Can I dry white clothes with colors? Expert advice for avoiding laundry mishaps

Find out whether separating whites from colors is essential to keeping clothes looking new for longer

A wicker landry basket with white washing piled up inside
(Image credit: Getty Images)

It can be tempting to mix white clothes with colors in the dryer. Putting them in together could make doing the laundry faster, and if you don’t have a full load of either, the thought of saving energy is also appealing.

But less time spent in the laundry room isn’t a reward worth having if it results in ruined clothes as previously pristine whites take on a distinct tint of color.

We posed the question of whether white and colored clothes can ever be dried together to the experts so you can be sure you’re taking the best care you can of the contents of your closet and that clothes will last and look good for as long as possible.

The lowdown on drying white clothes with colors

Rule number one on putting together loads for the dryer is to check the laundry symbols on the tags. Not using the delicate setting when required or selecting the wrong tumble dryer temperature can ruin clothes. 

But what about mixing whites and colors when you dry? Not a good idea, say the experts. ‘Drying clothes with colors can cause the colors to bleed and mix,’ says Maria Mooney, brand director and cleaning expert for Truly Free. ‘It’s best to dry whites and colors separately to ensure the quality of your fabrics stays intact.’

woman taking whites out of a washing machine

(Image credit: Alamy)

Why white clothes shouldn’t be dried with colors

There is a host of reasons why it’s not a good idea to dry white clothes with colors. ‘Drying white clothes with colors can lead to many issues, such as color bleeding, pill transfer, fabric damage, stains, and bleach or chemical interactions,’ explains Rick Rome, CEO and founder of WashClub. 

‘If colored clothes are new, it’s likely that they haven’t been washed enough to remove excess dye, so the colors can easily bleed onto the white clothing causing discoloration. Pills are tiny knots or small balls that appear on the surface of clothing after daily wear and tear. Loose pills on colored clothing can easily transfer to white clothing during the dry cycle, which can damage the appearance of the white clothing by making them appear worn and reduce longevity.

‘If the white and colored clothes are made of different fabrics, the high heat from the dryer could potentially damage the fibers. Certain colors can be prone to shrinking and fading in high heat, therefore, the white clothes can be damaged in the process. Also, stains on the colored clothes, such as food particles or oil-based residues, can bleed on the white clothing leaving behind unwanted marks. 

‘Lastly, if bleach or chemical-based laundry products are used on the colored clothes, this can interact with white clothing in high heat and lead to discoloration and damage.’

Rick Rome

Rick Rome owns WashClub, a wash and fold and delivery dry cleaner in Manhattan. WashClub provides eco-friendly washing, folding, dry cleaning and commercial laundry services to New York City.

How color transfers in the dryer

While the idea of color transfer in the wash is likely a familiar one, the fact that it can happen in the drying process might be more surprising. Laundry expert Maria Mooney of Truly Free explains what happens: ‘The process in which color can transfer in the dryer is quite fascinating, and it starts with the dyes used in colored clothing. These dyes, especially with new or brightly colored items, can be unstable, meaning excess dye may not have been rinsed out properly during production.

‘Certain types of fabric, like cotton for example, are more prone to color bleeding. When cotton items are in a hot environment like a dryer, the heat can open up clothing fibers, allowing dye to escape and find a new home on your other clothing. This process is called color bleeding or dye transfer.

‘Think twice before you’re tempted to throw a new red shirt in the dryer with your whites,’ Maria cautions. ‘Separate your clothing by color to save yourself from a surprise laundry makeover.’

Colors most likely to bleed in the dryer

Which clothes should you watch out for? 

‘Darker colors, especially red and orange, are the usual suspects of color bleeding,’ says Maria Mooney. ‘These hues are notorious for their tendency to bleed onto lighter ones, especially if the clothing is new or has only been washed a few times. To prevent a colorful catastrophe, try softening the water in your wash cycle with half a cup of vinegar.’

When you CAN dry whites with colors

Wondering if there are occasions on which you could dry white and colored clothes together? 

‘It is best to avoid washing and drying white clothes with colors to maintain brightness and prevent damage,’ cautions Rick Rome. ‘If there is no other option, it is recommended to dry the clothes using a low heat setting and ensure the colored clothes have been washed multiple times to reduce color bleeding. 

‘Also, make sure to check the care label, as different fabrics require different washing and drying techniques.’


Can you dry white towels with clothes?

It is possible to dry white towels with clothes. ‘White towels and clothes can be dried together, but it is best practice to follow a few guidelines,’ says Rick Rome, CEO and founder of WashClub. ‘White towels should be dried with light colored clothes, like pastels, neutrals, and whites. Drying towels with dark colored clothing can lead to dye transfer especially if the clothes have only been washed one to two times. Mixing light and dark items in the dryer can result in other issues, such as lint transfer and fabric damage.

‘It’s even better if the clothes being dried with towels are color-fast, as this helps prevent future damage by reducing the risk of dye transfer. Also, if the clothes have stains on them, pre-treat them with a stain remover or a mild detergent to reduce the risk of transfer. Lastly, use a low heat or delicate dry setting to minimize the risk of any issues.’

As for washing clothes with towels, be sure to follow the rules if you’re making up a load this way.

The best way to avoid drying mishaps? ‘Sort your grays, blacks, navies, reds, dark purples and similar colors into one load and your pinks, lavenders, light blues, light greens, and yellows into another laundry group,’ says Maria Mooney. And be sure to keep the dryer itself safe by learning how to clean a dryer vent and when you need to do it.

Sarah Warwick
Contributing Editor

Sarah is a freelance journalist and editor. Previously executive editor of Ideal Home, she’s specialized in interiors, property and gardens for over 20 years, and covers interior design, house design, gardens, and cleaning and organizing a home for H&G. She’s written for websites, including Houzz, Channel 4’s flagship website, 4Homes, and Future’s T3; national newspapers, including The Guardian; and magazines including Future’s Country Homes & Interiors, Homebuilding & Renovating, Period Living, and Style at Home, as well as House Beautiful, Good Homes, Grand Designs, Homes & Antiques, LandLove and The English Home among others. It’s no big surprise that she likes to put what she writes about into practice, and is a serial house renovator.