Guide To Sorting Laundry

Sorting is the key to successful laundering. Properly sorting laundry can prevent many common issues like color bleed, fading, lint, bleach marks and other damage. But there’s more to it than just separating lights from darks.

Before you begin sorting there are two important steps you’ll want to take to ensure everything comes out clean and looking good.

1) First, start by inspecting each garment’s laundry symbols (found on the tag or printed on the inside of your garment) to see how to care for each item and prevent damage. If you aren’t familiar with laundry symbols, click here to learn what they all mean.

2) Next you will want to pretreat items that have stains or unwanted odor. Remember to take special care not to mix pretreated items with those that could be effected by certain chemicals. Follow our Guide to Non-Toxic Stain Removal to see how to best treat common stain types and special fabrics without the need for harsh chemicals.

Finally – you’re ready to move on to sorting! Our guide below takes you beyond intuition to determine the most efficient way to wash without waste:

Soil Level

First, you’ll want to take up any items that are heavily soiled and wash them in a separate load for the most effective clean. It’s best to wash heavily soiled items as soon as possible to prevent stains and odors from setting. Note: For very heavily soiled items you may want give them a quick hand-washing before adding them to your washer to prevent damaging your machine.

Example) Muddy clothes, urine-soaked dog bedding, dirty washable diapers, or a table cloth dirtied with food and drinks.

Fabric Type

laundry sorting

Next, you will want to sort items by fabric type. Separate delicates from durable fabrics, and wash each on an appropriate washing cycle to avoid damage to those that are finer. You should have already started this process by checking laundry symbols, which will tell you a lot about the care of certain fabrics.

Ex) Separate items with zippers and buttons from knits and lingerie. Separate fabrics that may be affected by hot water, or those that are prone to shedding and can cause lint.

Fabric Weight

This next sorting step is often overlooked, but can cause stretching and tears in fabric or even damage your washing machine. Always be sure to consider the weight of your items before washing them together, and leave heavier items to their own loads.

Ex) Wash towels, bed linens or jeans separately from elastic-based, delicate and light weight fabrics. Be careful not overload your washer with too many heavy items at one time, as this can damage or break your washing machine. A good rule of thumb is to keep all loads of heavier items below the midpoint of your washer and wash bulky items on their own.


If you already practice this very important step – go you! Take color sorting a step further by not only separating whites, darks and colors from one another, but by then sorting colors by their various shades.

Ex) Mixing colors and color shades can cause unwanted discoloration or darkening of fabrics. It is always recommended to check all items for color fastness, and you’ll want to keep similarly hued colors together (think blues and greens, oranges and yellows, or pinks and purples of similar shades).

All-in-all you may find you must manage more loads in order to properly clean your dirty laundry, but keep in mind that a fuller load can not only prevent a thorough clean and require additional runs in the wash, but can damage your fabrics and machines costing more money in the long run. By properly sorting your laundry you can not only enjoy your favorite clothing and household linens for longer, but lead a more sustainable lifestyle; saving water, reducing energy waste and ultimately cutting back on your consumption of clothes and goods!

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