You've been doing laundry for a couple of years on your own now and while things seem to go right most of the time, you sometimes find yourself holding a pink pair of undies that were once white. Or your nice wool sweater now drapes past your knees. Like it or not, laundry mishaps happen way more than we'd like to admit.

Laundry probably seemed easy on the surface, but I hate to break it to you: there is a lot to know when it comes to doing your loads properly. Between correctly separating your clothing to following the labels, there are quite a few tips and tricks to get those stains out. But, just because there's lots to learn doesn't mean that you can't figure it out and wash your clothes right every time. We're here to break down everything you need to know.

Follow The Label

a collection of laundry symbols
All the laundry symbols explained! Shutterstock / Zhivova

"Always read and follow the label" might be something you hear on the latest diet pill advertisement but it rings true for laundry as well. Every stitch of clothing is going to come with a label that informs you how to treat your fabrics. The labels contain crucial information like which washing cycle to use, which temperature setting is best, if it should be washed at all, and how to dry it.

Quick Tips

Take a look at the chart above. See those little dots in the iron or in the washing tub? Those break down the heat requirements for your clothing. One dot is a low heat while three dots is the highest heat. Depending on what you're washing, you need to refer to these recommendations to avoid damaging your clothes.

These symbols will also let you know which item of clothing can handle bleach and which can't. The last thing you want to do is be left with a big bleach stain on your favorite shirt. If the label says don't use something, play it safe and do what it says.

Your label will also tell you how to dry your clothing. Some fabrics require you to flat dry (which is just laying your clothing flat until it dries) while others require you to dry at certain temperatures or not dry at all.

Your clothing label is your best friend when it comes to telling you all you need to know before you get started.

Separating Your Clothing

woman separating laundry

I'm sure we were told at least once in our lives that separating lights from darks is the only thing you need to do with laundry. Well, it's not as easy as all that. Sure, we need to separate our clothes by color, but we also need to pick out a few additional garments that don't belong or need to be handled separately.

Hand Wash and Dry Clean

The two symbols you're looking for will either be a big circle or a hand reaching into a washing tub. These two symbols mean you either need to dry clean or hand wash these items respectively. If you're unsure about a certain article of clothing then have a look at the label and see what it says. If you spot either of these two, make a separate pile for them.

Lights Versus Darks

Light and dark doesn't just mean white and black clothing. The broadened term is meant to encompass a wider variety of colors and shades. Separate your clothing by lighter tones such as whites, light greys, and pastels. Separate darker clothing like blacks, dark greens, dark blues, shades of red, and similarly darker colors. This will prevent your darker colors from bleeding onto your lighter ones and leaving you with a tie-dyed catastrophe.

Sort By Fabric

Now that you have the colors out of the way, go through the piles again. The last step of sorting clothing is to separate based on fabric type. For example, in your lighter pile, you should remove any bedding or towels from your clothing. Towels are heavier and should be washed separately to avoid damaging more delicate fabrics. In the darker pile, you should be removing jeans and t-shirts from things like blouses or dressier clothing. Jeans are obviously much heavier than a dress shirt and should be washed on its own to avoid damages.

Treat Stains Beforehand

a person pointing to a stain on a white dress shirt

Life can get pretty messy sometimes. We do a lot of things in a day and encounter a lot of different high-stain scenarios. It's only natural that we get ourselves dirty every once in a while. If you find yourself with a big stain on your hands, you should treat those items of clothing separately.

Depending on the stain you're dealing with, people have different methods for attacking them. Some people like to use a spot treatment solution before sticking garments in the wash, others prefer to pour detergent directly onto the stain before starting a cycle, and some people like to soak the garment on its own before throwing it in with all the rest. Whichever method you choose, going after stubborn stains before tossing clothing in the wash is a good way to remove it more efficiently.

Prepare For Washing

a dark load of laundry in a washing machine

Now's a good time to return to the labels in your clothing for more key information. Typically, you should be told which cycle is best for that particular article and how you should wash it. You should also determine which detergent you'd like to use before continuing.

Picking The Right Detergent

Whichever works best for your tastes is the one that you should stick with. Unless otherwise specified you don't need a fancy detergent to get your clothes clean. What you do need, however, is the proper amount.

The amount of detergent that you use boils down to a few things. What kind of washing machine you own, the size of your load, the hardness of your water, and the dirtiness of your clothes all play a role into how much detergent you should use. Detergent bottles come with a recommended dose as well depending on the type of water your washer uses and the size of your load.

Hard Water Versus Soft Water

Oh, if only it were as simple as plopping clothes into the washing machine, right? Nope! You might be residing in a hard water area which means that the water you use contains more minerals and salts. Some washing machines use hard water while others use soft water and the consistency plays a role in the amount of detergent you need. Typically, you should use less detergent when dealing with softer water or smaller loads and use the recommended dose or just a bit more than that when dealing with hard water, dirtier clothing, or larger loads.

If you're wondering how the heck you tell if your washing machine uses hard water, you can purchase water testing kits or do some digging online for your area.

Time To Load The Washer

a man selecting washing machine settings

Now it's time to move into the actual washing of your clothes. Learning the different rinse cycles and water temperature will ensure your clothes come out in tip-top shape.

The Washing Cycle

Normal: This cycle is best used for cotton, blended fabrics, sheets, and towels. It also works for dirtier clothing.

Delicate: As the name suggests, you should be placing things like wool, silk, lace, or other delicate fabrics in this cycle. Any clothing labeled with "gentle wash" should go in here as well.

Permanent Press: Jeans, polyester, synthetics, and rayon are all fabrics that belong in this cycle.

Water Temperature

Just as important as the cycle you choose is the water temperature required. For the most part, cold water will help you with the majority of laundry needs, but if you're washing something that's already stained or something like cotton then you should go for the hottest temperature. It's just like anything really, hot water will help you get rid of germs and bacteria so if you're washing something like bedsheets or pillowcases, hot water should be used.

Cold Water: Best used for dark and bright colors.

Warm Water: Good for towels and permanent press fabrics.

Hot Water: Cotton, bedsheets, pillowcases, and anything previously stained should be washed in hot water.

Place Clothes In The Washing Machine

Even if your machine promises heavy duty technology, try not to overstuff it with laundry. Nothing will get properly cleaned if the clothing doesn't have room to swish around and soak up the water and detergent. Additionally, avoid just throwing all the items into the machine. Instead, place the items one by one and layer them inside so everything is evenly distributed and doesn't wind up in one big lump.

Drying Your Clothes

clothes in a dryer

Yes, it's time to venture back to the clothing labels for this one. If our clothing item is delicate or made of a particular fabric, you might be given directions to dry it a special way. Some labels advise that you flat dry while others recommend that you not dry at all.

Temperature Settings

Low Heat: This setting is best for delicate fabrics like lace, silk, wool, spandex or lingerie.

Medium Heat: You'll want to use this setting for just about every traditional type of clothing like dresses, shirts, skirts, and slacks. This temperature also helps your clothes from wrinkling.

High Heat: Towels, bedsheets, sweats, and jeans are all good fits for this temperature setting.

Folding Or Hanging

A woman folding her laundry

After this, all you need to do is decide whether to hang or fold your laundry. Certain fabrics benefit from being hung on hangers while others do well when they're folded and neatly tucked away in dressers.


Clothing made from linen, rayon, or silk will be better hanged on hangers. They'll remain wrinkle-free and you'll want to handle your more delicate fabrics with ease anyway. If you're dealing with something like satin or velour then you should try and find hangers with padding to remove any creases caused by wires.


Typical things like pants, jeans, skirts, sweats, and t-shirts can all be folded. Oftentimes we aren't too uptight about any creases or wrinkles in these items of clothing, so stuffing them away in dressers is a good way to keep them neatly tucked away until you need them.

That's it! You're all done. With this handy guide, you'll be able to get the most from your washing machine every time and won't have to worry about stubborn stains or which dryer temperature to use.

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