How to Wash Clothes the Right Way

If you’ve ever lived on your own, chances are you’ve used a washing machine before. The concept is pretty simple: you toss your clothes into the machine, add a quality laundry detergent, and hit start, right? Well, technically, yes. But if you want your clothing to hold up, stay stain-free, and keep its vibrant colors, then you’ll want to learn how to wash clothes the right way1.

Step 1: Separate

When setting out to wash clothes, the first step is check labels for anything that needs dry cleaning or a special clean cycle. Then, separate your laundry into piles: whites, lights, darks, and delicates. You can also choose to combine your whites and lights in order to reduce the number of loads you have to do.

Step 2: Prep

Next, prep your clothing for washing. This includes:

  • Turn anything with embellishments inside out
  • Unbutton button-up shirts
  • Empty pockets
  • Pretreat stains
  • Presoak anything with heavy stains
  • Put delicates in mesh bags
  • Close zippers to prevent snags

Step 3: Fill

Then it’s time to actually wash clothes in your various piles. If using a high-efficiency machine, place the clothing into the washing machine drum and add the detergent to the dispenser. If using a traditional washing machine, allow it to fill one-third of the way with water, then add your detergent, then your clothing.

Step 4: Set Cycle

Determine the cycle based on how soiled the clothing is. For example, the normal cycle is best for cotton or blended fabrics with a medium amount of soiling, whereas the delicate or hand wash cycle is better for items that could be damaged by the high-speed agitation or tumbling of the normal cycle (e.g., lingerie, bras, tights).

Step 5: Set Temperature

Typically, you use cold water to wash darks and warm water to wash lighter clothing. Cold water prevents shrinkage and can help keep dark colors vibrant, whereas warm water is best at taking care of stains and dirt. Reserve the hottest water for sanitary cycles and items like towels with heavy stains or white cotton undershirts, underwear, or socks.

Step 6: Dry

Just as important as learning how to wash clothes is learning how to dry them2 the right way. Read the care label to determine the best setting for drying your clothes. Be sure to remove lint from the lint trap each time to prevent a clogged duct and allow for proper drying. You can also choose to air dry any clothing you want to ensure doesn’t shrink.

  1. SOURCE: Tips for Perfect Laundry (Feb. 2017). Martha Stewart. Retrieved Aug. 8, 2017 from:
  2. SOURCE: How to Dry Clothing (Yes, There is a Right way) (June 2015). Retrieved Aug. 8, 2017 from: