Skip to main content

Laundry 101: A how-to guide even beginners can’t mess up

Doing laundry is a necessary part of life, but it’s a task that many people dread. Even though clothing comes with straightforward instructions and washers and dryers are relatively easy to operate, there is still some confusion when it comes to the finer points and tips and tricks of laundry day. Is it still necessary to sort your laundry? Is it better to wash clothes with warm or cool water? Do my sweaters need to air dry? If you’ve had any of these questions running through your mind, take a deep breath. Next time your basket is filled with dirty clothes, follow these few steps for a simple and easy laundry day.

person putting detergent in washer

Sort laundry

Before you wash any clothing, check the labels. Most items can go in a washing machine, but some have to be washed separately or by hand, while others must be dry cleaned. If you toss them into the washer along with everything else, those delicate fabrics can get damaged.

Once you have your pile of machine-washable clothes, divide them into two groups: one group with light colors, such as white, light gray, and pastels, and another group with dark colors like black, dark gray, brown, navy, and red. While dark colors won’t always ruin lighter fabrics, it’s better to be safe than sorry and keep them separate.

Know which clothes you should separate out. If you have any clothes that are especially dirty, wash them separately. If you have several lightweight garments, wash them in one load and wash heavier items, such as jeans and sweatshirts, in another. Wash towels and sheets separately. This ensures all of these materials of different sizes and thicknesses will wash efficiently.

If you have enough space in your bedroom or laundry room for several laundry baskets, sort laundry as you use it. That will help you avoid this step and will also make it easy to tell when it’s time to do a load of laundry.

Prepare to wash clothes

Before you put clothing in the washer, check each garment for stains. If you find any, pre-treat them with a stain remover or follow a procedure to remove that specific type of stain.

Check all pockets and remove any belts, zip pants, and button shirts so that nothing gets caught on other clothes. Doing this before you put clothes in the hamper can save you time on laundry day.

man doing laundry

Choose a detergent, temperature, and cycle

Wash your laundry with an all-purpose detergent, following the directions on the package to make sure you use the right amount for each load. Depending on the type of washing machine you’re using, you may have to add detergent to the drum or to the dispenser.

Make sure the washer is on the appropriate setting. With modern washing machines and detergents, most clothes will become soft and clean if you wash them in cold water. Heavily soiled clothes as well as towels and bedsheets, need a higher temperature to remove body oil and sanitize the articles.

After washing the items with detergent and fabric softener, the washer normally goes through a spin cycle to remove water from the clothes. On a permanent press setting, the wash cycle is fast, but the spin cycle is slow to prevent wrinkles. If you choose the delicate setting, both the wash and spin cycles are slow to decrease the risk of the garments snagging on the basin or each other. If you’re not sure which cycle to use, check the labels on individual articles of clothing.

Load the washer

When you load clothes, towels, or sheets into the washer, put them in one at a time. If you throw them in all at once, the pieces can get wrapped up within each other and they won’t soak evenly.

If necessary, split your laundry into two or more loads to avoid overloading the washer. If you’re washing textured fabrics, corduroy, knitted garments, or clothes with dark colors, turn them inside out to prevent damage.

laundry on clothesline

Dry your laundry

Some clothes must air dry, but most can go in the dryer. Before you put clothes in the dryer, check the tags to make sure you’re using an appropriate amount of heat.

Use the appropriate dryer setting. The permanent press dryer setting uses less heat than a regular cycle and incorporates a cooldown period to prevent wrinkles. A delicate cycle also uses low heat and dries gentle garments without shrinking them.  If you have any articles of clothing that are very delicate or that have embellishments that aren’t heat-safe, use the tumble dry setting, which may also be labeled “no heat” or “air dry.”

When the dryer is finished, hang or fold them right away to prevent wrinkles. If you would like to save energy, hang your items on a clothesline to dry. Just be sure to check the weather forecast first.

Washing your clothes isn’t as complicated as you may think. Although clothes are made with a variety of materials and washers and dryers have several settings, doing laundry is actually pretty simple once you understand the steps and the technology involved.

Editors' Recommendations