As disappointing as it may sound, a large number of millennials and Gen-Z young adults can’t do laundry. There are exceptions, of course, but generally speaking, it’s easier to dry-clean a sack of clothes than to go through the difficult task of sorting, washing and folding clothes. I’ll assume you also have a bit of trouble with these tasks, otherwise you wouldn’t be here, would you?

Possibly the most important questions most newcomers ask are ‘Which colors go where?’ and ‘Which colors should I not match?’ With my handy guide, you’ll learn how to sort, wash, and even dry clothes like a champ. But because laundry is such a broad field, I’ll also provide you with some important info on general laundry care. It might not refer to washing and color-matching, but it will save you the trouble of dealing with laundry for several hours during the day.

Why Even Separate Colors?

The answer to the question from the heading above might seem obvious to many. But believe it or not, there are people out there who genuinely don’t know why it’s important to separate differently colored clothing.

The reason behind color separation is transference. Usually, if we wash an item with a dark color and an item with a light color, some of the darker tones will ‘transfer’ onto the light item. It has even become a popular film trope: the wife accidentally washes some red socks with the husband’s white shirts, so he ends up going to work in some very pink clothing items.

But the item doesn’t even need to be white to suffer from color transference. In fact, the same thing can happen to light-blue items, light-yellow ones, and even clothing that’s originally pink.

With all that out of the way, let’s get to the separating!

Sorting Clothes by Color: Different Color Piles

What I’m about to list are extremely broad instructions on colors. The next section will contain additional instructions on fabrics, the weight of clothing, as well as different types of washing up.

Whenever you’re doing laundry, make sure to have at least three piles of clothes based on their colors. Those piles should contain:

  • White clothing
  • Light-colored clothing
  • Dark-colored clothing

White Clothing

Wash white clothes separately. A pile of white laundry.

Broadly speaking, white laundry is most likely to receive color from all other items. In fact, even if you wash your white underwear with a very light-green tank top shirt, there’s a risk of it turning green in the process.

However, there’s also another important reason for white separation. Namely, the best way to get rid of stains from a white piece of clothing is to wash it in hot water. Colored clothing, on the other hand, is best washed in cold water in order to achieve the same effect.

Light-Colored Clothing

When I say ‘light-colored’, I mostly refer to bright, pastel shades. These include:

  • Light-blue
  • Light-brown
  • Pink
  • Light-green
  • Lavender
  • Yellow
  • Khaki
  • Beige
  • Cream
  • Ochre
  • Orange
  • Fuchsia
  • Maybe Maroon

Though it’s possible for some of these colors to transfer during the wash, that possibility is almost non-existent if you wash all the light-colored items at the same time. Detergents like All Powercore and Tide Whites & Brights are perfect for lighter shades of clothing.

Dark-Colored Clothing

A pile of dark-colored clothes prepared for washing.

Much like light-colored clothes, dark items have a lot of variety to them. The colors that fall under this umbrella are:

  • Black
  • Grey (all shades)
  • Dark-brown
  • Dark-green
  • Olive
  • Purple
  • Indigo
  • Navy Blue
  • Dark-red
  • Crimson
  • Rust

You can safely wash black, grey, brown, and other dark colors together. These colors are unlikely to transfer during the washing process, especially if you use cold water.

In terms of which washing product to pick for dark clothes, most people (myself included) will point you to Woolite Darks liquid laundry detergent.

Some Extra Options

Black Laundry

It’s usually a good idea to try and wash all black clothing at once. One of the reasons is transference, of course. But more importantly, there are products out there which can return shine and brilliance to black clothing. Personally, I’d suggest Perwoll Renew advanced effect.


Denim is not like other materials; it’s usually thicker, coarser, and more durable than cotton, wool, or even latex. For that reason, people tend to separate denim from other clothing, even though there’s no need to do it.

Of course, I would highly suggest that you do so. For years, I’ve been washing my denim jeans and jackets separately and they’ve never looked better fresh after the wash. In addition, it doesn’t suffer from (or provide any) transference of color, unlike other clothing.

Don’t Forget the Delicates

Sensitive and thin underwear, as well as lingerie, pantyhose, and various silk products should not go into the washer with regular laundry. This type of laundry is pretty delicate and you can ruin it either through transference or with friction via other clothing.

In order to save yourself the trouble of buying new underwear, make sure you separate it from the rest of the laundry every time.

Powerful Stains

This might seem silly to point out as a separate group, but I’m not doing it willy-nilly. After all, a strong, powerful stain needs a specific process to be removed. If you were to just throw a heavily-stained shirt into a full washer, you would only ruin the item further. More importantly, you would ruin other clothes in the washer and, ironically, give them new stains through the one from the shirt.

Before going about heavily-stained shirts and trousers, I browse online to see what the best way to wash them is. Once I find it, I separate all clothes with similar stains into a group and do the wash.

Mixed Colors & Striped Stuff

Naturally, people get confused when they see a pile of items that contain all colors, both light and dark. There are even almost all-white T-shirts and trousers with some colorful elements. So how do we wash those? The answer is simple: if there’s more white than non-white in the shirt, wash it with the whites, or if it’s vice versa, wash it with the non-whites.

One special category of multicolor clothing includes striped stuff, usually shirts or full-on suits. You have three surefire options for washing a striped shirt:

  • Taking it to the laundromat
  • Washing it by hand
  • Washing it in the washer with other colored products in cold water

Other Types of Sorting to Consider

Which clothes go together in the washing machine. Different types of sorting to consider.

By Wash Type

This type of sorting can really be a pain. You have to sit through dozens and dozens of clothing tags to find out how you can wash them and where.

Once again, very broadly speaking, there are three types of clothes based on their wash type. ‘Hand wash only’ items are exactly what their name suggests — you have to wash them by hand. Then there are the regular, machine-washed clothes. Finally, you have ‘dry clean only’ clothes which you mustn’t put in your washer or you risk ruining them.

By Fabric

Different fabrics react to each other when they’re in the washer. For example, latex and wool don’t really go together, and neither does cotton or any other natural material. The easiest way to sort these products is to find out which clothes contain artificial materials (like polyester).

Do remember that some clothing leaves lint behind, while some doesn’t. If you can, take any color group and separate it further based on which clothing item gives off lint.  

By Size and Weight

Weighty objects can damage light clothing when you put them all in the washer. That’s why it’s a smart idea to make a separate load of laundry for the heavy hitters. After all, items that share sizes will all wash (and dry) at the same rate of time. On the other hand, if you put a small item next to a large one in the dryer, they will dry up unevenly.

Of course, there are plenty of other tricks to consider, such as how to fold laundry or how to iron it without using the iron. Brittany Vasseur provides a handy video of 17 laundry hacks that you might find useful.

A Few Final Words

As you can see, it’s not too difficult to sort laundry based on the colors it comes in. However, it’s far from being the only set of instructions that you need to know. If you’re interested in learning more about taking care of laundry, I have written a whole host of interesting articles on the subject. I encourage everyone to give them a read.

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