floor, should be washed separately from other things to prevent cross contamination. To be honest, I usually just throw these rags away just to be safe, but if you keep yours then wash them separately.

  • Fuzzy blankets or things that shed should be laundered separately.

  • Bright red items should be washed separately until you can see if they’re going to bleed or not.

    My daughter in law had reddish maroon towels and lots of red t-shirts so she would wash them together and she didn’t have to worry about bleeding.

This may seem like a lot of work but it will reduce wear and tear on your clothes and will lengthen the useful life of your clothes, saving clothes that you would have had to toss because of bleeding and dinginess.

If all else fails, read the label on your clothes.

I don’t always do exactly as the label says but, if you are a novice at laundry, it will be a good guideline. For you more seasoned washers, use your own common sense and past knowledge. These days, many clothes manufacturers say “dry clean only” just to protect themselves, so there are some things you may not have to dry clean. If I pay only a couple of dollars for something and it says “dry clean only,” I will wash it myself just because I don’t have much to lose if I ruin it.

You can find many more helpful laundry tips like this in our Keeping It Clean laundry e book.



Photo By: Jacob Davies


  1. Michelle says

    I can’t recommend Shout Color Catcher sheets highly enough! I use them in every load except bleach loads. I reuse them over and over until they are almost black. I know they’re not cheap, but compared to a) ruining clothing or b) repeated launderings in RIT Color Run Remover, they’re a total bargain. Now, if my wash is sorted properly, nothing bleeds out in the ‘lights’ load, so that one can be used over and over and over. The dark load ones can still be used two or three times, even if I launder dark indigo jeans and dark green sheets. I tend to ‘lose’ them briefly while hanging the wash, so I often have two or three in circulation at once. In today’s load, I have three almost-at-the-end-of-their-usefulness sheets in at once. And once they’re totally black, I’ll compost them. By the way, I have a front loader and I always wash in cold water.

  2. Marsha says

    My husband does the laundry, and Shout Color Catcher sheets are a life saver. He doesn’t sort colors, whatever fits in washer is what goes in. Many times I have had all matching clothes in a reddish pink color.

    • says

      This isn’t necessarily for you Marsha but for everyone in general. I know now with moms working, a lot of husbands and kids are doing the laundry and their idea is to stuff and go but it really helps save on the clothes if you can teach them to take the time to sort. Not only does it make a difference in bleeding colors but clothes get ruined faster when delicate items are washed with let’s say heavy jeans or overalls. Things catch and snag or get tangled.

  3. says

    Reading the care labels in your clothes is key! A favorite dressy shirt of mine shrunk to being unwearable when someone else did laundry and didn’t read the care label.

    Also, ask questions! I have very few items that require dry cleaning, but one jacket has plastic beads on it. The label said the jacket was dry cleanable, but my dry cleaner disagreed and said the plastic beads would melt. My options are to hand wash it or use something that removes odors.

    I agree that taking precautions with your clothing is worth it!

  4. Grizzly Bear Mom says

    Question I have a $45 Jones New York beige professional tank that has grayed out from washing with darks and sweat. Soaked in water with 2 cups of white vinegar, and mom suggested brightening laundry soap. Any ideas?

    • says

      If you have dried it in the dryer it maybe set. You could try borax and laundry detergent and soak it for a day or two putting it in fresh water, detergent and borax the second day. Some people use oxy clean but I never have so don’t know how safe it would be.

  5. Grizzly Bear Mom says

    I AM foolish enough to have washed it with darks, but not foolish enough to have dried it. Will wash tomorrow after the vinegar soak and try borax if not satisfied.

    • says

      Thank goodness. I hate it when something like that happens and it has happened to all of us I think. Usually it is one of our favorite things or expensive things it seems. Hope it works.

    • says

      Oh rite dye does have a box of stuff that is called dye out but I’m not sure it that would work for beige. It may just work for whites.

  6. Erink says

    We have 4 baskets/hampers…whites, darks, jeans, and towels. This way no thought involved. Just dump the basket into machine and wash.

  7. Jaime says

    Grizzly Bear Mom, if the “gray dinge” doesn’t wash out completely maybe you could try re-dyeing the shirt with tea. Since it was beige to begin with this might work. Or you could just use RIT dye. Maybe if you dye it a shade or two darker from the original color the gray may not be as visible. And with fall coming up soon a darker beige may work well with your fall wardrobe.

  8. Jaime says

    I have seen laundry baskets that come with three or four sections for pre-sorting the laundry. You could teach your family to put the different colors in each section when they change their clothes. Maybe you could label each section for how you want your laundry sorted. This way everything is pre-sorted and would help save on laundry mistakes.

    I sort my laundry by four color groups: whites, reds (including purples and oranges), yellows, and darks. If I have alot of darks I then sort out the jeans from everything else and make two dark loads. I sort out my yellows so they stay brighter longer.

  9. Grizzly Bear Mom says

    the VINGAR SOAKED WORKED! I soaked my clothes in two cups of vinegar and water for 48 hours and then washed them in the hottest water the fabric could stand (I do so because sometimes cold water doesn’t seem to get stains and stink out) and the greying and sweat stains came out! Thank you for all of your help. Question does Rit dye in or out or Tea work on synthetics?

  10. Angie says

    I need some laundry advice. My husband has light blue uniform shirts for his job. He’s had them for 4 years. He did his own laundry before we got married a year and a half ago. So there are some set in grease stains. Any chance of removing these? I found a really good sale on Oxi-Clean at Rite Aid. With the sale, coupons and +Up rewards, I was able to get the liquid spray stain remover and the booster packs for free. I was so excited to remove those stains… I pre-treated with the spray, added a booster pack to the load and used the extra heavy cycle. Grrr…the stains might have faded a little but not much. Are those stains here forever? I hear they are getting new uniforms in about a year but I would love his current shirts to look nice!

    • says

      Angie I’m afraid they maybe set in for good especially if they have been run through the dryer a few times. You can keep trying to pretreat them each time and see if they fade a little more but older stains and ones which have been set in from the dryer usually are almost impossible to get out. Sorry.

    • Kris says

      Angie, this may sound weird, but I have had good luck getting grease stains out using a degreaser meant for kitchen cleaning (I have an old bottle of a brand no longer available, but any commercial degreaser you can buy at, say, Menards or Home Depot should work). You may need to use rubber gloves. Dab a little on the grease spot, rub it in, and launder as usual. You may want to launder it separately from other items. It may not work, but you’re only out a few bucks, and it’s cheaper than buying new clothes. I have used it on dryer-set cooking grease.

      On a different note, someone told me years ago that chocolate stains can be removed from clothing with milk. (Unless you have already sent it through the dryer). Yes, crazy, but it works better than anything else I’ve tried. Dab a little milk on the stain, rub as much of the stain out as possible, and launder.

  11. Grizzly Bear Mom says

    Angie I’ve found that cold water doesn’t necessarily remove stains or stink. If they haven’t been dried, try the hotest water the shirts can stand.

    • says

      This is true. They even say for berry stains to pour boiling water over the stain and it will come out instantly. I have never been ever to figure out why it works this way. Why does the dryer heat set a berry stain and heat for boiling water remove it. It must have to do with the moisture.

  12. Angie says

    Thanks Jill and Grizzly Bear Mom! I usually wash the uniforms in warm water. I may try hot one time. I don’t think the shirts will shrink. I have a feeling Jill is right and the stains may be set. They have been dried many, many times. My husband’s friend works at the same job and his uniform shirts are spotless. I’m jealous. Lol! :-) Oh well, my husband was a bachelor the first 2 1/2 years he had the uniforms and the grease stains don’t bother him. I can’t wait until they get the new uniforms and I can keep those spotless! :-)

  13. Grizzly Bear Mom says

    It is probably a combination of soap, agitation, and water as hot as is recommeded that gets stains out. Maybe because the water flushes the stain away like a dryer can’t? I’ve tried washing in cold water but was left with stain and stink. Even if you normally wash in cold, use the hottest water recommended for stain removal. As a preventative, I apply SHOUT stain stick to spots before I undress. (It helps avoid stains because as a single I wash clothing infrequently.) I also used liquid laundry soap as a pre spotters. Sometimes I wash in the hottest recommended, and turn off the machine and let the laundry soak for an hour, and then wash again. FYI: Dishwashing liquid doesn’t work as well.

  14. heidi says

    Are the grease stains car grease or food grease? I have found that hairspray works great on food grease, followed by washing in warm or hot water. It even works on dryer set grease stains. I buy the cheapest possible hairspray (aerosol or pump, doesn’t seem to matter) and thoroughly soak the grease spot and throw it into the laundry. Works great for me.

  15. Vicki says

    For grease stains, I saturate it with Dawn blue dish soap, then let it sit overnight, then wash in the hottest water the fabric can take with detergent. It doesn’t work on all old grease stains, but it works on many of them, even if they have been through the dryer. It is worth a try.

  16. Jeanne says

    I love the kitty cat in the laundry basket!

    Sorting laundry properly is one of the many things I thank my mother for teaching us. We learned to do laundry at an early age. My parents were part-owners in a laundromat at one time, so we knew not only how to wash clothes but how to DRY them properly as well. Since I don’t have a back yard where I can line-dry everything, I do have a good, sturdy drying rack I use inside for all of my clothes; I haven’t put any clothes in the dryer for well over a year now. It keeps your clothes from wearing out as fast as they would in the dryer. I still dry towels and sheets.

    I’d also like to comment on the temperature of the water. There is so much talk about “saving” energy. Needless to say, I am taking more and more things that the environmentalists tell us with a big grain of salt. Example: I spoke with my sister last week; she had to get some minor repairs done on her washer and dryer. The repairman said her appliances were in good shape, and that the main reason her washer was in good shape is that doesn’t wash everything in cold water. He also told her that it doesn’t really save much money by washing everything in cold water. I only wash darks and delicates in cold water, when the label specifically says to do so. Everything else, sheets, towels, underwear, whites, etc., all are washed in warm; occasionally I wash the sheets in hot water. So warm water is actually better for your washer.

    • says

      I rarely wash my clothes in cold water. That is one of a couple of reasons they are now having to sell these special products to get rid of the smell in washers. Energy saving appliances are pretty much a joke. I have to talked to a couple of appliance people and you save $1 a month on most fridges and then if something breaks on them the computer chip thing they need to replace can be up to $500 to fix and that part goes out a lot. So much for savings. Your best bet is the cheapest with the least bells and whistles.

  17. Tommienell Ellis says

    Since this website is about saving money, it seems to me that taking a few minutes to sort clothing and household items for washing is REALLY important. Washing improperly makes a mess of expensive clothes and household linens. The few minutes it takes to sort will save a ton of money in the long run. Having kids and husbands sort can be insane. Yes, I worked for years, raised kids and finished college all at the same time. Dingy clothes are awful. Tommie

  18. luna says

    Michelle I am with you; I LOVE THEM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!I work at a laundry and recomend them all the time . They work!

  19. says

    I have a slightly different sorting method.So long as there’s nothing that will bleed color, I sort according to how heavy or light the items are, so that they will all dry at the same rate. Towels and jeans go together. Percale sheets and blouses and collared work shirts go together. T-shirts and undies go together. Everything in one load dries in the same time and I don’t have to iron blouses, husband’s button down shirts, as they didn’t get wrinkled being tumbled with heavier items. And if it’s warm and sunny out, I can hang just the heavy stuff, like jeans and towels, and save the most money on my drying (my rack can only hold one load at a time, so I choose the load that would normally take the most time in the dryer).

  20. rose says

    since moving from a house to an apt and having to get an outside job (i used to work at home but stopped bc i needed to make sure i had a full steady weekly pay check coming in)… i now do my laundry at our apt laundromat .. and i must say, our clothes seem to be alot cleaner .. i am not sure if its the water, detergent or even the water temp i am using when i wash the clothes or even a combination of everything …
    my son works outside all day long so his clothes are smelly and dingy but i have been washing them on either hot or warm and i must say, they come out much cleaner ..
    i have changed my detergent to “era” .. i get it at walmart ..

    i hope everyone is doing well .. i havent been posting in a while but i do read the posts .. i have just been really busy since june 1st… hoping to get another job soon (another work at home job) …

    and getting ready for the fall season .. our favorite time of the year .. 😀 .. i told my daughter i wish we lived up north .. i miss the changing of the leaves and the cool crisp air .. and then the holidays in the colder temps .. i dont miss the snow/ice but i miss the colder temps ..

    hope everyone is doing well . miss all of u but keep u in my prayers daily 😀 …

    • says

      Rose so good to hear from you again. I was beginning to wonder what had happened. I do hope you can get another job at home soon too because I know it would be so much easier for you. Glad you posted but understand you are probably worn out at the end of the day.

  21. Magdalen says

    Cold water and ordinary soap work really well on fruit stains, even blackcurrant, if you can get at them fast enough.

  22. Grizzly Bear Mom says

    I agree that purchasing the simplest appliance that serves your needs saves the most. For example, on refrigerators the most broken item is the ice maker. Since I don’t use ice or want a copper tube of water routed to my fridge to prevent leaking, I didn’t pay the $150 extra for an ice maker. Spending ?$800? for a washer to save a few dollars a month is ridiculous! My washer and oven are 27 years old and the TV is 24. At this point I have to walk over and change the channels but the price is right!

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