Do You Need To Separate Your Laundry? Here's Everything You Need To Know

Let’s be honest: Doing laundry is not fun. Having to lug all your clothes to the laundry room, wash them, dry them, and then fold all of them—it’s exhausting. And to add even more work, some folks will separate their laundry by linen type or color to prolong their clothes or other items. But do you actually still need to be doing this? Below, we dive into this debate and shed light on whether you actually still need to add this extra work to your laundry routine. 

Do You Have To Separate Laundry?

While separating laundry is not absolutely necessary in all cases, it is more beneficial to do so than to not do it. “If you are washing new or heavily dyed clothes, it is always a good idea to separate them by color to prevent bleeding,” explains Jacqueline Stein, a professional cleaner in Austin, Texas. “Similarly, if you have delicate fabrics like silk or wool, separating them can help prevent damage during washing.” This can also go for towels and clothing. 

Two Piles of Sorted Laundry

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You never want to wash your towels with your clothing—based on their material and weight, they will clean and dry better if separated. “Additionally, separating laundry by fabric type can help ensure that each item gets the appropriate amount of agitation and detergent, which can help prevent damage and prolong the life of your clothes. This can also go for drying.” 

Some items cannot be dried, and you may need to wash those items together separately to avoid adding an additional chore of picking out the items and hanging them before tossing the rest into the dryer. However, if you are washing a load of clothes that are all similar in color, fabric type, and soil level, then there may be no need to separate them, according to Stein. Remember to always consult your care labels on items before washing. This will help direct you on what to separate and not separate.

Which Types of Linens and Fabrics Should You Separate?

Laundry can be sorted in many ways, but Stein likes to start with color, then go by material (if needed). “To start, separate laundry into the following categories: whites, darks, colors, delicates, athletic, towels, and bedding,” she explains. “You may need more or less categories, depending on the items in your laundry.” For example, microfiber cleaning cloths should be separated into a wash load of their own to avoid breaking down the fibers, just as white linens are best washed alone to get the softest and cleanest laundry. 

Stein also strongly encourages people to wash towels separately—don’t mix them with clothing. Their material and weight can be a lot on clothing and the level of absorption can reduce the cleaning level that your clothing gets when mixed together in the wash. Consider washing towels in a load of their own.

What Happens If You Don’t Separate Laundry?

If laundry is not separated in the wash into different categories, depending on color, material type, temperature (or any other reason you may need), there are a few results that can happen. “Colors can bleed with one another, or onto other items (goodbye crisp white clothes!),” explains Stein. “Different fabrics and dyes react differently to water and detergent. Separating laundry by color prevents bleeding of dyes onto other clothes, which can ruin them.” The first time you wash a new piece of clothing, remember to wash it separately to avoid bleeding the color onto any other items of clothing. 

Some items may become distorted or break down over time if washed with the wrong materials. For example, microfiber should not be washed with other items. If you wash it in the same load as regular towels or clothing, the fibers break down over time and the microfiber cloth is no longer efficient. “This is true for many materials, which is why a lot of delicate items request you hand wash them or wash them on a delicate cycle, separately,” says Stein.  

Different materials can withstand different washing cycles. Denim and cotton can survive in rigorous washing, while silk and wool will need a gentle washing. Save your clothing and always read the labels. “You will thank yourself later when you can still wear it years down the road, after maintaining it well,” suggests Stein.  

How To Separate Laundry

Sort by Color

Separate your laundry into whites, lights, and darks. Wash whites separately to avoid yellowing, and wash darks separately to avoid dye transfer. “I additionally add a ‘bright color’ category, if I am washing neons or bright colors, just for extra safety,” says Stein. 

Sort by Fabric Type

Sort clothes by fabric type, such as delicate items like silk or wool, and sturdy items like cotton or denim. This helps prevent damage to delicate fabrics during washing. You should also separate items like towels, into their own “material” category. 

Sort by Soil Level

Separate heavily soiled items from lightly soiled items. This allows you to use the appropriate amount of detergent and wash cycle for each load. This may not always be necessary, as regular laundry may not have that many variations if you are simply wearing to work and home. But it is best to always check for spots, see if anything will require a deeper or more aggressive clean due to soil levels, or needs a pre-wash soak for stains, suggests Stein. 

Check Labels

Check the care labels on each item of clothing to ensure you wash them according to their specific washing instructions. “This is especially important for the temperature of the items,” explains Stein. “Some items may shrink in the wrong temperature and others may have issues with the material’s fibers. Always check the labels first.”

Don't Overfill the Machine

Avoid overfilling the machine as this can lead to poor cleaning results, as the water and detergent doesn’t mix correctly. Meaning your clothes may not be able to move or get clean, and you risk potentially damaging your clothes. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for your washing machine's capacity.

Use Mesh Bags

Consider using mesh laundry bags for delicate items or items with straps. This will help prevent tangling and stretching during the wash cycle. “I also have large mesh bags that are my favorite for large fitted bed sheets, to avoid the sheet getting caught on the agitator and ripping,” says Stein. 

Use a Laundry Sorting Basket

A laundry basket that is separated into categories is the best way to cut down on sorting laundry throughout the week and helps keep your family in order. “When it comes time to wash the laundry, you already have them separated into the categories that work for you (colors, fabric type, etc.) so you can quickly and efficiently clean your clothing,” suggests Stein.

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