Laundry Basics: How to Sort, Wash, Dry and Fold

Learn the four basic steps to making laundry easier, plus the secrets to help make your clothes last longer and look better.

Laundry Room With Stainless Steel Appliances And Colorful Artwork

Neutral Laundry Room With Stainless Steel Appliances, Colorful Artwork and Matchstick Blind Covered Window

We asked home-efficiency expert Cynthia Townley Ewer, author of Houseworks, to explain her secrets for making laundry chores simple, easy and successful.

Sort and Segregate

If you skip the sort step before starting the wash, you know what'll happen: red sweater plus white undies equals pink panties (or worse, pink jockey shorts).

To sort laundry, start with color. Separate clothing into white, light-colored, bright and dark divisions to avoid dye-transfer problems. Wash white and light clothing separately to keep dye transfer at bay.

Separating synthetics (polyester, nylon, acrylic) from natural fibers (cotton, linen) can also cure dye-transfer problems; synthetic fibers can be dye magnets, absorbing the castoffs from dye-rich natural fibers.


Troubled by lint in the wash? Keep lint-generators (sweatshirts, towels, flannel fabrics) away from lint attractors (nylon blouses, microfibers) in the laundry process.

For cleaner clothes, sort clothing by soil level. Jeans worn while planting seedlings in the garden aren't good wash-mates for lightly soiled blouses. Fabric weight, too, should be considered; the heavy stitching, brads and buttons on jeans are too rough-and-tumble to share a wash cycle with lighter-weight or delicate clothing.

Prep and Pretreat

As you load the washer, check each item of clothing. Close zippers, remove belts and ties, and check pockets for forgotten items that don't belong in the wash. Eyeball each garment, searching for stains and treat them before you wash.

Wash and Dry

You're ready to wash, but how well do you know your washing machine? Your washer's product manual has a wealth of information about how to get clothes clean effectively. Washing recommendations vary from machine to machine. For instance, filling a front-loading spin-cycle washer more fully gets clothes cleaner, but overloading a top-loader that uses an agitator will impede the cleaning process and could damage clothing.


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Once the clothing is loaded, add detergent. Detergent use is among those "know-your-machine" issues where it pays to be informed. Washing machines vary in capacity and are designed to use differing amounts of detergent. Consult the washer's product manual first, then read the detergent box to determine how much detergent to add and do measure carefully, using a measuring cup. You may need to use more detergent for large loads, very dirty clothing or if you live in an area with hard water. Use a bit less detergent for soft water, small loads or lightly soiled clothing.

Add any fabric additives or softener. Follow manufacturer's recommendations to use bleach, non-chlorine bleach or fabric brighteners; these toxic products must be used with care and according to label directions. Fabric softener should be added during the final rinse cycle.

Select the appropriate water temperature for the clothes in the washer.

When the washer cycle has finished, it's time to dry. Place clothing in an automatic dryer, and select the appropriate heat level and cycle duration. Give any twisted garments a good shake as you load them; you'll give them a head start to dry smooth and wrinkle-free. Hang delicate clothing from hangers, a dryer rack or from a clothesline to air-dry.

Fold and Put Away

Make sure you fold or hang clothing quickly after removing it from the dryer; the last bit of heat in the garment will help to smooth out wrinkles (and prevent the need to iron). Watch out for metal buttons or zippers. They can be very hot after a tumble in the dryer.

Using color-coded baskets, place each family member's clothing in a separate basket as you fold. You'll make it easy for everyone to put away their own clothing if they only have to grab a basket and go.

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