Laundry Basics: How to Sort Clothes

Through coaching many, many readers on how to successfully wash their laundry, I noticed that there was a significant lack of laundry know-how.

Every day, I received emails from people that had no clue how to wash their clothes – from college students to professional business men and women to stay-at-home moms.

This lack of laundry skills that I’ve observed over the years has nothing to do with age or profession or socioeconomic status.  It seems that a whole generation of people just didn’t learn how to wash clothes properly.

So I’m thrilled to help you here at Mama’s Laundry Talk!

In this 4-part series on Laundry Basics, you’ll find simple step-by-step help on getting your clothes clean and folded in your drawers.

First up on the Laundry Basics list: How to Sort Clothes!

Laundry Basics: How to Sort Clothes


How to Sort Clothes – Do I even need to sort laundry?

Interestingly enough, you’ll find several different opinions when it comes to sorting clothes.  Mama’s Method is certainly not the only way.  If you have a method that is working for you, then by all means stick with it!

But if you are getting a failing grade in the Sorting Department, then read on.

First of all, what is the reason to sort clothes in the first place? Do you need to sort clothes at all?

A very good question.

In my personal opinion, you do.

Sorting clothes allows you to use different cycle types (‘delicate’ versus ‘normal’) and also allows for washing in different temperatures.

Most importantly, sorting clothes decreases the chances that a garment is going to bleed onto another when you control cycle type and water temperature.

If you do choose to sort your clothes prior to washing them, keep reading for Mama’s best tips.

Sorting Clothes by Color

There are several distinct piles to sort clothes into: whites, darks, lights, jeans, and delicates.  You could sub-divide even further, but these categories are the most used.

Whites: White t-shirts, white underwear, white socks and other similar items fall into this category.  This pile is for white sturdy cottons that can withstand normal agitation in the washer on a warm or hot wash cycle.

Darks: Grays, blacks, navies, reds, dark purples and similar colors are sorted into this load.

Lights: More pastel-type colors such as pinks, lavenders, light blues, lights greens and yellows are placed in this pile of laundry.

Jeans: All items with denim material are washed together in this load.

Delicates: This category includes several types of clothing – lingerie, pantyhose, washable silks, and any clothing you’d like to keep from the harsh agitation of the washer.


Sorting Clothes by Fabric Weight

Please note that color is not the only consideration when sorting clothes. The weight of the garment should be considered as well.

For example, if you have several pairs of heavy cotton pants, then you don’t want to wash those with thin t-shirts.  Washing clothes with ‘heavy’ material can possibly tear or rip clothes that are thin and light-weight while enduring the agitation of the washer.

{Ask me how I know.  Sigh.}

If they are placed in the dryer together, they obviously won’t dry at the same rate since one fabric is much heavier than another.

It’s best just to separate these types of garments from the start and wash them in two separate loads.


Dealing with Stains While Sorting

While I am sorting clothes, I also make a pile for items that need stain removal attention.

As soon as I am finished sorting the other clothes, I go through and sort the stained items.  If they need a quick spray with stain remover, I do so and then put them in whichever sorting category they fall into.

If it’s a bad stain, I put it in the bucket for the Stain Removal Soak.



Sorting Doesn’t Have to Take a Long Time!

Sorting clothes doesn’t have to be laborious.  Consider it to be part of your laundry routine.

You can sort clothes as you put them in the dirty hamper using a laundry sorter.  This method works well in that you can easily look at the ‘whites’ basket and see that it’s full and needs to be dealt with.

Alternatively, if you only wash clothes once (or twice) a week, you can dump all of your clothes in one big laundry basket and then sort just prior to washing.

Different methods work for different people in various stages of life.

What works for an empty-nester couple might be drastically different than what works for a young mother.


Other Sorting Tips

I find when I have a newborn, I tend to wash all of their clothes together.  Newborn outfits are mostly pastel in color, so they easily wash in the same load without issues.

And it seems that newborn clothes all make it back to the nursery if they are washed together – not in various loads.  I seem to have trouble getting them all back to the baby’s room if they are washed here and there.  This might just be my experience. 😉

But what about washing towels and sheets?  Washing towels and sheets deserves its own post, so make sure you click over and read those details.

Lastly, I know that there are many of you out there who do not sort clothes at all since you wash all of your loads on the ‘cold’ temperature setting.

Again, do what works best for you in your laundry routine!


Laundry Basics Series

Interested in more Laundry Basics posts?  You might be interested in these:


  1. I love these back to basics posts. I’m a fairly good launderer but I’m not all that confident. It helps to get some reassurance that I’m doing things OK and get some idea about how to do things better. Especially since adding a new baby recently and going through potty training right now, I feel like I’m up to my eye balls in smelly laundry.

    • mamalaundry says:

      Oh I can so relate to the copious amounts of smelly laundry! 😉

      Glad it’s helpful! Thanks for the comment –


  2. Thanks for this back to basics post. I love to learn new things and if it’s something I already know it’s nice to know that I’m doing it “right”. 😉

  3. Somehow I missed this post yesterday! Laundry basics have been on my mind lately, so your series comes at the perfect time for me. I actually did a laundry post on my own blog yesterday and was thinking about sending you a link to request your advice. My questions revolve around stain removal and shrinkage. Perhaps you could point me to some of your past posts that might answer my questions, or perhaps you will be including these topics later in this Back to Basics series! Either way, I would love your input. Here is the link to the post:

    Thanks for your blog! I never would have thought I could enjoy a laundry blog so much! 😉


  4. Thank you I really needed this.

  5. Charlotte says:

    Thank you for the great back to basics advice! What pile would you sort khaki shorts in and also black pants? Also, what do you do when a garment says to use the permanent press cycle? My front loader doesn’t have that as an option.

    Thank you

    • mamalaundry says:

      Hi Charlotte,

      I sort khakis into my colored pile usually. However, I’ve also been known to wash them with whites (as long as I’m not using bleach) and they are a lighter, summer-weight khaki.

      What kind of black pants? If just a regular cotton, they can go with your colored pile as long as you know they won’t fade. If they are a nicer pair of dress pants, they need to be washed on the delicate cycle.

      I don’t have a ‘Permanent Press’ cycle either, unfortunately. Choose the cycle that gives you a fast agitation (7-10 minutes) and a slow spin-out. If you aren’t sure, you can always take the safe route and just use the delicate cycle.

  6. One thing has always puzzled me – so many ppl seem to want to categorise a lot with sorting yet the most separators you get with hampers is usually 3? I can’t figure out which is the best sorting & hamper solution for me – I like the idea of sorting by person but even using those colour catcher sheets I get bleeds so am binning that. Can anyone share their hamper secrets.

    • mamalaundry says:

      Gael, I couldn’t agree more about the laundry hamper. The design of most hampers is just not practical, imo. Have you seen the single hampers? For a long while, I used these and just sat them side by side so they functioned as one large hamper. You can use as many as you need to sort your clothes in whatever way works for you. Here’s an example: Sorting Dirty Laundry

  7. Have you heard of Bacteria, that redistributes all over the wash, in Cold? It’s nasty to think some would throw all their clothes, sometimes ever overstuffing the machine, with tea towels and underwear in the same cycle.

    Lookup Cold Wash Bacteria, on Google when you have a chance. It’s disgusting.

    • Lauren Hill says:

      Yeah, I’m not a fan of tea towels and underwear in the same wash load, even if it’s washed on hot. 😉

  8. I just have to say, as a nineteen year old male, and a first time university dorm resident you’ve just about saved my life. I forgot to ask about this sort of stuff before I flew the coop. Thanks for the tips!

    • Lauren Hill says:

      Austen, that comment just made me smile. Thank you so much for taking the time to write it!

      Yes, that’s the whole reason I write this blog and it thrills me to pieces that those old posts could help you!

      Blessings to you –

  9. What about super bright colored stuff. Hot pinks, neon/hot greens/blues/purples

    • Lauren Hill says:

      Tiff, you can probably wash the hot pinks and greens together, but I would definitely do dark green/blue/purple in the same load. Those colors REALLY like to fade (especially if it’s cotton material), so be super careful and try washing on cold the first few times just as a precaution.


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