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How to do laundry
The clothes are piling up on the floor and you have nothing to wear. Time to do the laundry.
- Washing machine
- Dryer (or drying rack or clothesline)
- Laundry detergent
- Bleach (optional)
- Stain remover (optional)
- Dryer sheet (optional)
For the best results, follow the steps below to do your laundry. If nothing else, remember this: Sort and separate colors from whites, and don't use high heat on anything that might shrink.
Step 1. Sort laundry
- By colors: whites, brights and darks.
By fabric type: heavy (towels, jeans) and light (shirts, underwear).
By labels: Pull out clothes that need to be dry-cleaned (silk, wool, linen and rayon), hand-washed (lingerie) or washed separately (new clothes, brights).
Find more information on how to sort laundry.
Step 2. Prep clothes
Empty pockets. Lipsticks and pens can melt and ruin an entire load of clothes. Paper and tissues will leave your entire load covered in paper bits or white lint.
Zip zippers and snap snaps to prevent snags and tears.
Unfasten buttons to prevent buttonholes from tearing.
Secure drawstrings on items such as hoodies and track pants.
Turn tops inside out, especially delicate clothing and screen-printed tops.
Step 3. Pretreat heavy stains
If you don't have a stain remover, pretreat by rubbing a small amount of detergent directly on the stain.
Tip: Ring around the collar? Scrub with a toothbrush.
WARNING: Only use a bleach pen on white clothing.
Step 4. Add detergent
Carefully measure detergent and add directly into the washer or detergent dispenser (see instructions on container).
If you have a high-efficiency washer, use detergent marked with HE on the label. See tips for using high-efficiency detergent.
Step 5. Select proper water temperature
Whites: HOT to keep them bright.
Brights and darks: COLD to minimize fading, bleeding and shrinkage.
Sweaters and knits: COLD to prevent shrinking.
Underwear: WARM to kill germs and remove stains.
Sheets: WARM to kill germs and mites without damaging the fibers.
Blankets, curtains and rugs: COLD.
All: Rinse in COLD to save energy.
Tip: If in doubt, choose the COLD cycle.
Step 6. Select proper cycle
Most clothing and outerwear: permanent-press cycle to minimize wrinkling.
Sweaters and knits: gentle cycle. Tip: Put sweaters in a sweater bag or zippered pillowcase to reduce pilling during the wash cycle.
Underwear/undergarments: gentle cycle. Tip: Put delicates in a zippered mesh bag to prevent them from twisting and snagging during the wash cycle.
Sheets: gentle cycle. Tip: Sheets that aren’t completely rinsed may feel stiff or itchy. Use half the manufacturer's recommended amount of detergent, and add up to 1 cup of white vinegar to the rinse water to remove all traces of detergent.
Blankets, curtains and rugs: gentle cycle. If in doubt, dry-clean.
Tip: If in doubt, choose the gentler cycle.
Step 7. Select proper water level
The amount of water needed is based on the size of the load:
- Small load = washer 1/3 full
- Medium load = washer 1/2 full
- Large or full load = washer 3/4 full
Tip: Full loads save energy and water.
Step 8. Start washing machine BEFORE adding clothes
If washing whites, add bleach after the washing machine has started to fill, never while clothes are in the washer or it might eat right through your clothes.
WARNING: Handle bleach with care. Avoid splashing on yourself or your clothes.
Tip: Avoid liquid fabric softener, which can gunk up your washer and lead to costly repairs.
Note: If using a front-loading washing machine, it is generally necessary to place the clothes in the washer before starting the wash and allowing the water to enter.
Step 9. Load clothes into washing machine and start
Wait until soap and bleach have mixed completely with the water before loading clothes.
Be careful not to overfill the machine. When the washing machine is crammed it won’t remove dirt as effectively, and clothes can get twisted and damaged.
Tip: To keep new dark clothing from fading, add a cup of table salt to the rinse cycle to set the color the first time you launder.
Step 10. Immediately move clothes to dryer or drying rack
Once wash cycle is complete (in approximately 45 minutes), remove clothes and shake them out before putting them in the dryer or on a rack or clothesline; they will dry faster.
Make sure stains came out of clothes before drying. It’s more effective to re-treat the item now than after it’s dry. Drying can set the stain.
Load the dryer properly to ensure clothes continually redistribute and dry efficiently. Too many items will take longer to dry and may break the dryer. Too few items will clump together and not dry as fast.
A dryer is not recommended for some delicate or bulky items. Lay sweaters and knits flat to dry. Line-dry blankets, curtains and rugs. See tips for line-drying clothes.
WARNING: If you leave wet clothes in the washing machine too long, especially in warmer months, there's a good chance they'll mildew and you'll have to wash them all over again.
Step 11. Empty lint filter
Before drying each load, make sure the lint filter is clean so the machine will work efficiently.
Note: If you haven’t cleaned your dryer vent in the past year, it’s probably time. Lint buildup in the vent not only decreases airflow and increases drying time, it is also a serious fire hazard. See our step-by-step guide to dryer vent cleaning.
Step 12. Add anti-static dryer sheet if desired
Tip: Use half a dryer sheet at a time; your clothes will be just as soft.
Step 13. Select proper drying setting
Most clothing and outerwear:normal or permanent-press setting.
Underwear/undergarments: lowest possible heat setting.
Sheets: normal/high setting.
Tip: If in doubt, check the care tags or dry at a lower setting to prevent shrinking.
Step 14. Close dryer door and start
Expect drying cycle to take about an hour for a full load.
You may need to open the dryer and redistribute large items such as sheets to make sure they aren't twisting and can dry completely.
Add a dry towel with your wet clothes to absorb moisture and lessen drying time. (Don’t put a white towel in with darks, or lint could get on everything.)
If clothes are not getting dry, see our troubleshooting guide for a dryer not drying.
Step 15. Immediately remove clothes once they are dry
Take clothes out while they are still warm and shake, smooth and fold them to remove wrinkles and save you some ironing time.
Fold or hang jeans and slacks the way you would want them pressed (flat or with a crease down the front of the leg) directly out of the dryer.
Tip: As soon as your first load finishes drying, put in the next one. This saves time and money because the dryer doesn’t have to heat up again.
✓ Reviewed and approved by a Repair.com expert.