Laundry.  It’s something we all deal with.  Some hate it, some find the repetitiveness soothing.  I fall somewhere in the middle. I don’t hate it, but I do feel like no matter how much I do, there’s always more.

Whether you’ve been doing laundry since you were old enough to reach the knobs, or you didn’t start until you were out on your own, we all could use some instruction, or at least tips, on getting it done right.  I’ve scoured the internet and checked with the experts so you don’t have to and put everything together here.

Before you begin

Read the labels.  That’s the most important thing I can tell you.  You don’t want to be surprised to learn you should have washed your favorite sweater in cold after you’ve shrunk it in warm.  Then, make sure all of the pockets are empty and all belts are removed.  Just these two steps put you ahead of the game.

Next, test for colorfastness  by dampening fabric in a discreet spot (such as an inside seam).  Wait a minute or two, then blot with a white cloth.  If the cloth picks up color, the fabric isn’t colorfast.  Wash that item alone until dye stops coming out.

Sorting and Prep

Sort whites and lights into one basket, darks into another, towels into a third. Then separate those baskets into heavy clothes and lightweight clothes.

Zip zippers, tie drawstrings, make sure pockets are empty, unroll the cuffs.  Fix loose hems or seams before washing.  Unbutton all buttons so they don’t get ripped off in the washer.

Pretreat any stains.  Presoak any really dirty laundry in the washer, or a sink. Always pre-treat collars on button-up shirts.  For stubborn stains/collars use a mix of stain/spot treater mixed with a little water and laundry detergent.  Pour over collar or stain and scrub lightly with a toothbrush. This is super important with permanent press items according to because these clothes are treated to make them permanent press, and tend to hold onto stains.


Add detergent to washer following the instructions on the package.  Using too much will leave the clothes soapy, but too little won’t get them clean.

Add the clothes.  Don’t fill washer more than ¾ full and distribute the clothes evenly.

Time:  A short, 6-minute wash is good enough for all but the dirtiest clothes according to

Cycle:    Regular – sturdy clothes, heavy cotton, very dirty clothes

Permanent Press – most loads; easier on fabrics

Delicates/Gentle – lightweight, sheer, lace or loosely woven fabric, cotton blends – use all purpose or mild detergent depending on how delicate the fabric is.  For delicates, use a lingerie bag or a zippered pillow case for additional protection.

Water Temp:     Hot – whites and very dirty clothes

Warm – most loads

Cold – bright colors; delicates

Avoid shrinking by washing in warm or cold and hanging to dry

Dryer Setting:    Auto Dry – how dry do you want the clothes instead of by temp

Perm Press/Wrinkle Reducer – cool down at end of cycle to prevent wrinkles

Air Dry – Air only, no heat – good for refreshing fabrics, or softening items hung dry.  You can either dry them on air dry for a few minutes before laying them flat to dry on a clean towel, or after hanging them out/drying them flat, throw them in for 10-15 minutes with a fabric softener sheet to soften them up.

When to Dry Clean or Hand Wash

Crocheted or hand-knit clothes and silk sweaters should be either dry-cleaned, or you can test them for color-fastness as described above and then handwash in cold water if it’s colorfast.  Use a mild detergent, and lay them flat to dry.

How not to lose socks

There are a few options.  One idea I’ve seen in a lot of places is to safety pin pairs of socks together so they don’t get separated.  I’m not a fan of this idea. It sounds like a pain in the neck.  Lost socks are a minor irritation, this sounds like a lot of extra work to avoid it.  If it’s a method you use and swear by, go for it.  It’s just not for everyone.

Another idea is to use a lingerie bag or zippered pillow case, throw all the socks in and wash them together.  This is an easier idea, but I still have concerns about whether the socks will get clean enough.  It’s probably just my own paranoia, but there it is.

Or you could take my super-lazy, yet effective, route.  All of my everyday socks are the same, and I don’t bother to match them.  That way I can just throw them all in my drawer (they do have their own space), and get rid of any that are worn out without having an orphaned sock.  I do the same for the kids when possible, although it’s harder now that two are older and buy their own things sometimes.

Tips for specific types of clothes/fabrics

Winter Hats & gloves – Just wash them based on whatever type of fabric they’re made of.

Jeans – wash in cold water in small loads alone.  This keeps them from fading out or getting weird streaks in them from losing too much dye.  Dry on medium or low heat, and don’t overdry.  That will cause them to wear out faster.  If the seams and waistband are still damp, they’re good.  Let them air dry the rest of the way.

Winter coats ­– Most winter coats for grown-ups can be machine washed in warm water, but only in a front-loading washer or a top-loader with no agitator.  Top-loaders with agitators are too tough on them.  Have them dry-cleaned if necessary.  Kids coats can be washed in front- or top-loaders.  Dry there on low, and throw in a dry towel to help them dry faster.

Delicates and Swimsuits – Every day bras, panties, swimsuits and lingerie can be washed in the delicate cycle most of the time even if they say to hand wash them.  Make sure to put bras and lingerie in a zippered bag as mentioned previously.  Use all-purpose detergent for cotton and cotton blends, but use mild detergent for everything else.  Wash them as a separate load or in a light load, never with anything heavy. Air dry everything.  Panties, unless delicate, can go in with your regular load, but don’t overload the washer and keep them with lighter items instead of heavier fabrics.  Remember to always rinse out swimwear after using them to get out any salt, chlorine or sunblock before throwing them in the hamper.

For nice, “special” items hand wash, and air dry.  No negotiating.  If they are special, treat them that way.  But don’t worry.  Even for handwash items there is an easy way to do it.  Take them into the shower with you.  Use a tiny amount of gentle shampoo or, even better, baby shampoo to wash them, and air dry them when you get out.

Baby clothes – These can be tricky.  You want to be careful because harsh detergents can irritate a baby’s soft skin.  But babies are masters at tough stains, even before they’re eating solids, as any parent can tell you.  So how do you clean them and get the stains out without making them too harsh for the baby to wear?

Start out with a really gentle, baby-formulated detergent (think Dreft or similar).  Spot clean stains but be sure to rinse thoroughly to get all of the stain treatment out before washing.  Once the baby is about six months old, you can switch to a color-free, fragrance-free detergent.  One thing you shouldn’t do is use fabric softener.  Whether liquid or dryer sheets, they contain chemicals too harsh for a baby’s delicate skin.  Instead dry them on a lower heat cycle to cut down on static.

But what do all those symbols mean?!

There are a TON of laundry symbol lists available in magazines and online.  I’ve even seen some really pretty decorative ones for sale on Etsy.  I like this printable one from (click the picture below to go to it).  Check out her blog if you have the chance.