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9 Ways You’re Doing Laundry All Wrong

Want cleaner clothes and longer-lasting appliances? Avoid these mistakes

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​You follow the same routine each week, gathering dirty clothes, sheets and towels, separating whites from darks, pouring detergent and spending hours washing, drying and folding clean laundry. ​

Roughly 50 percent of American families wash seven loads of laundry per week — or up to 2,000 pounds of clothes every year, according to a 2021 survey done for appliance-maker Whirlpool. Believe it or not, laundry ranks as America’s favorite cleaning task, according to a separate survey by the American Cleaning Institute.

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Even if you love doing laundry, you’re likely making loads of mistakes when it comes to getting your clothes clean. Here are nine ways you might be doing laundry all wrong. ​

1. Skipping sorting

Separating whites and darks is just the beginning. ​

Though research showed that some households sort laundry according to stain intensity or wash underwear separate from kitchen towels, there’s no need to sort laundry into countless micro loads. Instead, Keith Flamer, laundry expert for Consumer Reports, suggests thinking about fabrics.​

Sort delicates from synthetics and wash denim on its own — even if your favorite jeans and T-shirt are the same color. Denim, he explains, can be abrasive and damage lightweight clothing.

2. Overloading the machine

Doing fewer, larger loads might cut down on the amount of time you spend doing laundry, but your clothes may not get as clean. ​

“When we overstuff [the washing machine], the clothes and the detergent can't circulate enough,” Flamer says. “You end up with uneven cleaning and possibly detergent residue on your clothes.”​

Flamer suggests washing two medium-sized loads instead of one extra-large load of laundry. Check your washing machine manual for recommended load sizes — they might be smaller than you think.​

Video: These Laundry Myths Could Be Ruining Your Clothes

3. Doubling down on detergent 

Detergent was designed to trap dirt and wash it down the drain in the rinse cycle, but washing machines aren’t powerful enough to keep up with excess detergent, says Patric Richardson, who calls himself the Laundry Evangelist and is host of The Laundry Guy on the Discovery+ channel. ​

“The soap is doing its job, but it doesn’t get rinsed out, so it resettles into your clothes — with the dirt,” he says. ​

You don’t need more than two tablespoons of laundry detergent in a full load to get your clothes truly clean, according to Richardson; use even less detergent in smaller loads.​

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4. Choosing hot water 

You probably already know that hot water can shrink or fade your clothes, but you may not realize that it can cause blood, sweat and other stains to set in fabric. ​

Consumer Reports tested stain removal at various water temperatures and found that lower (cooler) temperatures were just as effective as hot water. ​

Washing clothes in cold water also cuts energy use and could lead to savings on your utility bills. ​

5. Ignoring labels 

Almost one-quarter of Americans rarely or never read the fabric care instructions on tags before washing their clothes, according to the American Cleaning Institute survey. ​​

“Most clothes are washable,” Flamer says, but it’s still a good idea to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for washing machine settings, water temperature and bleach instructions. “It will help your clothes last longer.”​

6. Tossing clothes in the dryer ​ ​

Not all clothes that come out of the washing machine should go into the dryer. ​

Richardson only uses the dryer for towels, sheets and socks; he hangs everything else to dry. The reason: Heat is really hard on fabrics. Putting cotton clothes in the dryer damages the fabric and reduces its strength, increasing the risk of tears. Keep bras, lingerie and other delicates out of the dryer, as well as anything wool. ​

“It really is best for your clothes to hang them up, but it’s especially important for things that are wool and for those techno [performance] fabrics,” he says. “It really will extend their life.”​

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7. Adding fabric softener 

Flamer has a hot take about this popular laundry product: It’s a waste of money. He includes dryer sheets in that assessment. ​

“Most people like soft clothes, but it can leave a layer of residue on your clothes,” he says.​

Fabric softener can ruin the moisture-wicking properties in workout clothes; the heat in the dryer may cause the chemical in the fabric softener to bond to stains, making them harder to get out.​

Worried about static cling? Use dryer balls — round objects typically made of wool that prevent laundry from clumping together — in every load. Richardson recommends using a softball-sized ball of aluminum foil in the dryer, saying it works better than fabric softener or dryer sheets to collect static cling. The ball should last 30 to 60 loads and won't harm fabric, he says. The ball will get smaller and smaller through use, so when it gets to the size of a walnut, toss it and create a new one. ​

8. Avoiding the manual 

It’s true that appliance manuals aren’t page-turners, but they are still important reading. Flamer notes that manuals provide information on different washing machine and dryer settings and advice on when to use each one. Following the manufacturer’s recommendations could help improve appliance performance. ​

9. Using ‘one size fits all’ products 

The supermarket laundry aisle is chock full of dark formula detergents and detergents for delicates and fabric softeners, stain removers and scent beads. You might not need all of them, but don’t assume that the same products should be used to wash everything from socks to silks.​

Richardson points to oxygen bleach as an oft-overlooked but essential laundry product in the era of athleisure. Oxygen bleach, also known as sodium percarbonate, contains hydrogen peroxide that helps remove sweat stains and oils that minimize the stretch in athletic wear and other performance fabrics.​

This article was originally published on Feb. 21, 2023. It has been updated to reflect new information.

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