If you’ve never done your own laundry before, transforming dirty clothes into clean ones without anything shrinking or changing colors can seem a little too much like sorcery. We promise: it’s not as difficult as all that. In fact, most clothes come with labels that tell you exactly how to wash that item of clothing.
Just in case the whole process remains daunting, though, here’s a quick overview to help you get started:
- Check to make sure the clothing is machine washable. Not everything can be washed in a machine; some things must be dry cleaned, hand-washed, or spot cleaned. (Not sure what the difference is? Check out this post on BlogHer.)
- Separate the clothes into piles of things that can be washed together. Typically, this means separating clothes into lights and darks or whites and colors. Separating by color is important because sometimes bright items can bleed and turn light items a different color (like a red shirt turning a white shirt pink). You should also separate clothes by the kind of cycle they need; for example, things like undergarments and sweaters typically require a delicate setting, whereas jeans and shirts can go through somewhat rougher wash cycles.
- Run one pile at a time through the washing machine. Set the water temperature, cycle type, and load size. Most things can be washed in cold water, but hot water may be better for dirtier clothing. If you’re not sure what temperature is best, check the care instructions on the tags. Usually, the tag will spell things out for you, but, just in case it lists off a bunch of weird symbols instead, here’s an explanation of what your clothing is trying to tell you. The size of the load is based on how full the machine is once you’ve loaded everything in. Be careful not to stuff it too full: at best, the water and soap will have trouble reaching all the clothes, and, at worst, you can damage the machine.
- Pour in laundry detergent. Most detergent bottles have instructions in the side about exactly how much detergent to use. Some washers have a special container for you to pour the soap in, but usually you can pour the detergent in right on top of the clothes. If you also want to use fabric softener or bleach, this is the time to add it. Do not use chlorine bleach unless you are washing pure whites or trying to bring acid wash jeans back.
- Start the machine, and give it a few minutes to agitate, drain, rinse, drain again, and spin the water out of the clothes. When the machine finishes the spin cycle, your clothes are done washing.
- Dry your clothes. Whether you need to air dry or machine dry your clothes will also be marked on the label. Double check that before you throw anything into the dryer, unless you want your favorite jeans to become capris. Most clothing that requires a gentle wash cycle needs to be hung up to dry. To machine dry your clothes, set the temperature and cycle on the dryer according to the care instructions, and you should be good to go. One last note about machine drying: check the lint trap to be sure it’s empty before your first load, and empty it after each load you dry. This helps air circulation in the dryer and speeds up the drying process.
This is a pretty simplified overview of the laundry process, and there are lots of tips and tricks to really help you extend the life of your clothing. These instructions don’t even breach the topic of removing stains, for example. The University of Illinois Extension has put together an incredible list of almost every possible stain you might need to remove. That’s a good place to start for getting things like ink and spaghetti sauce out of your favorite T-shirts. For more helpful resources, check out these links:
- How to read the symbols on the care instructions
- How to do laundy: A no-spin guide to washing clothes, car-seat covers, and nearly everything in between
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