Woman sorting laundry

Laundry sorting guide: How to separate clothes for washing

Though not everyone does it, sorting your laundry is crucial to keeping your clothing bright and looking like new. Sorting your clothing by recommended cycle, water temperature, type of fabric, color and level of soil will help you prolong the life of your clothes, so you can wear them for years to come. Learn more about sustainable laundry habits you and your family can follow. Use this laundry sorting guide to learn how to separate your clothing for proper washing.

View of inner washer tub washing clothes View of inner washer tub washing clothes

Do you actually need to separate laundry?

Yes, you should absolutely separate your laundry. Separate your clothes by color, fabric type, soil level and care labels to prevent your clothing from fading or absorbing colors from other items as well as prevent mishaps like tears in delicate fabrics.


How to separate laundry: step-by-step instructions

Always follow the instructions that the label of your garments bring. Use this guide as a general reference. 

Items needed for laundry sorting

  • Laundry baskets 

  • Mesh laundry bags for delicates (optional)

  • Pre-treatment 

  • Detergent and other laundry materials

Close up of clothing garment’s care tag Close up of clothing garment’s care tag

Step 1: Check the label 

To protect your clothing, read the label of your garments. Follow the fabric’s care instructions, and if laundering a blend of clothes, follow the care label with the most conservative instructions to avoid damaging the more delicate items in your load.

Woman carrying a stack of folded blankets Woman carrying a stack of folded blankets

Step 2: Sort by color 

Most people know that sorting laundry begins by separating white clothes from dark ones. However, some experts think that you should go even further and organize clothes by shades. Start by putting together a pile of clothes:

Whites – no patterns or embroidery.

Lights – Whites with prints or embroidery, pale yellow shades and other similar pale tones.

Brights – Any bright colors like red, green, light blue, orange and bright yellow. You can use this guide for tips on how to wash your color clothing. 

Darks – You may consider separating purples, blues and other dark colors from brown or black fabric. This may help keep brown or black dye from darkening other colors. Want more pointers on how to keep your dark clothing dark? Use this guide on how to keep your dark clothes from fading.

Whirlpool tip:

Most kids aged 4-5 and up should be able to help sort laundry by color - explore other age-appropriate chores for kids.

Hand removing clothes from the dryer Hand removing clothes from the dryer

Step 3: Sort laundry by fabric type

In addition to sorting laundry based on color, you should also know how to separate laundry by fabric type. This may seem like an extra step, but it can actually go a long way towards keeping your clothes in good shape.

When clothes are washed, they make contact with each other continuously throughout the wash cycle. Heavier fabrics are more abrasive, which can cause too much wear and tear on delicate clothes and result in tearing or other damage.

Before tossing clothes into the washing machine, double check labels – set aside any clothes that are hand wash or dry clean only. From there, separate clothes into heavy duty fabrics (like denim), daily wear fabrics and delicates (like washing wool). To further protect your clothes, remove all items from pockets, secure all fasteners (zippers, buttons, hooks, etc.) and turn knits or clothes with embellishments inside out. You can also wash delicate items in a bag. Below are some examples of different fabric groups:

Bed sheets
Sheets and bedding

Comforters should be washed in a high-capacity washer, separate from sheets. For your sheets and other bedding, reference the care label for specifics, but typically, you should use the warmest water setting based on the fabric the sheets are made of.

Towels on rack

Like with other sorting, it’s best to wash white or light towels separately from brighter colored ones to prevent any color transfer or fading. Generally, towels should be washed with hot water.



Thin fabrics like silk should be washed based on the care tag as they may need to be hand washed or dry cleaned. If you will be using the washing machine, avoid mixing fabrics like cashmere with lace, or knitwear with poly, as they could lose their shape. Protect delicates like undergarments by placing them in mesh bags before washing.

Shirt and pair of pants
Dark jeans

Lightly soiled jeans are best washed on their own and inside out with a delicate or gentle cycle, and it’s best to use cold water to avoid any shrinkage. Should you need to wash with other items, keep it to similarly colored clothing.

Jacket and mountain peaks
Dark athleticwear

Because athleticwear and other high-performance garments are prone to odor-causing bacteria. To help reduce any potential unpleasant odors even after washing. Use cold water and mild detergent when it’s time to throw them in the washing machine.

Person pre-treating jeans before loading them into the washing machine Person pre-treating jeans before loading them into the washing machine

Step 4: Separate stained and heavily soiled laundry 

Look over your clothes and check for stains, dirt or heavy soiling. Set aside these items and pre-treat the stains based on fabric type and type of stain. Whirlpool offers washers with their own pre-treat station, so you can treat your clothing with the accompanying pre-treat brush, throw your clothes in the wash, and store the brush within its own compartment in the washer. Separate by color and fabric, then wash these clothes on a longer cycle using a water temperature and cycle appropriate to the fabric type and type of stain. (For example, don’t put a delicate cotton top through a hot, heavy duty cycle.)

Doing this helps prevent dirt or stain particles from settling onto other clothing. After the wash cycle is complete, remove your clothes and check to see if the stain is gone. If not, repeat the process or air dry the item until you’re able to wash it again.

Person loading a washing machine with laundry Person loading a washing machine with laundry

Step 5: Separate new clothes and brightly colored laundry

If you have new clothes, wash them on their own for the first few cycles. New clothes tend to bleed dye more readily, and you don’t want that new blouse to ruin all your other ones! Make sure to separate new items by color, fabric type and other factors discussed above. Also be sure to separate any unique items, like cheesecloth, before washing to avoid shrinkage.

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