6 simple steps to doing your laundry the right way

Overwhelmed by the idea of doing your own laundry? Don’t fret. The process doesn’t have to be difficult, but there are a few things you should know to really get your clothes and other fabrics clean. You might be afraid that you’ll shrink your most favorite sweater or turn that bright white T-shirt pink, but we’ve got you covered with an expert guide for doing your laundry the right way so that won’t happen.

Once you realize how easy it is, it will become like second nature. Allison Freer is a wardrobe expert and author of How to Get Dressed, and actually washes people’s clothes for a living. She’s an expert at doing laundry like a pro and shared with us some of her top tips for getting clothes squeaky clean in the easiest, most efficient way possible.

How to do laundry the right way:

1Start by sorting your clothes.

Let’s start at the very beginning: sorting. Yes, it’s totally boring, but it is also the absolute cornerstone of good laundry practices. If you are currently just cramming everything into one load, guess what? You’re doing it wrong. 

Ideally, there are to be five distinct categories you should be separating your laundry into: whites/lights, brights, darks, household linens, and gentle/cold water washables. Here’s Freer’s breakdown of what goes where:

  • Whites/Lights: A load of lights means only very pale colored or white T-shirts, cotton undies, pajamas, shorts, and the like. Basically anything that is light enough to not bleed onto other garments. Use warm water to wash lights.
  • Brights: In laundry, as in life, red means danger. Red clothing is laundry enemy #1, as it is notorious for turning an entire load of whites a pale pink. You can wash reds, bright oranges, hot pinks and deep purples together once you are sure they are colorfast.Test colorfastness by spraying the garment with water and blotting with a paper towel to see if any dye transfers, then, wash brights in cool water to cut down on color fade.
  • Darks: This should include stuff like blue jeans, sweatshirts, and gym clothes. Basically any garment that can stand up to the dye in a pair of blue jeans. Use warm water to wash your darks.
  • Household Linens: If you’ve ever accidentally washed a bath towel with some of your clothes, you already know that they produce a special kind of lint that attaches itself to your wardrobe forever, like lice on a first grader. Be sure to wash towels, sheets, and kitchen rags by themselves in the hottest water you can. The high temperature kills bacteria and deodorizes naturally.
  • Gentle/Cold: Try to keep anything delicate, silky, linen, vintage, or slinky out of the regular wash. This includes my underwear, bras, vintage slips, and stuff that just seems it would be beefed by hot water and a super aggressive spin cycle. Even cheap polyester dresses from Forever 21 can benefit from the extra care the gentle cycle and cold water gives! Cold water puts less stress on the fibers and when they take less of a beating, they don’t pill or fray quite as easily.
nordstrom mesh laundry bag for lingerienordstrom mesh laundry bag for lingerie

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A mesh laundry bag is a great tool to use when washing things like socks and underwear. It keeps them together and in shape so they don’t get hammered by the spin cycle. Just make sure you never put anything you deem mesh bag or gentle cycle-worthy in the dryer. It’s all drip dry, baby.

Pro tip: As you sort everything, make sure to check all pockets for money, tissues, lipsticks and other random objects that could foul up your clothes. Also, be sure to button all buttons and snap all snaps. This helps lessen fastener breakage and stops garments from getting twisted in the wash.

2Pre-treat any stains.

Check for stains and pre-treat them accordingly, because once you wash and heat dry a stain, it’s yours for life. Freer is a huge fan of Dryel’s stain pen.  According to her, “It’s straight dry cleaning fluid on a stick.”

If you have no stain solution on hand, you can try a homemade paste of Dawn dishwashing liquid, hydrogen peroxide and baking soda. Freer says you can use use it by giving the affected area a scrub using an old toothbrush.

3Determine the correct amount of detergent.

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Dosing out the correct amount of detergent is an important factor for making sure your laundry turns out clean. How much detergent you’ll need is determined by the size of your load, how dirty the clothes are, and the type of detergent you’re using. Plus, if you’re using a high efficiency washer (HE), that might change.

Most liquid detergents come with a measuring cap to make this easier, but as a general rule of thumb, you should use about a tablespoon of laundry detergent per regular load size.

4Load the machine.


Determine what the proper load size is for your washer. “Overloading it leads to not enough water and soap working its way into your garments, preventing them from getting really clean. Everything should be packed in loosely, not tightly—much like a bowl of chunky chicken soup,” says Freer.

A regular capacity washer holds one bed sheet, four pillowcases, two or three shirts, and about six pairs of underwear. (Not that you should be washing all those things together! It’s just to give you a visual.)

She also points out that you may not realize it, but your washer needs a little TLC sometimes. Make sure to run it empty with a cup or two of white vinegar every so often to keep it clean and wipe down the inside of the machine, lid, and seals regularly with a wet cloth.

Pro tip: Don’t forget to check the lint trap every time you dry a load! Clogged lint screens impact the efficiency of your dryer and can even start fires.

5Select the correct temperature and cycle.

This is where sorting your items comes in handy. Based on the color and material of your load, you’ll want to select the appropriate washing cycle. The washing cycle determines the speed of agitation and temperature of the water.

  • Normal/Regular Cycle: This is  best for lights, sheets, towels, underwear, and other clothing. It uses faster agitation to clean more durable fabrics.
  • Delicate Cycle: This is best for items that need special care like wool or silk. It uses slow agitation and a slow rinse cycle.
  • Permanent Press Cycle: This is best for more heavy duty fabrics like jeans, non-cotton items, and synthetic fibers. This uses both fast and slow agitation speeds.


Freer says she tends to take everything out of the dryer while it’s barely dry—not hot. Any longer and she advises to beware that your things could start shrinking rapidly. After that you’ll want to properly fold and put away your clothes so they stay in tip top shape.

And there you have it! If you are anything like us, you now have a giant mountain of clean laundry that you can dig through and finally clean the right way.

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