How to sort clothes for laundry – 10 ways to keep it simple

Take a load off by learning how to sort clothes for laundry quickly and easily

wicker laundry basket
(Image credit: Getty images / Natalie Board / EyeEm)

For most of us, time is of the essence when it comes to how to sort clothes for laundry – the quicker we can get the job done the better. While throwing everything into the drum may feel like the easiest option, sorting clothes properly will make things speedier and more manageable in the long run – and keep your clothes looking lovely for longer, too. 

There’s no doubt about it, laundry piles up fast. And the longer you leave it, the more overwhelming it becomes. It’s a vicious cycle (excuse the pun), but according to the experts, one that’s easy enough to break; just a little prep work and understanding how to do laundry the right way is all that’s required to set yourself up for a stress-free wash day.  

How to sort clothes for laundry

Below, we’ve listed our favorite expert-approved tips, tricks and hacks to help set you up for sorting success.

White utility room with washing machine

(Image credit: Paul Raeside)

First steps

'The best way to combat overwhelming piles of laundry is to implement a sensible sorting system and schedule you can easily stick to. Rather than letting your washing pile up, try doing a load or two every day. Incorporating it into your daily routine will make for smaller loads, which makes the whole process quicker and less daunting’, advises professional organizer Michelle Urban of The Organized House.

Read the care labels 

care label on denim item

(Image credit: Alamy)

Usually sewn into the seams of garments and linens, care labels provide all the information you need to know how to wash them properly. It’s important to familiarize yourself with standard laundry symbols – different fabrics require different wash cycles and temperatures, even detergents in some cases, so it’s important that you read the instructions carefully and sort like-with-like if you want to keep your clothes in tip-top condition. 

Turn clothes inside out

Before you throw your clothes into the appropriate pile, save yourself time by turning your clothes inside out. Regardless of whether you use softener or not, a washing machine can be pretty abrasive on clothes, so doing this can help to retain their good looks.  

‘This step is particularly important when it comes to dark-colored items, where faded fabric quickly leads to a dull, lack-luster appearance’, says Anita Lo, owner of Clara’s Box.

At this point, take the time to check pockets for tissues, receipts, or mislaid items, and close all fastenings so they don’t catch on anything. 

Sort by color...

While color-catch cloths claim you can wash everything together, we’re not prepared to take the risk – and neither should you. This age-old task is still as important as ever. Not sure what constitutes a light, white or bright? We’ve broken down the main color categories to help you out.  


The clue’s in the name – white items only. Washing whites separately gives you the option to use bleach if you wanted to, or attempt a more natural method to keep your whites whiter than white, such as adding lemon juice or using white vinegar in laundry.  


wire laundry baskets and industrial towel rails

(Image credit: Future PLC / Carolyn Barber)

Any items that aren’t brights or darks, but you wouldn’t count as white, constitute a ‘lights’ load – a pale pink t-shirt, or a tan vest, for example. Take variations of a shade into account; light grays can go into this pile, while dark grays will make up a dark wash.  


Again, darks are easy enough to spot – black, navy, dark reds, purples, greens, and so on. Depending on how many you have, you can either create a separate load or add them in with a brights wash.  

Then sort by fabric

laundry room with cabinets, soap and folded towels and sheets

(Image credit: Future PLC / Emma Lewis)

Once you’ve sorted by color, go through each pile again and organize by fabric type. This will dictate your washer settings, so it’s important to get it right. White undies, white towels, and a white cotton blouse will all require different temperatures and cycle spins, and will also dry at different times, too. If you’re unsure, refer to the garment care label. 

‘Using a mesh bag for your delicates will help to keep them protected while popping your socks into a separate one will stop them from going missing – handy when you’re organizing your sock drawer afterward’, says professional organizer Emma George of Declutter with Emma.   

Wash heavily soiled items separately

While you’re sorting your colors and fabrics, look out for items that are stained, or particularly dirty and set them aside. If the stain is fairly small, you can treat it and put it back into the pile to wash as normal.

‘When organizing a laundry room, I like to position stain pre-treatments close to my laundry basket, so I can apply them before I put the item in. This gives it plenty of time to work – just make sure you’re investing in products designed to sit on materials for a few days’, advises Millie Hurst, Section Editor, Homes & Gardens

Items that are heavily stained or dirty, such as muddy sportswear, sweaty gym gear or soiled baby clothes should be washed separately on as hot a cycle as the fabric can handle, to ensure they’re properly sanitized.  

 Keep ‘first washes’ separate  

It’s worth separating just-bought clothing or linens and washing them separately a couple of times, just to ensure they’re not going to bleed out any leftover dye. This can happen, particularly with dark or brightly coloured materials. While color catcher sheets can help, there’s only so much they can do, so it’s best not to rely on them.

Don’t attempt to ‘dry-clean’ in a washer 

It’s tempting, we know, but if an item says ‘dry clean’ on the label, trust it. Putting it in the washer, even in a delicate setting, can damage the garment permanently – you’ll spend more money replacing them than you would be getting them washed properly! The same goes for ‘hand-wash’ items. 

‘I like to keep a ‘snag-bag’ in my laundry room for items that need dry-cleaning or alterations so they’re out of the laundry basket altogether. That way, you’ll avoid putting them in the wash by mistake, and you’ll be able to outsource in bulk which should save you multiple trips to the launderette, and a bit of money, too,' says Katherine Blackler or Sort My Space.  

katherine from sort my space
Katherine Blackler

Katherine Blackler is a professional organizer and founder of Sort My Space. She believes that by consciously and mindfully clearing your physical environment, your mind gets more clarity and respite too.

Sort again before drying

Laundry room with sink and dark painted cabinets

(Image credit: Martin Moore Design / Darren Chung)

Items that suit the same washer settings may not share the same dryer settings, so you’ll need to sort them again. It’s the temperature you’re looking for – check the garment label or refer to a tumble dryer temperature guide, then create piles accordingly. Some garments might not be suitable for tumble drying at all, so remove these at this point and air dry, them instead.  

Assign washdays for different items

So we now know how to sort laundry, but preventing those piles from building up in the first place is the main organizational goal. And you’ll be glad to know, it’s a lot easier than you think. The trick is to keep things manageable. One of the best ways to do this is to set yourself a laundry schedule.  

‘Establishing two days a week for washing clothes and another just for bedding and towels can help to keep things manageable, and makes sorting less of a chore’, says Emma George. 

Speed things up by pre-sorting clothes

washing machine with cabinets and sink

(Image credit: Future PLC)

Another option is to pre-sort as you go. 'To make sorting laundry quicker and easier in general, invest in a laundry basket with different compartments. It will save you so much time if you can sort clothing as you go, rather than rummaging through endless piles of dirty clothes on wash day’, advises cleaning expert Sarah Dempsey at My Job Quote

What is the proper way to sort laundry?

Despite the claims of some modern-day detergents and color catch cloths,  it really isn’t a good idea to wash all clothes together, not if you want to keep them in tip-top condition, that is. Taking the time beforehand to sort clothes by their specific washing requirements will save you time, not to mention potential disappointment, in the long run. 

Should you wash towels and sheets together?

While it’s not the end of the world, towels and sheets are better off washed separately if possible. While they often share similar temperature recommendations, towels are considered more ‘heavy-duty’ than sheet fabrics, and actually respond well to a higher heat – it makes them fluffier. They will also dry at different rates, so shoving the whole load into the dryer is not an option anyway.  

Contributing Editor

For 10 years, Tara King worked as a Content Editor in the magazine industry, before leaving to become freelance, covering interior design, wellbeing, craft and homemaking. As well as writing for Ideal Home, Style at Home, Country Homes & Interiors, Tara’s keen eye for styling combined with a passion for creating a happy – and functional – family home has led to a series of organization and cleaning features for H&G.