Skip to main content

Yes, you do need to separate your laundry — these 5 steps make it easier

Laundry isn’t called a chore for nothing. It’s hard work that requires physical effort, and the task sometimes spans over a few hours. While doing your laundry properly is a bit painstaking and monotonous, it’s necessary in order to prevent damage to fabrics and to extend the life of your favorite clothing items. The first step in proper laundry procedure is separating out your clothes. Here’s how to separate laundry in five easy steps so you can save a bit of time while keeping your wardrobe in tip-top shape.

Laundry
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Should I separate lights and darks?

Is it really necessary to separate your lights and darks? The short answer is: Yes. The long answer? Clothing with dark-colored dyes, particularly newly purchased items, can easily bleed and stain other fabrics in the load that are lighter in color. Washing whites and darks together can lead to your whites either becoming stained with dark dye or becoming dingy and gray in color. It’s best to wash clothing only with like colors.

Your colorful wardrobe: What colors can be washed together?

placing colorful clothes in a front-loading washing machine
goffkein.pro/Shutterstock

So, which colors are safe to wash together in your washing machine without staining or damaging each other? Since different categories of colors are best washed with specific water temperatures, detergents, and bleaches, here are the best color categories to separate your laundry into:

Whites

Clothing items that are completely white in color and have no printed patterns should be washed in their own load. This way, chlorine bleach can be used in the load for best whitening results, without the threat of ruined patterns or bleach stains on colored clothing items.

Dark colors

Items with dark dyes like black, navy, red, or purple can be safely washed together. Any slight bleeding of darker dyes will not be visible on other dark-colored items. However, if you’re concerned that a newly purchased clothing item with particularly dark fabric will bleed into other items in your wash, it’s a good idea to wash that item on its own or by hand the first time.

Light colors

While lighter-colored clothing items won’t typically bleed their own dyes, they are at risk of being stained by the darker dyes of other clothes, so they shouldn’t be washed with dark colors. On the other hand, they also shouldn’t be washed with your whites if bleach is being used. It’s best to keep light colors in their own load.

Hot, cold, or warm? How to separate laundry by temperature

Pixel-Shot/Shutterstock

Another reason to separate whites, darks, and light colors is that for each category, certain water temperatures should be used for the best cleaning, brightening, and whitening results. Here’s when to use hot, cold, and warm water in your laundry load.

When to wash with hot water

The biggest benefit to washing laundry with hot water is that it disinfects fabrics. If you have lightly colored clothes that have been soiled with body fluids, for example, washing them on the hottest water setting on your washing machine will go a long way in killing germs and eliminating pathogens. Hot water is also best to use when you’re bleaching whites. The heat makes the bleach more effective, which whitens the fabric more effectively. Be advised, though, that when washing fabrics in hot water, you risk fabric shrinkage. Hot water will also cause bleeding dyes on dark fabrics, which is why you shouldn’t wash darks in a hot cycle.

When to wash with cold water

Washing your clothes in cold water prevents dyes from bleeding and it also reduces shrinking in fabrics. Cold water should be used when washing clothing with dark dyes and also when washing delicate fabrics like lace, silk, sheer, or chiffon. Since cold water doesn’t disinfect clothing well, if you have darks that need disinfecting, you’ll want to pre-treat them with vinegar or hydrogen peroxide before you throw them in the wash. Just be sure you spot-test with the disinfecting agent before treating the whole garment so you can be sure the product won’t damage the fabric.

When to wash with warm water

Warm water is a good middle ground between hot and cold water since it doesn’t present the shrinking and fading risk but it also allows soap to do its job better. The good news is, both whites and light colors should fare fine in warm water. It is best, however, to avoid warm water when washing dark colors to prevent even slight bleeding.

How to separate laundry in 5 easy steps

Mom and child placing laundry into a front loading washing machine
CommercialEye/Getty Images
  • Step 1: Separate out clothing from towels and bedding. Before washing your towels, bedding, and clothes they should all be split into separate loads. However, many of the same rules — such as separating into lights and darks and using hot water for whites and warm water for light-colored items — apply to your linens as well.
  • Step 2: Read labels. Check each clothing item for special care instructions, whether bleach can be used, and which water temperature is best for the garment.
  • Step 3: Place “dry-clean only” items in the first pile. You should not wash these items in your washing machine and should, instead, have them professionally dry-cleaned.
  • Step 4: Place delicate fabrics in the second pile. It’s a good idea to wash delicates in small mesh bags to avoid rips and tears in the fragile fabric.
  • Step 5: Separate remaining items into whites, darks, and lighter colors. These will be washed in three separate loads for the best results.

Separating your laundry isn’t really a fun task, particularly if you have several loads of laundry to do. While it can be annoying, washing certain fabrics in their own loads will save you a lot of money and heartache that could occur when you have to replace your favorite clothing pieces. With this guide, your laundry separating session will be quick and simple while your clothes will come out clean and bright.

Editors' Recommendations

Veronica Sparks
Veronica Sparks is a writer from Milwaukee, Wisconsin who loves writing about gardening, home décor, and DIY life. She’s…
Do you need to wash walls before painting? The honest truth
What you need to know before you paint your walls
Man's hand painting a wall pink with a paint roller

While there are many mistakes that can be made during a DIY painting project, one question many homeowners ask is whether they really need to wash walls before painting. It's a cumbersome task, so is it really necessary? The answer is yes. Having a clean, dry wall before slapping down that primer and paint can prevent all sorts of cosmetic and even health issues down the road. Of course, there are some rooms in your house that need more thorough cleaning than others. If you're ready to paint, here's how you should wash your walls first.
Really? Do you need to wash walls before painting?
Different paint manufacturers offer different advice on this particular topic. PPG says you should "wipe walls clean of dust and dirt," while Sherwin-Williams, for example, offers more detailed advice:

"Washing your walls and trim will remove grime, cobwebs, dust, and stains that can prevent your paint from adhering. Use a mixture of lukewarm water and mild soap, gently rubbing in a circular motion. Rinse your walls using a slightly damp cellulose sponge."

Read more
Should you be using vinegar in your washing machine?
We weigh in on if vinegar is a good fabric softener or if it's a myth
Woman putting dirty clothes in washing machine

There are so many practical uses for white vinegar that go way beyond an ingredient for salad dressing or brining. Vinegar has long been used as a natural cleaning option, beauty product, and overall household miracle worker. You may have heard your grandparents offering advice to use vinegar for nearly any household obstacle. And to this day, many people tout its numerous benefits, uses, and applications. If you want an idea of some of the incredible ways white vinegar can benefit you and your household, we'll list a few below.

Just a few of the many out-of-box uses for white vinegar:

Read more
How to propagate lucky bamboo in 5 easy steps so you don’t have to buy it
Grow and propagate lucky bamboo at home for decoration or to give as gifts
Lucky bamboo in small pot on wooden table.

Lucky bamboo is an awesome and aesthetic indoor plant that's popular for its minimalistic, chic design and ease of care. If you already have one of these beauties and it's been growing strong, you can propagate it to create more plants. We'll walk you through the steps and methods for how to propagate lucky bamboo successfully so you can decorate your home with your own unique indoor garden or give them away to friends and family.

Since it's believed that these plants can bring their owners luck and good fortune, they're great to give as birthday presents or unique housewarming gifts. Check out how to grow your own below.

Read more