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Before You Start Laundry
- Collect all soiled garments and linens.
- Read care label sewn into most garments. Label will specify at least one safe cleaning method for the garment. Label should also address how to handle buttons, lining, and/or decorative trim.
- Separate items according to care instructions.
- Remove items with "dry-clean only" labels. Set aside to take to a professional dry cleaner. Items labeled "hand-wash" should be washed by hand unless your washing machine includes a hand-wash cycle. (A delicates cycle is not the same as a hand-wash cycle.) Protect hand-wash items in a mesh bag.
Check for Colorfastness
The care label may address colorfastness. If not, test new items before washing to see if fabric color will bleed in the wash.
- Find an inconspicuous seam or spot on the garment to test.
- Moisten the test spot with water.
- Rub the dampened area with a white cloth or cotton ball.
- If color transfers, the item is not colorfast. Wash it separately or with like colors.
- If color does not transfer, the item is safe to wash.
Sort by Fabric & Color
Sort clothes into categories by color, soil level, and fabric content. Each sorted pile becomes a wash load. As you're sorting, note which items need to be mended or pretreated for stains. Use these suggested categories:
- Whites and light colors
- Bright colors (e.g. reds, pinks, oranges)
- Dark colors
- Extra-dirty garments
- Lint-producing items (e.g. terry cloth towels)
- Heavyweight clothes (e.g. denim jeans, sweatshirts)
- Lightweight clothes
- Permanent-press clothes
- Check and empty all pockets, especially in children's clothing. Turn pockets inside out.
- Zip up all zippers. Fasten hooks. Tie drawstrings. Unroll cuffs. Unbutton buttons.
- Turn corduroy garments, T-shirts with decals, and embroidered garments inside out to preserve appearance.
- Repair split seams, sagging hems, loose buttons, and other problems that water and agitation will worsen.
- Check the care labels for information.
- Identify sources of stains as best you can.
- Treat stains according to their source using laundry detergent or an appropriate stain remover, following package instructions. For smart tips and techniques for getting rid of specific stains, refer to our handy stain-removal chart, available below.
- Soak really dirty clothes for 20-30 minutes in soapy water before washing.
Solve Your Stains
Learn how to treat hundreds of stains with our free tool, Stain Fixes.