How to Sort Your Laundry in 3 Easy Steps

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Sorting your laundry doesn't have to be a tedious job. Read these tips on how to sort laundry quickly and efficiently.

For a lot of us, doing laundry isn’t our favorite pastime. And sorting laundry just adds one more step to a task we might already dread.

But when you learn how to sort laundry the right way, it becomes easier and faster, and you’ll see the results in brighter, cleaner clothes and washables. Plus, clothes that are well-cared for in the laundry room last longer. So proper sorting can buy you lots of extra miles in those beloved jeans, sweaters or t-shirts.

How to Sort Laundry

According to the American Cleaning Institute (ACI), the consumer-information arm of the U.S. Cleaning Products Industry, sorting laundry is a three-step process.

  • Sort by color. Separate whites, colors and darks into three piles — or maybe four, if you have pastels too light to wash with brights that you’d rather not mix with your whitest whites. When sorting, the ACI says to pay special attention to lightly colored synthetics, which can more easily pick up dyes from other fabrics during washing. Note that items with more than one fabric, such as a cotton shirt with velvet trim, might not fade or bleed equally. Just a little of that dark velvet trim could tint your whole wash load.
  • Sort by dirtiness. Sorting by color might not solve all your laundry dilemmas. You also need to sort by level of dirtiness. A pair of white shorts stained with mud and grass shouldn’t be tossed in with your more pristine whites, because those non-stained whites will pick up the soil in the wash water. The result: An entire load that’s less white than it should be.
  • Sort by type. There’s another factor to consider when sorting laundry — fabric type. The ACI says to group loosely knit garments together for a gentle cycle wash, and put together items you know will give off a lot of lint. Extremely bright, color-saturated garments should also be grouped together. And here’s a piece of laundry advice we didn’t expect: According to the ACI, mixing small items such as socks with larger items like towels ensures that items move more freely in the washtub, and therefore get cleaner.

It’s Not Complicated

If you’re counting on both hands how many different piles of laundry you need, you’re probably overthinking it. Most households don’t regularly have to deal with extremely dirty items, nor do we need to wash delicates every day.

You’re probably safe sticking with three or four main piles of clothes separated by color. Then you save particularly dirty items to wash together once you’ve got a full load. The same is true with delicates or other “out-of-the-ordinary” washables — set them aside until you’ve got enough to justify running the washing machine.

Make a laundry sorter part of your well-organized laundry room. For outliers that don’t fit into any of your sorting bins, keep a separate basket, such as this handy collapsible model.

Elizabeth Heath
Elizabeth Heath is a travel, culinary and lifestyle writer based in rural Umbria, Italy. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, HuffPost, Frommers.com, TripSavvy and many other publications. Her guidebook, An Architecture Lover's Guide to Rome, was released in 2019. Liz's husband is a stonemason and together they are passionate about the great outdoors, endless home improvement projects, dogs, their unruly garden and their slightly less unruly eight-year-old.